Rethinking Women’s Leadership in Crisis – Global

Remarks by Crisis Bureau Director Asako Okai on UNDP Development Dialogues: Rethinking Crisis Solutions in the Decade of Action.

Excellencies, friends, partners, colleagues from all over the world,

Welcome to today’s discussions on how to rethink women’s leadership in crisis situations. This is organized as part of our Development Dialogues: Rethinking Crisis Solutions in the Decade of Action series, where over the next four months, UNDP aims to highlight the most urgent action needed to help those living in crisis move towards sustainable development.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Women leaders: achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.”

As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, we renew our commitment to advancing gender equality, women’s empowerment and the Women, Peace and Security agenda.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing gender inequalities, causing increased violence against women and girls around the world and disproportionate negative economic consequences. The pandemic has hit women hard, especially those already in conflict and crisis situations.

We are at a critical moment of change. As UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says, “Change the Pace: Women at the Table.”

We have seen once again the importance of ensuring that women are at the decision-making table in response to the crisis. Women’s leadership is also essential in designing preparedness and prevention plans.

As our administrator Achim Steiner said today: “Women must have the opportunity to play a full role in shaping the critical decisions being made right now,” because the choices we make as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic “will affect the well-being of people and the planet for generations come.”

While there are breakthroughs to celebrate, the vision of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action has yet to materialize. Why is this the case?

Again, I quote the Executive Director of UN Women: “The universal and catastrophic lack of representation of women’s interests” in all areas where decisions are made. The uncomfortable truth is that trying to change a power relationship is often met with immediate resistance. Until now, decisions in crisis and non-crisis situations have mainly been taken by male-led institutions. This long-standing power imbalance is held in place by structural inequalities, discriminatory social norms, and social and economic disparities.

To challenge this, we need a systematic approach to creating an enabling environment. UNDP has conducted a series of consultations and an innovative learning process over the past year to discover how we can do things differently. We wanted to know what worked and what didn’t.

Today, my colleague Sarah will talk about the ideas that emerge from these processes. We are also privileged to hear directly from the women leaders and peacebuilders in the distinguished panel, who have helped UNDP achieve a bold new approach that we would like to propose today.

UNDP’s call for a bold approach: Facility Announcement

We are convinced that the work of UNDP must contribute to triggering a radical change in the power imbalances that fuel gender inequality. We need to move from inclusion to transformation. For this, we need a concerted effort from across society to actively and intentionally support women’s representation.

This requires political will. To disrupt the status quo, UNDP works to amplify women’s voices and promote their participation and leadership in public institutions, parliaments, the judiciary and the private sector. We also need to work more with civil society groups to empower them and build local, national and global coalitions for change. And we will go the extra mile to engage with women leaders from all walks of life to give voice to those who are not heard.

Recognizing that UNDP is well placed to act as a convener, we would like to intensify our efforts to forge traditional and new partnerships to overcome challenges, harnessing the respective strengths of different actors, from grassroots community actors to national governments, UN Women and other UN agencies, donor countries, private sector and local innovators, to adapt solutions.

UNDP’s range of tools will help analyze and deliver integrated area-based responses, and translate theoretical insights into results. We need integrated solutions at scale, and for that, multi-stakeholder collaboration is key. We also recognize that providing solutions to complex problems with lasting impacts must be based on data, evidence and correct analysis. We also need to invest more in innovation and digitalisation.

To support our new approach in crisis situations and respond to the recommendations we have received, I am very pleased to announce today the creation of the new UNDP Gender and Crisis Engagement Mechanism.

The Facility will act as a one-stop-shop that will support country, regional and global teams to advance transformational change in crisis contexts with a focus on women’s leadership, economic empowerment, human rights and access to justice. The Facility intends to act as a “success aggregator” of gender-transformative programming spanning the full range of UNDP work, providing knowledge and evidence, technical support capacity and funding for startup for innovation.

Through this facility, we will ensure that our efforts open new avenues for collective social and economic empowerment. We will strengthen our capacities, for example, to better understand and respond to intersectional inequalities, including how gender equality, climate and security are linked.

The Facility represents an ambitious but vital commitment to harness the strengths of UNDP, to work in partnership with other actors. UNDP is investing its own resources to launch this bold approach. We look forward to engaging with interested donors who wish to invest in us as we develop our new approach.

Distinguished participants,

UNDP is committed to supporting countries around the world, with all its partners, to put women and girls – their inclusion, representation, rights and protection – at the center of all efforts.

As we recover from the past year and look to 2030, we must build better, with inclusion and equity, to fully realize women’s leadership in crisis situations.


Mara R. Wilmoth