High-level Meeting on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women

01 October 2020

Statement by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem at the High-level Meeting on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women.

Distinguished delegates
Dear sister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
Civil society leaders, colleagues and friends  

As we gather to mark the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and its groundbreaking Platform for Action, I recall the excitement in Huairou as women of the world declared: women’s rights are human rights.

My message today echoes that declaration: The rights of a woman or a girl are not negotiable. Let us defend her through any adversity, particularly her sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, so essential for full gender equality and women’s respect and empowerment.

Somewhere today, an adolescent will wake up to discover she’s expected to undergo a painful rite of passage. In a few hours, she will be wounded by female genital mutilation.

Somewhere else, a five-year-old girl overhears her parents complain that a girl is nothing but a burden compared to a son. In a few years, they may seek to ease that burden by marrying her off to a much older man.

These scenarios take place repeatedly day after day around the world. What do they have in common? They are rooted in gender inequality and the attempt to control women’s bodies and lives.


As the health, education and human potential of women and girls are diminished, so too is all humanity.

Yes, there’s progress to celebrate in the quarter century since Beijing and positive strides since the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development the year before.

Yet these stories, and millions more unfolding daily in the lives of girls around the world, show there’s still a long, long way to go.

Collective action could not be more urgent.  

UNFPA proudly co-leads the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. We stand shoulder to shoulder together with UN Women, Member States, civil society and other partners because UNFPA data show that only 55 per cent of women worldwide can make their own decisions about sexual relations and contraceptives.

1 woman in 3 experiences the trauma of violence in her lifetime.

Last year alone, 280,000 adolescent girls and young women were newly infected with HIV.

And tragically, more than 800 women still die every day from preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

Now, COVID-19 threatens to set us back even further.  

Gender-based violence is skyrocketing during the pandemic. Child marriage, female genital mutilation, and adolescent pregnancy are all on the rise.  

We need urgent action, strong political support and targeted investments. Otherwise, gains achieved painstakingly over decades are at risk. Now is the time to scale up investments.

We urge everyone to back up words with deeds, and with funding for programmes and services that transform women’s lives.  

Investing in women and girls is not just a question of rights; it’s also smart economics, with benefits to society many times the cost.

The power of my conviction was shaped by the Cairo and Beijing platforms, and I believe in local women’s leadership. Women such as Chief Bisi Ogunleye of the Country Women Association of Nigeria, who famously said: “Having choices is the key.”

In this Decade of Action, let us act swiftly and in solidarity to make Generation Equality real for ourselves — and especially for the coming generations of young people. The success of the Sustainable Development Goals and our common gender-equal future depend upon that.

Thank you.

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