25 years after UN women’s meeting, equality remains distant

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Twenty-five years ago, the world’s nations came together to make sure that half of Earth’s population gained the rights, power and status of the other half. It hasn’t happened yet. And it won’t anytime soon.

In today’s more divided, conservative and still very male-dominated world, top U.N. officials say the hope of achieving equality for women remains a distant goal.

“Gender inequality is the overwhelming injustice of our age and the biggest human rights challenge we face,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said. Last week, in his address at the virtual meeting of world leaders at the General Assembly, he said the COVID-19 pandemic has hit women and girls the hardest.

“Unless we act now,” he said, “gender equality could be set back by decades.”

Ahead of Thursday’s high-level meeting to commemorate the landmark 1995 U.N. women’s conference in Beijing, the head of the U.N. agency charged with promoting gender equality lamented the “slow, terribly uneven” progress, “pushback” and even regression in reaching the goals in the 150-page platform adopted by the 189 nations that met in China’s capital.

While there has been progress since Beijing, U.N. Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told The Associated Press on Tuesday that gains have been modest. What’s more, she says, “there is also sometimes an exaggeration and an illusion of much bigger progress than there has been.”

She pointed to the number of women in parliaments, which moved from about 11% in 1995 to a global average of 25% today. Now, women hold just 23% of managerial positions in the private sector. And among the 193 U.N. member nations, there are 21 female presidents and prime ministers worldwide, about twice as many as in 1995.

This means that men still hold about 75 percent of the power positions in the world, Mlambo-Ngcuka said. They “make decisions for us all, and that is what we have to crack.”

Guterres has stressed the uphill struggle, which he attributes to “centuries of discrimination, deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny.”

The landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing was crucial because it adopted a road map to gender equality. It was the largest-ever formal gathering of women, though hundreds of men were among the 17,000 participants at the official meeting that adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Some 30,000 people, the vast majority women, attended a parallel NGO forum outside the capital.

In the European Union, Mlambo-Ngcuka said, there are countries that want to pull out of The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women or are refusing to ratify it. “You would not have expected that to happen within the EU,” she said. And in Africa and Asia, she said, there are governments “that have not felt any pressure” to move forward.

“So our energy has had to go to stop this pushback, not to work for the advancement of women,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said. “And then came COVID, and that has made the situation worse.”

At the meeting, 170 nations are expected to speak including over 50 world leaders, among them French President Emmanuel Macron and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who had been scheduled to host “Generation Equality” forums this year for thousands of civil society representatives and activists. Those were postponed until 2021 because of the pandemic.

The summit will not be adopting any document. That happened in March when the Commission on the Status of Women, the main U.N. body promoting women’s rights, reaffirmed the 1995 Beijing declaration and platform and pledged to step up implementation.

Read more via AP

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