Amina Mohammed, United Nations deputy secretary-general, says it will take at least 170 years to achieve economic equality between men and women.
Mohammed said this in her message to the Youth Forum of the Commission on the Status of Women.
She said women and girls were being forced to confront higher obstacles to opportunity than men and boys.
“Gender-based discrimination, marginalization, violence and other human rights abuses; unequal access to education, to health care; these are basic rights and also to opportunities for leadership and participation. This list goes on and on,” she said.
“The barriers are so high that it would take 170 years to achieve economic equality between women and men; 170 years!
“I’m sorry but I do not accept a world that says – equality is not good enough for you or me or our daughters.”
Mohammed challenged young women not to wait for opportunities to fall on their laps but to go for it as waiting would not make it happen.
“I’m not waiting. I know you’re not waiting. When I was your age I was never waiting. I was always being told to take it easy or time will come,” she said.
“And I was always thinking my time is now. So, our world can’t wait. Building a better world won’t happen on its own.
“We live in a world that is out of balance. Eight people hold the same wealth as half of humanity. All of them are men, by the way.
“Joblessness – particularly for young people – is on the rise. In many parts of the world, it is completely off the charts.
“And when you see data that just aggregates a figure, look behind the data to the people, the faces and where they are.”
Mohammed regretted that mistrust and insecurity were growing, and noted that people were feeling left out of the decision-making that affects their lives.
“We often talk about the youth and their future but your future is now. No one faces these stark imbalances more than the world’s women and girls.”
She noted that the current youth population represents the largest that the world has ever seen, describing it as “something really historic”.
“Today, 1.8 billion young people are between the ages of 10 and 24. Every one of them has hopes. Every one of them has aspirations. Every one of them has his own unique dream,” she said.
“I may have a fancy job that is called the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. But I have to tell you my job description is simple.
“It’s about a world that I want to build where every girl and boy has the tools, the structures and the support to make their dreams a reality.
“So let’s focus on getting things done, taking those ambitions into real practicality, keeping in mind one of my favourite Nigerian proverbs: ‘Fine words do not produce food’.
“Rhetoric has its place but implementation matters – practical action. I am counting on you to be the change agents and torchbearers that we so desperately need.
“I know that you are well on your way. When I look out today, I do see the future. But I see it now. The actions that you can take as you walk out these doors.
“It’s a future of equality. A future of justice. A future of dignity for women and girls and for all humanity. Let’s make that happen.”