Speech: Ready to be respectfully disruptive​

UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous delivers the opening address at the 2023 HeForShe Summit, held in Gotham Hall, New York City, on 21 September 2023. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown.

The HeForShe Champions—dedicated individuals from across government, business, non-profit, and academia—have shown what stepping forward looks like with their advocacy and initiatives. For example, our corporate champions have increased participation of women in their boards to a minimum of 40 per cent. This is commendable.

Together we are bringing gender equality closer to reality.

Together we are moving the needle.

At the same time, we must be realistic that we are swimming against a tide of growing pushback against women’s rights. It should particularly alarm us that the attitudes of young men seem to be going backwards, unfortunately.

A UN Women–supported survey showed that 58 per cent of young men aged 16–19 believe that men are better political leaders than women. How then will we achieve equality of women’s leadership? Nearly one in four young men believe that there are acceptable instances to hit a partner or spouse. How then will we end the scourge of violence against women?

Technology offers the potential to greatly improve women’s rise. Yet too often, particularly in the social media space, it does the exact opposite.

We have much to do.

Next year we celebrate HeForShe’s 10th anniversary. It is our ambition to take this initiative to the next level. We look forward to sharing our ideas with you.

We all must speak out, and demand change.

We must be ready, wherever and whoever we are, to respectfully disrupt any misogynist behaviour that demeans anyone. We must challenge the portrayal of toxic masculinity and promote positive male role models who champion gender equality.

Our allyship and partnerships—institutional and individual—have a vital role to play. It is our job to inspire the next generation of gender equality advocates, to break down barriers, and create a more inclusive and equitable society for all.

This new iteration of the HeForShe campaign must also place intersectionality at its heart. We know that gender inequality intersects with other forms of discrimination, such as race, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation. When we acknowledge and address all intersecting barriers, we pave the way to more inclusive societies for all.

Most of all, I want to repeat our call that we be ready to challenge an unacceptable status quo, that we be impatient for change, and that we be ready to be respectfully disruptive.

Thank you for all you have done and all you will do.

I wish us all a successful Summit and beyond.

I thank you.