Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


Joint CND and CCPCJ High-level event "Beijing + 25: Realizing Gender Equality and the Empowerment of All Women and Girls in Light of COVID-19"

12 June 2020

Distinguished Chairs,


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed my honour to celebrate with you today the Beijing Declaration.

Let’s reflect together upon this moment in history, which continues to serve as a guiding light for some of our most important work, in the midst of a crisis that is among the gravest in our modern history, and that has exposed the fragility of our systems and of our institutions.

The COVID-19 crisis has forced us to carry out today’s celebration across distances, virtually.

Much more importantly, the crisis forces us to take stock of our efforts and our progress in empowering women in a much more sobering light.

Twenty-five years ago, the world asserted that inequalities between men and women persisted. Despite our efforts, this assertion continues to be a reality today, more than two decades later.

COVID-19 made this reality stand clearer than ever as the impact of the virus on women is particularly profound. Through our work, we bear unfortunate witness to the deprivations endured by women, and how they have been compounded by the pandemic.

In the health sector, women account for over 70 per cent of workers in health and care institutions, which makes them risk their lives as they are the ones fighting the virus on the frontlines.

Moreover, in many countries, the impact of the pandemic on health systems has deprived women of access to reproductive health services.

In the labour market, unemployment is much higher among women, and when employed they are paid on average 20% less.

Moreover, women are more often employed in the informal economy, which deprives them of social protection.

At home, women carry out three-quarters of unpaid care work. COVID school closures and the need to support elderly family members have increased this burden.

At the same time, stay-at-home measures under COVID have increased the dangers of domestic violence. Countries in Europe are reporting up to 60% more emergency calls from women. In many other parts of the world, women who suffer such violence do not report it or seek assistance due to entrenched norms or lack of support systems. They suffer silently.

Pre-COVID, more than half of the world’s female homicide victims were killed by intimate partners or family members, according to UNODC’s 2019 Global Study on Homicide. This is expected to rise in view of the global lockdown.

In Beijing 25 years ago, world leaders agreed on an ambitious framework so that every woman and girl can realize all her rights.

On this 25th anniversary, UNODC stands with you to make this objective a reality.

To build back better, we need a people-centred approach and a women-centred approach.

Within the UN, I am proud that the Secretary-General has already achieved gender parity at the senior management level, and we are on our way to full parity at all professional levels by 2028. I intend to keep pace with these efforts at UNODC, and I can assure you that this momentum will only witness a new sense of urgency in the coming period.

I joined UNOV/UNODC in February.

A top priority for me has been to ensure that UNODC, with its unique capabilities and field presence, elevates support to Member States to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women, across our mandate areas of drugs, crime, terrorism and corruption.

We strive for these goals through the UNOV/ UNODC Gender Strategy and action plan, in our office and in our work, at headquarters and in the field.

UNODC brings together the health sector, the social sector, and police and justice sectors to prevent gender-based violence and offer victim-centered services, including through eight programmes and projects providing support in 18 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

UNODC promotes the Bangkok Rules on non-custodial measures and the treatment of female prisoners.

We are scaling up skills-building rehabilitation projects in Bolivia, El Salvador, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan and Namibia to benefit over 1,500 female prisoners over the next five years.

Due to COVID, women and girls are also far more likely to find themselves victims of trafficking in persons.

UNODC manages the only UN Trust Fund addressing the needs of women and girl victims of human trafficking, which is now supporting 10 NGOs responding to COVID in Africa and Asia.

Women represent around one out of three people who use drugs, and UNODC is working with WHO and other partners to dismantle barriers that prevent them from seeking treatment.

The involvement of women strengthens the engagement of entire communities in development – including alternative development to replace illicit drug crop cultivation with legal sources of income.

That is why empowering women is a focus of UNODC’s alternative development programme in six countries in Asia and Latin America.

We know drugs, crime, terrorism and violence impact women and men differently, and we need to understand these impacts to act effectively.

Our gender-sensitive research includes the flagship World Drug Report, which will be launched at the end of this month.

UNODC also contributed to the Secretary-General’s policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on women. And with UN Women and other partners, we co-authored a report identifying gender justice gaps in COVID.

I welcome the continued support of the Vienna-based Commissions for UNODC’s efforts.

You have been at the forefront of integrating gender in the global drugs and criminal justice agenda, and strengthening exchange with the Commission on the Status of Women.

I thank you for organizing this event, and I am grateful to the Ministers for joining us virtually.

I very much welcome the participation of the President of the Human Rights Council and our partners at UN Women.

I am also glad to see my fellow International Gender Champions and our civil society friends.

The strong engagement we see today shows that we all agree on the need for urgent action to realize the Beijing Declaration’s commitments, within the decade left to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals.

A more inclusive world is a more resilient world.

Twenty-five years after Beijing, we cannot allow COVID to hinder progress and justice.

Working together, we can bring down obstacles to women’s inclusion, enable them to act as agents of change, and truly build back better.

In every one of our countries, societies and families, there is a mother, a daughter, a sister who needs us to stand up for her more than ever before.

We must fight for her rights in the midst of a global crisis that threatens to destroy past achievements.

We must fight without compromise. We must all stand with her. I am proudly with her, for justice and empowerment.