UN urges speedier move toward gender equality amid crisis for women

By Mario Villar

United Nations, Oct 1 (efe-epa).- A quarter of a century after the first big global commitment to women’s rights, the world continues to be far from achieving gender equality and, in addition, it could lose the advances made in recent decades due to the acute crisis affecting women as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the United Nations and numerous international leaders warned on Wednesday.

Gathered to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, heads of state and government from all around the world issued a call to accelerate the measures in this area, especially insisting on the need to achieve parity between men and women in positions of power.

Women are now asking for a 50 percent increase in representation, or parity, in all spheres, including governments, corporate boards and in the entire economy, said the head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, in her speech to the international body.

For UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, gender inequality is above all a “question of power” for which a response needs to come in the form of beginning to achieve equal representation in leadership posts, both public and private, using tools such as quotas when necessary.

Although important advances have been made in the 25 years since the historic Beijing meeting, the UN still believes that they have not been enough.

Among the achievements, the international organization emphasizes the reduction in maternal mortality (by about 40 percent since 1995), the growing number of girls in school and the slight increase in the number of women who head countries around the world.

In 1995, there were 12 women heads of state and government and today there are 22 among the world’s 193 countries, and this constitutes progress but it’s not enough and it’s proceeding too slowly, Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

Meanwhile, one in every three women continues to suffer some kind of violence during her life, 12 million girls marry each year at younger than 18, the levels of femicide remain high and, on the world level, women only enjoy 75 percent of the legal rights that men have.

In the economic sphere, according to the World Bank, it could require 150 years to achieve parity in the income that men and women earn during their lives.

According to the UN, in addition, in recent years there has been a harsh reaction to women’s progress with attacks on reproductive rights or on laws enacted to halt machista violence.

“Everywhere, the rights of women are being attacked,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, who lamented the fact that the advances achieved are being questioned even within democracies, starting with “the freedom of women to decide about their own bodies and, in particular, the right to voluntarily interrupt pregnancy.”

Macron, in fact, said that in 2020, it would be “impossible” to adopt the Beijing Declaration, a situation that has been denounced by feminist groups, who points to the ever more conservative stances of certain governments, above all on the abortion issue.

This became evident in March, when the member states negotiated a document to reaffirm the validity of the Beijing Declaration, a process that revealed a sharp division and the refusal of several important nations to assume new commitments.

Now, the situation of women is being seen as especially threatened by the coronavirus pandemic.

If the world doesn’t act now, Covid-19 could erase a fragile generation of progress toward gender equality, said Guterres.

The Portuguese diplomat emphasized that the world is facing a recession that will affect women greatly, given that working women in the informal economy have been the first to lose their jobs, nurses are on the “front line” in fighting the coronavirus pandemic and woman are suffering a second “pandemic” of gender violence during the crisis.

While women are on the front fighting against this pandemic, they’re also being pushed to the margins, complained Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewda, one of the first women to speak at the meeting, where almost all the speeches were delivered via video.

“The confinement and the socio-economic consequences of the health crisis have exacerbated violent behaviors against women and girls and have made more difficult their possibilities of accessing protection and timely help,” the interim president of Bolivia, Jeanine Añez, said.

The conference held in Beijing was the first big world meeting about women’s rights and enabled nations to adopt a kind of roadmap toward equality with actions in numerous areas such as gender violence, education and representation.

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