Statement of the UN Resident Coordinator at the International Rural Women's Day Prize-Giving Ceremony at Business Women Eswatini

Statement of the UN Resident Coordinator, Ms Nathalie Ndongo-Seh, at Business Women Eswatini's prize-giving ceremony for International Rural Women's Day.

Honorable Minister,

Your Excellencies,

President of Business Eswatini,

CEO of Business Eswatini,

Business Women Eswatini,

Business leaders,

Incredible women and colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,


Let me begin by wishing you all the most wonderful morning; one which brings joy, happiness and celebration in many ways.

I am truly honoured to address you on behalf of the United Nations Development System in Eswatini. Standing before you today, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for your invitation; the pleasure to have left ‘my bunker’ for a bit of fresh air in your company, and more importantly and more seriously, I am overwhelmed with humility, respect and admiration for the courageous, determined and very inspirational  women in this room, who have defied the odds in their journey to success.

I would like to ask you to join me in  applauding and celebrating how far you have come and the undeniable impact that you have had on your families, communities and on Eswatini  in one of the most difficult periods that we have faced as a human family. Let us clap together. Thank you.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed systemic inequalities within societies. Vulnerable populations - including women, children, older persons, persons living with disabilities, people living with HIV and AIDS, the LGBTQI community, youth, low-income and migrant populations - are experiencing the impacts of the pandemic in undeniable ways.

Women, rural women in particular, are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. In fact, it is estimated that the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout will likely push 47 million more women into poverty, reversing decades of progress. Nearly 60 percent of women work in the informal economy, an insecure labour market, and thus, are at greater risk of falling into poverty.

According to preliminary global studies, women account for over 70 percent of COVID-19 infections among healthcare workers. These statistics are only a few examples which demonstrate the courage and the resilience of women. All of you women present today, in your Tinkhundla, and those joining us online, are vibrant illustrations  of this bravery, resilience and determination that can turn a household, a community, a sector and an entire nation around.

I have witnessed first-hand the incredible expansion of the textiles industry and Vukani BoMake project in the Kingdom of Eswatini during a period of great disruption. So too, I have seen the far-reaching impact of agri-business on women and girls through the Woman Farmers Foundation. I am grateful to you Make Tokki and to you Make Sonia for educating me again and again on women contributions in these 2 critical areas of Eswatini economy and the SDGs achievements in Eswatini. It is significant that we meet today, on the International Rural Women’s Day. It is evident in this prize-giving ceremony that you have excelled and possibly surpassed your goals.

As the United Nations in the Kingdom of Eswatini we also take this opportunity congratulate on of our own -- the World Food Programme (WFP), a member of the UN Family in Eswatini – that works closely with rural communities, especially.

A week ago, WFP was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, a prestigious global award for the advancement of global peace. We appreciate the existing partnerships with the Government of Eswatini, development partners, civil society, private sector and local communities, as represented by such community-based organisations for rural women whom we recognise today, for effectively responding to the food emergency in the country for many decades.

We believe that this noble gesture will give us impetus and propel us to increase our efforts and support to Emaswati as we prepare for the next cycle of the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework 2021-2025.

Since March 2020, the UN Secretary-General, Mr António Guterres, has launched a series of briefs and initiatives to guide the UN and countries’ Humanitarian and Socio-Economic Response to COVID-19. Central to the Responses are increasing solidarity; ensuring equality; promoting transparency, accountability and collaboration; and placing the voices, rights and agency of the people at the centre of the response.

The United Nations’ response to COVID-19 is founded on the principles of protecting the people and the planet, preserving the gains of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and achieving Agenda 2030. With only ten years left to achieve the SDGs, we have entered a Decade of Action, in which hastened and ambitious action towards realising Agenda 2030 is needed.

To reduce the impact of the pandemic on women, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with NAMBoard, has been distributing seedlings and seeds to farmers across the country. We believe that this intervention will ensure sustainable vegetable production in our nation during and following the COVID-19 pandemic, assuring household and national food security. 

I wouldlike to congratulate His Majesty and his Government for the solid and impactful leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in Eswatini.

I would like to acknowledge the private sector for its crucial support to  development initiatives in Eswatini, extending to key areas such as women empowerment, decent work, quality education, water and sanitation, and renewable energy.

Finally, as I close these remarks, I wish to stress that it is only in solidarity and in unity with one another that we will ensure that no one is left behind in the recovery from COVID-19. I have said it before:  we need local solutions to local problems. It is clear today that indeed, you are the solution.

You did not persevere just for yourselves, to revive your Tinkhundla or become self-sufficient for your families, communities and your beautiful Kingdom. Your example will empower generations of brave girls and women to come. I humbly and very respectfully thank you and salute you..

As you are awarded your well-deserved prizes today, we are reminded of the impactful words of Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General: “When women thrive, all of society benefits”. I congratulate you for your everyday bravery, courage and determination. You are the change-makers, and once again, it is my honour and privilege with you  here today.

I thank you.

Speech by
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
Resident Coordinator
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
UN entities involved in this initiative
World Food Programme
Other entities involved in this initiative
Resource Center for Gender Equality