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A march for women's rights in Sydney, Australia, ahead of March 8 International Women's Day . A march for women's rights in Sydney, Australia, ahead of March 8 International Women's Day .   (ANSA)

UN chief on Women’s Day: gender inequality our biggest human rights challenge

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 6 addressed in an event in New York to mark International Women’s Day, ahead of the actual observance on Sunday, March 8.

By Robin Gomes

According to the United Nations chief, “gender inequality is the overwhelming injustice of our age and the biggest human rights challenge we face”.  

 “I have said it before, and I will say it again: gender equality is a question of power,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at an event on Friday at the UN headquarters in New York to mark International Women’s Day, which falls on Sunday, March 8.

Generation Equality

Addressing the gathering Guterres decried that for millennia, men have used and abused power to control women and prevent them from achieving their potential.  “Deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny have created a yawning gender power gap in our economies, our political systems, our corporations, our societies and our culture.”

The theme of International Women’s Day 2020 is, “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”.   

The theme is in tune with the new multigenerational campaign, Generation Equality, of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women.  The campaign marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most progressive roadmap for the empowerment of women and girls, everywhere.

Women discounted

UN Secretary-General gave a few examples of how women are still very frequently denied a voice, their opinions are ignored and their experience discounted.

He pointed out that high-profile peace agreements have been signed without any women at the table.  Emergency healthcare meetings on the new coronavirus had few or no women in them.  

Yet, he said, women need peace, and contribute to peace, just as much as men – maybe more.  Women make up the majority of the healthcare workforce.

Hence, he said, women are protesting gender inequality and other practices, such as the killing of women, unjust pay and work conditions and violence and abuse.

“Generation Equality means equal rights and opportunities for all women and girls, now,” Guterres stressed, adding that he is determined to achieve gender parity at all levels at the United Nations.

SDGs and climate change

Their passion and conviction, he said, are needed to tackle a whole range of global challenges, from climate change to conflict. 

The UN chief pointed out that without women’s leadership and full participation, the world will never achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development or defeat climate change. 

In this regard, he mentioned a few pioneering women, particularly American scientist and women’s rights campaigner, Eunice Foote.  In 1856, she first proved that changes in carbon dioxide could affect the Earth’s temperature.  He regretted that her findings were ignored and instead recognition was given to a man who proved it after her. 

Guterres noted that there have been improvements in women’s status in certain spheres but there has also been a pushback in progress.

Fighting pushback

Twenty-five years after the Beijing conference, he noted, some countries have rolled back laws that protect women from violence.  Others are reducing women’s civic space and adopting policies that indirectly discriminate against women. 

According to the recent figures of the United Nations Development Programme, almost 90 percent of people, including women, interviewed across 75 countries have “at least one clear bias against gender equality in areas such as politics, economics, education, intimate partner violence and women’s reproductive rights”. Almost 30 percent of people in the world think today that it is acceptable for a man to beat his partner.

Describing himself  “a proud feminist”, Guterres urged all to fight this pushback.  “Only through the equal participation of women can we benefit from the intelligence, experience and insights of all of humanity.”  (Source: UN)

07 March 2020, 17:24