Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


14th UN Crime Congress Special event: Celebrating International Women’s Day - Women’s empowerment and the advancement of justice

   8 March 2021

Minister Kamikawa,

Distinguished participants,

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I am truly honoured to join you on International Women’s Day, here at the 14th UN Crime Congress in Kyoto.

International Women’s Day this year focuses on women in leadership and achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world. What better way to celebrate this day than in the presence of inspiring women leaders, and men who have staunchly supported women’s empowerment?

I thank Japan for bringing us together to explore the nexus between the empowerment of women and the advancement of justice. Our discussions will be an important part of the Kyoto Congress’ legacy and its contribution to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Women have been hit hard by the pandemic and its consequences, which continue to deepen existing inequalities.

In the midst of the ongoing economic crisis, women are losing jobs at a faster rate than men, and have more limited access to social protection, as they are often employed in the informal economy.

At home, women, who were already responsible for 75% of unpaid care work before the crisis, have had to shoulder an even heavier burden, caring for elderly family members and children out of school.

For victims of domestic violence, access to reporting and to justice has been curtailed, while lockdowns have reduced essential services and broken up support networks.

The impact of the crisis on women’s rights, education, and employment will be felt for years to come.

Law enforcement and judiciary institutions have a key role to play in stopping the injustice and building a fairer future.

They need to be pillars of a gender-sensitive COVID response and recovery, and invest in women’s advancement and women leaders for the benefit of justice across all of society.

Around the world, law enforcement and criminal justice are heavily male-dominated sectors, with some notable exceptions – for instance, in most countries in Europe female judges outnumber their male colleagues.

Increases in women’s representation in those fields have been linked to improved service delivery and more effective, victim-centred responses to crime, including gender-based violence.

UNODC research conducted in partnership with INTERPOL and UN Women in South-East Asia last year found that greater participation of female officers in police operations leads to better outcomes and a reduced risk of abuse or secondary victimization.

Women’s representation and leadership in law enforcement and criminal justice institutions has also been shown to result in systemic changes, including more effective policing styles, reduced costs, lower rates of escalation of violence, an improved capacity to build trust with victims of crime as well as with communities, and strengthen outreach.

At the 13th UN Crime Congress, Member States made a political commitment to increase women’s representation in justice systems. The Kyoto Declaration reiterates the important pledge to remove impediments to the advancement of women within countries’ institutions at all levels.

To make this vision a reality, UNODC works with Member States to build networks of women professionals and support communities of female criminal justice practitioners.

Last year, we launched a pioneering network of women in law enforcement, the judiciary, parliament, government and civil society who are engaged in the response to human trafficking and migrant smuggling in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan.

Partnering with associations of women police, judges, prosecutors and lawyers, we have secured the participation of thousands of female practitioners and officers in our trainings on criminal justice responses to terrorism in Nigeria; on maritime law enforcement in East Africa and Yemen; and on responses to gender-based violence in Mexico, Iraq, and Jordan.

In our work to reduce gender bias in justice institutions, we have supported close to 30 Member States in the implementation of the Bangkok Rules, focusing on gender-responsive non-custodial measures and social rehabilitation of women prisoners in Asia.

Joining forces with UN Women, OHCHR and UNDP, we have also developed guidance for practitioners to ensure women’s access to justice.

Incorporating a gender perspective into all of our work is a key dimension of the new UNODC Strategy for 2021-2025 launched last month. This approach includes mainstreaming gender in the evaluation of our projects and programmes.

Guided by the Secretary-General’s vision and our own Strategy for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, we are proud to have achieved overall gender parity at UNODC last year and are working towards parity at all staff levels, striving for equal opportunities for women and men, within an enabling environment.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The current crisis presents us with an opportunity to reshape our world and develop responses that truly embrace the power of women’s leadership.

As the first woman to head the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and as a former Minister of Social Solidarity who worked with women from all sectors, I am familiar with the challenges that women encounter in their professional journeys.

To the next generations of women leaders in justice and security institutions, my message is: you belong at the top, and your contributions are essential. If you believe in yourselves and stand up for each other, there is no limit to what you can achieve for justice.

Thank you.