Progress towards gender equality is lagging and hard-fought gains are under threat, new UN Women report says

Photos: Isseu Diouf Campbell

UN Women launched its report, “Women’s Rights in Review 25 years after Beijing” in the presence of UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Research Specialist Silke Staab and Feminist Alliance for Rights Senior Global Coordinator Anya Victoria-Delgado, on March 5, 2020 at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan.

Even though “the economic benefit and the broader benefit for society and families in investing in gender equality is clear,” Silke Staab says, the report finds that progress towards gender equality is faltering and hard-won advances are being reversed. Rampant inequality, the climate emergency, conflict and the alarming rise of exclusionary politics, all threaten future progress towards gender equality.

“The deep stereotypes about women, the prejudice that exists about women, the misogyny that has increased, unfortunately, the rhetoric from leaders, and the fact that the legislation perpetuates discrimination,” are the reasons why progress is slow, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says.

The report flags the lack of effective action to boost women’s representation at the tables of power and warns that the vision of the Beijing Platform for Action will never be realized if the most-excluded women and girls are not acknowledged and prioritized.

Men are 75 per cent of parliamentarians, hold 73 per cent of managerial positions, are 70 per cent of climate negotiators and almost all of the peacemakers.

“It is not impossible to bring about change,” Mlambo-Ngcuka added. “When government has tried and allocated resources, we have actually seen change… Where there is political will, like in Rwanda, you can see that the increase of women in leadership is possible.”

The report reveals that there have been advances in women’s and girls’ rights since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action. There are now more girls in school than ever before, fewer women are dying in childbirth and the proportion of women in parliaments has doubled across the world. Over the past decade, 131 countries have passed laws to support women’s equality.

At the same time, however, progress on women’s access to paid work has ground to a halt globally over the past 20 years. Less than two thirds of women (62 per cent) aged 25-54 are in the labor force, compared to more than nine out of ten men (93 per cent). Women continue to shoulder the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work, and are, on average, paid 16 per cent less than men, rising to 35 per cent in some countries.

Nearly one in five women (18 per cent) have faced violence from an intimate partner in the past year. New technologies are fueling new forms of violence, such as cyber-harassment, for which policy solutions are largely absent, and 32 million girls are still not in school.

Men still control three-quarters of parliamentary seats. Women are largely excluded from peace processes, representing only 13 per cent of negotiators and only 4 per cent of signatories.

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