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power of one is about passion, commitment and indomitable courage and 
keeping faith with the causes we serve no matter the difficulties and 
setbacks. It’s about not giving up ever.” Ambassador Lakshmi Puri, 
Assistant Secretary General & Deputy Executive Director UN Women, 
had said, receiving her Diwali Power of One Award at the 
United Nations
 on December 11, 2017. The only woman among five diplomats to 
be honored, Ambassador Puri made her resolve known: “I will power on 
believing in the infinite possibility of all of us to achieve our 
infinite potential for good”.

As this champion of gender equality prepared to leave the UN Women towards the end of January 2018 to go back to 
 after having served the apex women’s body of the United Nations since 
its inception in 2011, The Indian Panorama succeeded in securing her nod
 for an interview.

So, on a 
January 2 cold morning I reached her office in the iconic Daily News 
building on 42nd Street in New York City to speak with her. In a candid 
conversation with me she spoke passionately about her work at the UN 
Women – how much needed to be done, how much has been done, and how much
 more needs to be done – for gender equality, for emancipation of women,
 for empowerment of women. I could see a tigress in her when ready to 
pounce if she thought she was being challenged. During the conversation,
 at one or two points, she flipped at some remark which she considered 
was sexist or discriminatory.

I tried 
to wean her away from the subject so dear to her, to her personal life 
and succeeded but only briefly because she was possessed with thinking 
only of women and their rightful and dignified place in society.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

 have put your heart and soul in your work to care for the dignity of 
women as guided by your parents and that’s what,Ibelieve, you have 
instilled in your children. You are known to be a fiercely feminist 
personality. I would like my readers to know what is the role of UN 
Women when it comes to emancipation, ending bias and grant women 
their rights as human beings I will then come to my other question.

 Un Women was 
founded in Jan. 2011, and I joined in March 2011. So, Iam in the 
leadership team since the beginning and this forum is the only global 
advocate for gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s right in 
every area. So, what does that mean? It means for us that international 
agreements and commitments made by govts. to uphold and advance gender 
equality and empowerment, norms and standards. And that has been UN 
women’s and my own contribution.Because we have in place today historic 
gender equality compact on the part of international community which is 
reflected in the Beijing platform for action not only recommitted but 
taken forward.

Similarly, the UN’s sustainable 
development agenda has made gender equality central to the agenda. And 
there is a sustainable goal on achieving gender equality and empowering 
all women. So, we mobilized all countries tostrongly support and take 
forward the goal.

And that goal is about ending all forms 
of violence against women, child marriage, women trafficking, harmful 
practices like honor killing, sex selection, and everything. apart from 
that all harmful practices that we have in, includingIndia, south Asia. 
So, this is a strong sustainable target.

Similarly, ending all forms 
discrimination, laws and practices. Women’s economic empowerment equal 
ownership over productive resources. Similarly, parity in 
voice participation and leadership in all public life, economic and 
political life. That means in parliament, in the executive, in 
judiciary, in law enforcement, in public service, in 
corporations, everywhere. and, then it also involves universal access to
 sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. Women need 
control over their bodies and their reproductive role. And, then, the 
goal also recognizes that women have to bear disproportionate role in 
domestic care. This is really frontier pushing. 2/3rds of such work is 
done by women and in places like in India, it is higher which is without
 compensation and it also without opportunity, cost on education, income
 and employment, economic empowerment. So, valuing that, reducing that, 
redistributing that and provisioning that. so, these goals are something
 that were very hard to attain and that’s something that I count that as
 my legacy – the whole gender equality, climate change, peace and 
security, the new urban agenda. My husband is the urban affairs minister
 in India,but we have been advocating before the govt. of India and 
implementing smart cities program and all the urban programs that they 
are doing. PM Modi is very much supportive of gender equality program 
and his new India campaign.

Receiving the Diwali Power of One Award, in recognition of powerful advocacy and leadership
in ensuring the adoption of a dedicated goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment
(SDG 5) within the Sustainable Development Goals, and championship of the cause, December
11, 2017 Photo /Jay Mandal

But sexual harassment
 in work place is very pervasive. It is challenging to women who are 
coming out and participating in different sectors of political life 
and professions. So, all these stories are now coming out like 
“metoo” movement.


 I concur with what you are saying but centuries old cultural, social 
and patriarchal norms take time to change. Compared to US, there are not
 many women rising to top in Punjab or Africa. How tough do you think your ground is whether in Punjab or Africa?

AMB: Well, cultural,social, and 
patriarchal norms are critical and that is why we believe in movement 
building. and that is why I believe govt. of India’s – bibi bachao, beti
 padhao – unless you start building culture and social norms around 
valuing the girl child that she is of equal value and also you dismantle
 all the patriarchal institutions and norms that devalue the child and 
aversion to the girl child, you are not going to get any change. So, 
movement building has to be done. This movement building has been going 
on through village councils. UN women has been working in India through 
women village councilors and zilla parishad councilors. Because they 
have got elected on quota and there are 1.5 million women councilors who
 are acting as staff. What we have do is to work with them, train them 
and demand rights and public services from authorities and also 
implementation of the programs that have been approved, money to be 
spent on programs that have been approved. So, our governance program is
 very successful program.

Women’s economic empowerment, access to 
energy and water and sanitation are really important. But you have to 
target gender equality when you target these programs. And equally these
 programs will benefit gender equality in return. For example, the 
jan-dhan program, the access to finance, women’s disadvantage in terms 
of owning property, lands and in Punjab this is prevalent in spite of 
having a law that prevents it and also to disincentivize 
the discrimination. So effective laws and policies and their effective 
implementation, movement building, and youth have to be part of all 

On the youth side, we have this LEAP 
program – Leadership, empowerment, action and prevention of violence 
against women and partnership with women’s organization, young men’s 
organization and intergenerational dialog. So that is the youth part.

We are very successful in our “he or 
she” programs. men and boys have to be made champions of gender 
equality. Women have to stand up for their rights. I have seen in India 
women are transmitting harmful, discriminatory patriarchal norms. So 
social transformation by women themselves is important. but men and boys
 have to be taught from the beginning.

With Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, October 2017 Photo / PMO

That is where the problem is. When there are many women in the family, only then men are sensitive to feminist issues.

Yes, it has to 
begin when youare a boy. Every father and mother must bring up their 
children in a gender equal way. Boys must learn in their textbooks in 
the way their teachers teach them about how women and girls are lower in
 dignity. The other day PM Modi said in “swacha Bharat abhiyan” – he 
talked about how everybody in the house leaves the woman to do the 
cleaning work. Why? It should be the responsibility of each one. So that
 kind of new culture respecting the dignity and equal rights of women 
has to be developed. Education is an important part, but prevention, 
protection, prosecution of perpetrators, ending violence against 
women and provision of multisectoral services- in all of that again, 
changing mindset and educating from the beginning is needed. We are now 
dealing with generations of people who have grown up on gender unequal 
basis and mindset that have stereotypes. So, we have to change that and 
to change that we have to work with them. and we have been working with 

90% of the world is governed by men 
leaders and they are leading from the front. You asked about Africa. We 
have worked with tribal leaders, advocating and championing. It  has 
been successful.

Faith is another important thing. In 
Sikhism, women are always seen as equal. And, what has happened now? it 
is with all other religions including Hindus that we worship them on one
 side and on the other, we devalue them.

 call with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio 
Guterres, December 2017 Photo/ Mohammed Jaffer-SnapsIndia

In order
 to build 50/50 progress by 2030, we have to take some measures. We are 
leading not only in India but many parts of the world, “Gender parity 
Democracy” movement.

 Do you think, likereservation system, we should have a similar system in political and corporate world?

 I entirely 
advocate what is in the Beijing platform and what is in the convention 
for ending all forms of discrimination against women. There is a rule 
for special temporary measures. it is not that these measures will 
be there forever, but when you levelthe playing field, you need some 
special measures to take those who are at the position of disadvantage 
now to the position of equality and once that has been achieved, then 
those measures will become irrelevant. So thatis what we should aspire 

Now to your question, even before going 
to corporate, we have been advocating, and achieved constitutional 
amendments in many countries whereby quotas have been set for 
parliaments but not yet in India.We are strongly advocating for 
“reservation bill” in India. There are electoral system challenges and 
diverse community cultures, but we are advocating reservation bill 
strongly and parliamentary seats for women for some time. I remember one
 case in a village panchayt near Jaipur when she stated that she was 
first nominated and now she defeated 15 other contestants on her 
own strength. She said people voted for her because she delivered -“I 
built roads, got schools opened, got projects opened”.

It is not only women and girls that we do reservation for; it is for good governance.

 the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award In recognition of her 
contribution to furthering the mission of the United Nations, her 
deep-seated commitment to human rights, as well as the global impact of 
her work, November 2016

 So those girls are advocating requirements for themselves.

So, you need to 
bring us up to a level when we don’t need any more help and also to 
a point where people recognize women’s equal participation in 

 That brings me to the corporate world. 
It is a major challenge. There are many countries – like Norway – that 
have special measures which state that any company that wants to be 
listed on stock exchange has to have 50 percent women on board. China and Japan
 are also working towards having women board members. So, it is a 
mandatory movement. There are movements  in India, European union and Germany as well.

In Australia,
 women owned business companies are given certain preferences. These 
kinds of incentives build women’s management and governance capacity in 
the corporate sector as well.

So, you need some measures to achieve that.

With Prime Minister of CanadaJustin Trudeau, global champion of gender equality and UN Women; and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. June 2016

 Even though India had Lady PM and President in politics, what about corporate sector?

 We have women CMs,
 ministers etc. We are taking many steps but not enough.This is a very 
slow progress. In order to build 50/50 progress by 2030, we have to take
 some measures.We are leading not only in India but many parts of the 
world, “Gender parity Democracy” movement.

We have great women’s movement in India, many NGO leaders are women.

As UN organization, we have our first 
MOU with NYC and we have partnership program on all aspects of gender 
equality. Like NYC, we are working with many cities in in the world. 
We also have safe and sustainable cities program which include 66 cities
 in the program and India has about 8 or 9 cities that participates in 
the gender equality program which includes many areas like transport, 
business etc.

Regarding your earlier question on 
women, apart from this norm setting and movement building, one major 
project has been how to build a knowledge hub. we want to bring out 
the facts for a “gender statistics revolution”.

We need to know and bring out what is 
happening with women and girls – whether economic empowerment, violence 
etc. and we have this program called “making women and girls count”.

India is a pathfinder country. There are
 about now 20 countries that participating in this program. Now social 
media is also helping in that – gender statistics revolution.

We need to bring out the facts to make 
people outreach to bring about the emancipation of women. As Swami 
Vivekananda said -“arise, awake and stop not” – this whole knowledge 
is important and that is the basis of the revolution.

 Is there a time frame for that?

We have set a time-frame of 2030. That is why the slogan is – “planet 50/50 by 2030”. We are asking every country to step up.

We are
 very strapped and under-resourced. Original target was 1 billion, then 
it became 500 million and now we are struggling to reach 300 million. It
 has been a big challenge. We have tried to raise from philanthropist 
and private sectors, including India. We are doing everything, 
but governments are not forthcoming.

 Just like any country that violates UN resolutions, are there any sanctions for the country that violates the gender equality?

 UN women is 
intergovernmental organization. There are no sanctions that can be 
placed but we work with every country to make them speed up the gender 
equality. In UAE we have opened an office. We are having dialog with Saudi Arabia and we have a very strong Arab office in Egypt that oversees all of the Arab world.

We are working in conflict countries, 
natural disasters, refugee countries, we are working on humanitarian 
response and resiliencebuilding, making sure that 
whateverhumanitarianresponse is provided, there is a very 
strong focusing on differential and disproportionate response on women 
as they are more prone to exploitation.

Regrading your 2030 target, do you think your organization needs more resources and extra power to meet the target?

 Absolutely. This 
has been one of my regrets that the international community has been 
very strong in committing in terms of norms and standards to women’s 
empowerment and gender equality, they have not setup institutions to 
take this forward. So, the financial commitment part has not 
been commensurate with declared political commitment. We are very 
strapped and under-resourced.

Original target was 1 billion, then 
it became 500 million and now we are struggling to reach 300 million. It
 has been a big challenge. We have tried to raise from philanthropist 
and private sectors,including India. We are doing everything, 
but governments are not forthcoming.

“Making Women and children count” is supported by Gates Foundation.

 the godmother of feminism, Gloria Steinem at the launch symposium of 
the Women, Peace and Security program at Columbia University, October 

I would
 like all women to come forward and claim their rights which are equal 
to all the men and boys. And to all men and boys, join the gender 
equality cause, because this is not only good for your mothers, sisters,
 colleagues etc.; it is good for you.

 US president has decided to cut back funding for UN. So, are you also affected?

 No, we were in fact very happy that in 2017 contribution from US increased by a million.

 What about now?

 In 2017 US govt. gave 8.5 million, 1 million more than the previous year.

How is India performing?

 India, from the inception, has played a very stellar role and they are the only country contributing 1 million every year.

 last question. Your husband, Mr. Hardeep Singh Puri has been a 
wonderful diplomat. Now that he has chosen to go into politics, how do 
you look at the new avatar of your husband.

 He always wanted 
to be in politics. He was in politics during his student days. He always
 wanted to break out of his civil service mantle and go into politics. 
After retirement, he chose to go into politics. I am very happy that 
he has assumed the role of minister for urban and housing development 
which is very critical in order to achieve all the 17 goals of 
sustainable development and he has my full support.


 Before we close, would you like to say something to The Indian Panorama readers?

 I would like all 
women to come forward and claim their rights which are equal to all the 
men and boys. And to all men and boys, join the gender equality cause, 
because this is not only good for your mothers, sisters, colleagues 
etc.; it is good for you.


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