Speech of UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous at the opening of the Asian Women's Forum in Samarkand


UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous. Photo: UN Women/ Dilshod Muhamedov

Your Excellency Madam Tanzila Narbayeva,

Your Excellency, Mr. Martin Chungong,

Distinguished delegates, representatives of government bodies and civil society institutions,

Dear women leaders, guests, and partners,  

Assalam Alaykom,

This is my first-time in Uzbekistan in historic beautiful Samarkand - and I thank the Government for the very warm welcome and hospitality. My thanks also for this timely forum on the critical topic of women’s economic empowerment, and to His Excellency President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, for his commitment to advancing women´s rights and empowerment in Uzbekistan.

We meet at a crucial time.  Our world is facing multiple crises - with women and girls at the forefront of their daring consequences. Women and girls everywhere pay the highest price in conflicts they do not wage. We see this starkly now in Gaza where women are being disproportionately killed at a rate that is unprecedented.  We continue to call for an immediate ceasefire, the unhindered access to humanitarian lifesaving assistance, the release of all hostages, and for peace. Sustainable, just peace for all women and girls everywhere must be our collective priority.

Women also suffer as a result of climate change - which at the current rate may push up to 158 million more women and girls into poverty. Climate change and conflict also drive increased vulnerability to gender-based violence. One in three women worldwide continues to experience violence and harassment – at home, in public spaces, at work, and on different media platforms. Violence against women and discriminatory social institutions cost the global economy USD 6 trillion every year. Yet women and girls are rarely offered a space in driving forward solutions.


We need to understand the drivers of a status quo we can ill afford. High among them are the discriminatory norms and legislative systems that negatively impact women’s ability to be leaders. In Asia for example, as much as anywhere these drive low rates of entrepreneurial activity and participation in the labor force.

We are in desperate need of solutions, there is no path to peaceful, sustainable, and prosperous societies that does not prioritise women's rights and leadership. The world is off track on all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, we have but few years to go before 2030 is upon us. Our best hope is investing in SDG 5, that on gender equality. SDG5 is our docking station, our north star - as it holds the potential to unlock stagnate progress on all the other SDG goals.


We must recognize and celebrate success and replicate it. And globally, equality has advanced in many areas, including the economic sphere.

Here in Uzbekistan, you have mandated equal pay for work of equal value and removed restrictions on women’s employment in industrial jobs and jobs deemed dangerous. We applaud you for that. This reflects a global trend as labor laws become more equal. Quotas for women´s leadership and board membership have become a reality in many parts of the world. In other areas too, we see achievements that are worth celebrating and replicating.

Young women are driving social justice and standing at the forefront of global movements. Maternal mortality continues to decline. More girls than before are accessing primary education. We see feminist foreign policies increasing.

We see a greater attention to the women, peace, and security agenda. But this progress should not obscure the remaining challenges: Today only one of the SDG5 fourteen indicators is close to being achieved - that of women in leadership positions in local governance.

Today, barely half of the world’s women participate in the global workforce, compared with nearly three out of every four men. When they do work, women earn an average 20 per cent less than men. Their work often affords them little or no job security, they are unprotected by labour laws, and lack pensions or health insurance.  This is particularly so because 60 per cent of women’s employment globally is in the informal economy.  In low-income countries it is more than 90 per cent. Ironically, this is despite women working just as hard as men if not more so.  Women perform 75 per cent of the world’s unpaid care and domestic work.  They effectively subsidize the global economy.

And, 1 in 10 women continues to live in extreme poverty. This is not just unfair.  It is wasteful, leaving trillions of dollars of productivity spurned simply because we cannot level the playing field. For example, closing the gender gap by 25 percent could potentially increase the Asia-Pacific region's overall gross domestic product (GDP) by as much as $3.2 trillion.

Study after study shows that investing in women’s economic empowerment yields enormous dividends for both peace and prosperity, and that countries where women are economically marginalized and shut out of the workforce are much more likely to go to war. What’s more, economically empowering women has a powerful multiplier effect.  When women have more control over household income, there is an increase in spending on children's education and healthcare. When women are members of boards and research institutions, innovation thrives and businesses profit.

That is why the Agreed Conclusions of the sixty-eight Commission on the Status of Women in March this year, on poverty reduction and financing, acknowledged that gender equality is essential for achieving sustainable development, promoting peaceful, just, and inclusive societies, enhancing inclusive and sustainable economic growth and productivity, and ending poverty for all. Last year, the sixty-seventh Commission on the Status of Women revealed the importance of tackling gender inequality in the new kind of poverty that now confronts the world, one that excludes women and girls in devastating ways—that of digital poverty.

And the year before that, the same Commission highlighted the urgency of keeping women and girls at the heart of climate action for our future’s sake and the sake of the generations to come.

I encourage you all to commit to the implementation of the CSW Agreed Conclusions and to take them forward with urgency in your national priorities.


Next year we will mark 30 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The sixty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women in March 2025 will offer us an opportunity to stock-take and recommit to its 12 critical areas. As Member states prepare their national review reports, this Forum is part of a global roadmap to taking stock of where we have come from and identifying our shared and most strategic way forward to accelerate the Platform for Action's implementation. It also gives us an opportunity to look at the issues that were not present in Beijing 29 years ago such as digitization, automation, and artificial intelligence.  These offer opportunity and threat, as innovation so often does, including in ways unique and specific to women and girls.

In a world fraught with fragmentation, the UN Summit of the Future this coming September offers a unique opportunity to rebuild trust and forge a new international consensus on how to safeguard our collective future.  It is also a chance to ensure that financial institutions and systems are inclusive, that they work for women and men. It is a once in a generation moment to take actions to bring equality and equity to the multilateral space.

I urge us all to be bold in our actions to integrate a gender perspective into financing for development commitments. I urge us all to implement gender-responsive economic and social policies and strengthen public institutions. I urge us all to engage and finance women's organizations and collectives, who remain the most crucial drivers for social change in their communities.

You can count on UN Women’s support.


The challenges are daunting, but we are not daunted.  The opportunities are immense, and we will seize them.  The imperative is just, and we share a belief in justice and equality. The key, I believe, is collective action.  It is coming together as we do here to arrive at a shared vision, to create shared solutions, to commit to shared action and to embrace shared accountability. I ask that each of you here be an ambassador for what we build together in our discussions, taking it back to your communities and networks, sparking change and being a catalyst for positive change.

I wish us all a fruitful discussion and express my gratitude once again to the Government of Uzbekistan for hosting us in historic Samarkand.  Samarkand is the perfect backdrop for our work to advance the rights of women and girls in this region, let’s all join hands as we undertake it here, and beyond.

I thank you. Katta Rahmat.