UNFPA Calls for Protection & Justice for Women & Girls in Tigray

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

The writer is UNFPA Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.

In retelling their stories, women in Tigray describe their attackers as “armed men”. Credit: UNFPA

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 26 2021 (IPS) – The 2018 Nobel Laureate, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynaecologist celebrated for his work with survivors of sexual assault in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Panzi Hospital once said: “Rape is a strategy of war – it is meant to destroy women and communities physically and mentally”.


Sadly, this destruction has become a daily reality for women and girls in the Tigray region in Ethiopia.
In recent weeks, women have come forward with the most devastating stories of sexual violation and physical abuse. Selam, 22, who found shelter in a safe house, is one of the survivors.

She recalls “running from place to place without food or shelter” and “constantly living in fear” after being displaced from her home and repeatedly facing harrowing incidents of sexual violence.

Persistent fighting, forced displacement, and dire living conditions over the past eight months in Tigray and the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara in northern Ethiopia, have created one of Africa’s most pressing humanitarian crises.

More than 5.2 million people in Tigray alone require humanitarian assistance; among them are 118,000 pregnant women and 1.3 million women of reproductive age. Amid the crisis, gross violations and abuses against civilians, including sexual violence, continue to be reported.

The health and well-being of women and adolescent girls are further threatened by food insecurity that is expected to worsen. The destruction and looting of health facilities – around a third are partially functioning, and a mere one per cent are offering clinical management of rape services – further complicates the situation amidst the threat of COVID-19.

Julitta Onabanjo

Selam’s experience is just one of the stories captured by health officials and UN agencies, but these testimonies likely represent only a fraction of the real prevalence.
Even under normal circumstances, given the high levels of stigma, among other factors, gender-based violence is largely unreported in Ethiopia. Only 24 per cent of survivors ever seek assistance, according to the 2016 Ethiopia Demographic Health Survey.

Devastating impact

Rape and other forms of sexual abuse have a devastating impact on women’s physical and mental well-being, rights and choices, and affect their ability to care for their children, support their families and contribute to their societies.

A social worker at the UNFPA-supported safe house where Selam now resides described the women as arriving “traumatized and depressed due to prolonged suffering, distress and horrendous violence”.

Even when women have not experienced sexual violence, the fear of rape or insecurity prevents them from accessing food distributing centres, critical health-care services for themselves or their children, and adolescent girls may stay away from school.

In the long-run, hiding from potential attacks contributes to malnutrition, poor health outcomes, and a lack of educational attainment among women and girls.

UN Member States have recognized the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls. The UN Security Council-adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security, calls on all parties in hostilities to take special measures to “protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict”.

The African Union also committed to “Silencing the Guns” by “ending all wars, civil conflicts, gender-based violence, violent conflicts and preventing genocide on the continent by 2020”.

Women’s bodies must not be the object of war or the collateral in conflict. Rather women must be the central subject and partner in peacebuilding.

In retelling their stories, women in Tigray describe their attackers as “armed men”. These serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law must be swiftly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

Call to end hostilities

We urge the government of Ethiopia and the international community to step up efforts to end hostilities and all forms of violence in the country, including gender-based violence, to ensure the health and safety of women and girls.

As part of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) system-wide scale up for the Tigray region activated in April 2021, UNFPA is expanding and accelerating support in its areas of responsibility — protection, prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) and delivering quality sexual and Reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Safe houses

Women-friendly spaces, safe houses and one-stop centres in the conflict-affected regions have been set up to provide clinical management of rape and psychosocial counselling. These spaces connect women to a wide range of sexual and reproductive health services and legal services.

What transforms a rape victim into a rape survivor is justice. UNFPA is working with partners to ensure effective referral and prosecution systems are available.

We are working with the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth of Ethiopia to enable the capacity-building of armed personnel and the constitution of a Gender-Based Violence Task Force, in collaboration with the Ethiopian Police University and the Federal Police Commission.

UNFPA is also providing medical supplies, helping to restore health system services, and cumulatively, has distributed hundreds of Emergency Reproductive Health kits and thousands of Dignity Kits.

Additionally, to prevent COVID-19 infections among key staff providing SRH and GBV services and information in government and partner-run health facilities and one-stop centres, nearly 11,000 Personal Protective Equipment items have been distributed since November 2020.

Funds needed urgently

Providing adequate levels of these kinds of life-saving services requires urgent funding. We are calling on all that can help, including government and development partners, to assist us in addressing the immediate needs of women and girls and help us avert the medium to long-term repercussions of sexual violence. The immediate funding requirements for the next six months is $15 million.

The women and girls of Tigray have told us their stories, and we continue to hear them out. Our actions to deal with their trauma and rebuild their lives must be our urgent response.

For women to participate equally in society, they need to make decisions about their bodies freely and without fear. Rape and other forms of gender-based violence destroy the ability of women and girls to make choices and fulfil their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Even in times of conflict, we must continue to defend and protect the rights of women and girls and devote the necessary attention and resources to prevent sexual violence and decisively ensure justice.

Source: Africa Renewal, United Nations

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Conceptual Advances for United Nations 2.0

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Gender, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

The writer is a Research Analyst at Stimson Center

WASHINGTON DC, Jul 20 2021 (IPS) – The forthcoming UN Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda” report, to be released before this year’s UN General Assembly High-Level Week, is expected to offer ambitious recommendations to accelerate the realization of the UN75 Declaration as the world comes to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic.


Promote Peace & Prevent Conflicts. Credit: United Nations

While the report’s ideas are still undisclosed, three notions are likely to represent conceptual building blocks: a “new social contract,” a “new global deal,” and “networked and inclusive multilateralism” have each permeated current high-level discussions at the United Nations, especially in speeches of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

While these three concepts are not mentioned explicitly in the UN75 Declaration, they are implicit in the framing of the declaration’s twelve commitments. Building on perspectives from past and present scholars, world leaders, policymakers, and practitioners, these powerful notions are each unpacked in Stimson Center’s recent report, “Beyond UN75: A Roadmap for Inclusive, Networked, and Effective Global Governance.”

Critics, including the United Nations, argue that the present state of the social contract is outdated and incapable of meeting the needs and challenges of the twenty-first century. The UN Secretary-General himself emphasized that a new social contract is “an opportunity to build back a more equal and sustainable world” from COVID-19.

A new, modernized social contract could, indeed, help advance a more just post-COVID-19 recovery and economic policies that consider the realization of human rights as an end in itself—rather than as one more channel to achieve high economic growth levels under outdated metrics.

It could include a global political commitment to securing social protection floors and universal access to educational systems, among other initiatives that seek to respond to the major economic, technological, and societal shifts now underway.

Similarly, an equitable, resilient, and sustainable social contract should rebuild people’s trust in governance institutions. Trust is a prerequisite that offers legitimacy to those governing, and it permits the existence of a contract in the first place.

With the “new social contract” being the vision and long-term goal for weaving a new normative fiber binding states and peoples together, the world also needs a more operational “new global deal.”

The UN Secretary-General suggested that a new global deal would entail a redistribution of power, wealth, and opportunities, and global political and economic systems that deliver critical global public goods: public health, climate action, sustainable development, and peace.

This echoes long-standing discussions about representativeness in the current system of global governance, considering, for example, the distribution of special drawing rights at the International Monetary Fund, which gives the United States a blocking minority share, or the setup of the Security Council with its five permanent, veto-wielding powers and ten non-permanent members.

Resource redistribution and redirection also need to be seen in light of calls for a “green recovery” from the COVID-19 pandemic and of the need to recalibrate the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Advancing a new social contract and new global deal further require a more networked and inclusive multilateralism. This would entail a paradigm shift from the state-centric international world order to one where myriad actors, beyond nation-states (especially traditional major powers), can collaboratively share and implement solutions to complex problems.

Delivering the future we want will not come from “polarized member states or politicized UN secretariats.” It will result from collaborations between international civil servants, Member States, and progressive networks of non-state actors—including scholars, academics, media, businesses, philanthropies, and other stakeholders.

In this spirit, the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations must update their rules of engagement with non-state actors, to facilitate networked and inclusive multilateralism. There is no dearth of institutional innovation ideas that can help build inclusive multilateralism.

For instance, the Call for Inclusive Global Governance, released in April 2021 and endorsed by over 150 civil society organizations worldwide, provides three recommendations for promoting greater inclusion and participation of civil society at the UN: first, the creation of a formal instrument—a World Citizens’ Initiative—to enable individual citizens to influence the UN’s work; second, a UN Parliamentary Assembly to allow for the inclusion of elected representatives in agenda-setting and decision-making at the UN; and third, the appointment of a UN Civil Society Envoy to support greater civil society engagement at the UN.

Networked and inclusive multilateralism, going beyond classic intergovernmentalism, provides a platform and framework to carry out a new global deal (operational plan) in the service of establishing a new social contract (vision).

What is needed now is enlightened leadership, combined with a well-designed strategy for reform for channeling these ideas in support of a more interlinked and participatory global governance system.

Guided by these three powerful concepts, the Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda” can generate political momentum for a potential 2023 World Summit on Inclusive Global Governance for truly innovating the United Nations system to keep pace with present and future challenges and opportunities.

The 75th anniversary of the United Nations was believed to be a moment for laying the foundations for a new kind of multilateralism. Although adoption of the UN75 Declaration represents an important milestone, its vision is yet to be matched by a commensurate global plan for action.

Bouncing back now from the COVID-19 presents an opportunity to also rebuild a global system that can help all nations and peoples effectively overcome current global inequalities, injustices, and insecurity. It is incumbent on all of us to make 2021 a turning point for multilateralism.

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The Fight for the “Lost Souls.”

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

MEXICO CITY, Jul 19 2021 (IPS) – In June, the Department of Homeland Security made a critical announcement. For the first time in U.S. history, more than 15 national and local agencies and civilian organizations conducted a simultaneous major binational operation to find missing children inside and outside the United States.


Rosi Orozco

They called it “Operation Lost Souls”. Its objective was to find girls and boys who were missing and possibly deceived or kidnapped by sexual exploitation gangs.

The secret operation lasted a week. And the result announced by Special Agent Erik Breitzke surprised even the organizers: 24 minors were recovered and, among them, three were located in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

The report of the operation does not explain the condition in which the minors were found. Still, it is not difficult to infer why they were in Ciudad Juarez: the United Nations, the International Police, and the Mexican Congress have warned that this border city is a well-known destination for sex tourism.

In 1993, that Mexican city became infamous worldwide due to a phenomenon known as “Las muertas de Juarez,” where hundreds of femicides were discovered under the suspicion that the victims had been recruited for sexual slavery.

More than 28 years later, Ciudad Juarez is still a city known for its tolerance of prostitution, its glittering brothels with hidden girls, and its streets run by pimps and mafias that are tied to the porn industry. It is a pedophile’s paradise.

There is an explanation for that: in Ciudad Juárez, as in many others cities worldwide, the fight against human trafficking has the wrong approach — the police often harass those who are prostituted, not the clients. But there is a growing global movement calling for doing the opposite.

That movement is also trending in Mexico and is inspired by the French law enacted on April 13, 2016, which prohibits any sexual act that has been agreed upon in exchange for money.

It’s a simple but substantial change: to protect human rights, the law should not go against people trapped in prostitution but against clients. In other words, the authorities must attack the most powerful link in the chain, not the most vulnerable.

To this end, it is necessary to stop the criminalization of those trapped in prostitution and, instead, create incentives for their exit from the sex trade.

For example, designing self-employment programs, granting tax benefits for those who wish to leave prostitution, including them in a protected witness program with benefits, issuing temporary residence permits for foreigners who could not get a job because of their immigration status, among other measures.

To reach the goal of lowering sexual trafficking and exploitation, the law needs to strongly target the demand that perpetuates these crimes. The penalties for “client exploiters” need to be strengthened.

To prosecute them more effectively, mexican activists are asking their government to imitate what the French police does by removing the burden of proof of the solicitation from the victim’s shoulders.

The French law has been a successful model, according to the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution (CAP International): it has curbed the investment of traffickers, discouraged clients, provided dignified outlets for the most vulnerable, and swept away the dangers of the tolerated clandestinely.

This model has also proved that pimps are less likely to “invest” in a country with such hard measures against them. Because they see themselves as genuine businessmen, these progressive laws such as the Swedish and French laws that have strong penalties for sex buyers are simply not good for business.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in the General recommendation No. 38 (2020) on human trafficking, encourages this new movement and calls on countries around the world to enforce it, especially in a pandemic context.

“The need to address the demand that fosters sexual exploitation is significant in the context of digital technology, which exposes potential victims to an increased risk of being trafficked,” alerts the General recommendation.

This global movement walks hand in hand with others that have shaken the world, such as #MeToo or the worldwide protests against inequality.

It’s the voice of millions around the world, Mexicans included: never again a city where sex buyers are seen as mere clients and traffickers are treated as businessmen.

To raise awareness among Mexican lawmakers, we will implement from July 26 to August 6 the worldwide campaign #10Days and #VsTrafficking hand in hand with several international organizations that will encourage new activists to stand against exploitative clients and put an end to the suffering of every lost soul in the world.

We are millions convinced of a revolutionary idea: abolishing prostitution does not limit sexual freedom, instead it motivates the sexual freedom that is needed in the world. The one that does not depend on money.

The author is a human rights activist who opened the first shelter for girls and teenagers rescued from sexual commercial exploitation in Mexico. She has published five books on preventing human trafficking; she is the elected Representative of GSN Global Sustainability Network in Latin America.

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Towards an Equal Future in Parliaments

Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Women’s Political Network, Credit: UNDP Montenegro

The Women’s Political Network was established in Montenegro in November 2017 to promote equal political and economic rights and to combat gender-based-violence. The initiative was funded by the Delegation of the European Union to Montenegro and implemented by UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights.

Meanwhile the UN will be commemorating International Day of Parliamentarism on June 30.

NEW YORK, Jun 28 2021 (IPS) – In elections last October in Georgia, women’s share of seats in parliament went up by nearly seven percent, following the enforcement of a 25 percent quota for women candidates.


In North Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia, which apply a 40 percent legislated gender quota, women exceeded 30 percent in parliament. And in Kosovo*, women won more seats in parliament during the 2021 February election than in any previous year, gaining a 40 percent share.

But, as heartening as these results are, they are rare stars for women in the political firmament.

Women worldwide hold just over a quarter of all seats in parliaments and all positions of speakers in 2020, with 53 countries having at least one woman speaker.

At this rate it will take 50 years for parliaments to reach gender parity. Other estimates lead to gloomier forecasts – such as 145.5 years to reach gender parity in legislative and executive branches of the government.

If recent electoral trends are any indication, parliaments in most countries covered by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) will not reach gender parity by 2030.

Among countries that are likely to reach gender parity, more than half have adopted gender quotas. One of the most widely applied tools to accelerate progress on women’s political representation, legislated quotas allow more women to get elected and have a shot at changing gender social norms.

A 2017 survey conducted among top and middle management of parliamentary political parties in Georgia – complemented with the reports and personal experiences of female politicians and activists – highlighted the obstacles faced by Georgian women striving for a political career. Credit: Daro Sulakauri/UNDP Georgia

Numbers matter. Part of the solution to increasing women’s political participation lies in the ability to track progress and comparing data across countries. For example, legislated quotas – despite being a somewhat contested phenomenon – were applied last year in 81 states globally, including 25 countries and territories represented on UNDP’s recently updated Equalfuture platform.

Launched in 2020 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, this online portal showcases progress in women’s participation in national parliaments in 57 countries and territories in the Europe and Central Asia region over the past 26 years.

Equalfuture now features updated data on women’s presence in electoral politics.

It shows that, despite progress, women in the ECA region have just over a fourth of seats in national legislatures. In only six countries in the region are women speakers of parliament – Azerbaijan elected a woman speaker for the first time in 2020 – while there are women speakers in just 20 of the 57 countries in the UNECE region.

To argue that there have never been so many opportunities open to women as there are today is to ignore the powerful hold of gender bias in society. Nearly half of the population in Europe and Central Asia (ECA) believe men make better political leaders than women. The bias ranges from more than 60 percent in Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan supporting this view to less than 30 percent in Croatia and Montenegro.

This could be one of many reasons why young women in 2020 made less than one percent of all parliamentarians worldwide.

Gender bias is just one in a constellation of factors in the slow crawl in women’s political representation.

Violence against women in politics is a formidable obstacle to women’s entry to the political sphere. This increasingly recognized phenomenon is alarmingly pervasive: in 45 UNECE countries, most women parliamentarians have suffered psychological violence or been the target of online sexist attacks on social media during their mandate. Almost half received death threats or threats of rape and beating, and a quarter suffered sexual violence.

Women aspiring to politics are also subject to vicious forms of cyberviolence not foreseen in the Beijing Platform for Action which called on parliaments to have no less than 30 percent of women in their ranks. Abusive online comments aimed at women politicians are inversely proportional to the number of women in political office. During the parliamentary elections campaign in Georgia in 2020, 40 percent of the abusive comments on Facebook targeted women candidates, who comprised only 22 percent of the monitored profiles. Most comments called on them to stay home and give up their political ambition.

Given the many gender fault lines laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is little surprise that women make up only 24 percent of the COVID-19 task force members worldwide. With its profound impacts on women’s paid and unpaid work, the pandemic has set back decades of hard-won gains in gender equality.

More women than men lost their jobs while their care burdens intensified during the pandemic. With fewer resources and less time to spend on the activities outside the household, fewer women are likely to engage in politics.

However, without women’s input, countries risk making poor decisions at a pivotal moment of recovery from crisis.

On the upcoming International Day of Parliamentarism (June 30), let us celebrate not only parliamentarians but gender-equal parliaments as a cornerstone of a well-functioning democracy. And let us redouble our efforts to dismantle the barriers and dislodge the biases that hold women back from an equal future in political decision-making.

Mirjana Spoljaric Egger is Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Assistant Administrator of UNDP, and Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS. She was appointed to this position by the UN Secretary-General in August 2018 and assumed duties in October 2018. She oversees UNDP operations in 18 countries and territories of Europe and Central Asia: https://www.eurasia.undp.org/content/rbec/en/home/about-us/about-the-region.html

Learn more about the progress of women’s participation in politics in 57 countries and territories over the past 26 years through UNDP Eurasia’s online platform Equalfuture.

* References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999)

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‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ Discussion Highlights Risks to Women

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Nordic Talk moderator Katja Iversen shown here with Natasha Wang Mwansa, Emi Mahmoud, Dr Natalia Kanem and Flemming Møller Mortensen during a recent Nordic Talks webinar. Credit: Shuprova Tasneem

DHAKA and NEW YORK, Jun 4 2021 (IPS) – Every two minutes, a girl or woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications, including unsafe abortions. Every year, around 12 million girls are married while in their childhoods. An additional 10 million are now at risk of child marriage due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


In this context, the most recent Nordic Talk—a high-level debate on bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as a cornerstone of gender equality, aptly titled “Let’s Talk About Sex” — could not have come at a better time.

Moderator Katja Iversen, Dane of the Year (2018) and former CEO of Women Deliver, kicked off the discussion by focusing on the close link between bodily autonomy, gender equality, economic growth, and a healthy planet.

In an exclusive interview with IPS, Iversen said it was clear that “bodily autonomy for girls and women—in all their rich diversity—is political, social, economic and health-related.”

Women needed to have power and agency over their “bodies, fertility, and future, living a life free of violence and coercion in both the private and public sphere. It ties into norms, structure, systems – and if we want equity and health for all, we need to address all of it.”

Emi Mahmoud, two-time World Champion Poet and Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR, set the tone for the Nordic Talk with her emotive poetry reflecting women’s experiences in patriarchal societies, asking: “What survivor hasn’t had her struggle made spectacle?”

The three other panellists agreed that the right to control their bodies was a fundamental aspect of women’s rights and that gender equality was an essential part of the sustainable development agenda.

As Dr Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the UNFPA, explained that “(women’s) freedom over her own body means freedom of choice”, and that all the data points towards how investment in SRHR could be the first step to empowering women to “ultimately contribute to sustainable development.”

It was critical that SRHR was adequately resourced – but warned these would be in short supply because of the COVID pandemic recovery plans.

“Part of the financing challenge is what we abbreviate as political will. It actually does not cost a lot for the agenda for SRHR to be a reality by 2030. It would take $26 billion a year to end the unmet need for contraception and to stop mothers dying at birth, many of whom were too young to be pregnant, but resources are going to be a challenge now with Covid having affected the world economies.”

While Flemming Møller Mortensen, Danish Minister for International and Nordic Development and Nordic Cooperation, expressed optimism regarding resources for SRHR now that “the US is back on track” and the global gag rule had been revoked. He was worried about a growing conservatism and pushback against women’s rights, particularly in the pandemic’s wake.

Iversen told IPS the cuts in various countries could be devastating.

“UNFPA estimates that with the $180 million the UK wants to withdraw from the Supplies Partnership, UNFPA could have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions. We will need foundations and other donor countries to step up, and we will need national government step up and step in and ensure that their national budgets reflect and fill the SRHR needs.”

She expressed concern that women on COVID-19 decision-making bodies were unrepresented.

“Less than 25% of national COVID-19 decision-making bodies have women included. It is too easy to cut resources from people who are not at the decision-making tables,” she said. “We urgently need to get a lot more women into leadership, including of the COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. All evidence shows that when more women are included in decision-making, there is a more holistic approach and both societies and people fare better.”

This call for inclusivity, not just for women but for the youth, was strongly echoed by adolescent sexual and reproductive health rights expert Natasha Wang Mwansa.

“So many commitments have been made by so many countries, yet there is no meaningful progress or accountability, and young people are not involved when making these decisions,” Mwansa said. “Young people are here as partners, but we are also here to take charge. From making choices over our own bodies to choices on our national budgets, we are ready to be part of these decisions.”

To deal with challenges in providing access to SRHR, Kanem stressed the importance of gender-disaggregated data for planning. She added that despite the hurdles, she was hopeful about the future because “young people and women are not waiting to make the case and show solidarity and understanding when it comes to racism or issues of discrimination and equity that divide us.”

Iversen echoed this optimism in her IPS interview.

“It gives me hope that comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services are included in the roadmap for Universal Health Coverage, in the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being, and latest in the Generation Equality Forum blueprint,” she said.

“Civil society has played a key role in ensuring this with good arguments, data and a lot of tenacity. But words in the big global documents about Health For All is one thing; gender equality and women’s rights, if it has to matter, it has to manifest in concrete action.”

The conversation rounded off with recommendations and commitments from the panellists: Mwansa stressed more investments in youth-run organisations and more social accountability from decision-makers; Mortensen asked for governments to be held accountable and for youth voices to be heard; and Kanem reaffirmed the UNFPA’s goal to put family planning in the hands of women as a means of empowerment, to end preventable deaths in pregnant women and girls, and change fundamental attitudes to end gender-based violence.

In her final comments to IPS, Iversen also stressed the importance of SRHR as a means of empowerment.

“Study after study shows that it pays to invest in girls, women and SRHR – socially, economically and health-wise. But we cannot look at SRHR alone; we need a full gender lens to the COVID response and recovery and development in general,” she said.

“And if we want to see positive change, we have to put girls and women front and centre of coronavirus response and recovery efforts, just as we, in general, need to see many more women in political and economic leadership.”

The Nordic Council of Ministers supports the Nordic Talks, and “Let’s Talk about Sex” was organised in partnership with UNFPA, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Generation Equality, the Danish Family Planning Association, and Mind your Business, as a lead up to the Paris Generation Equality Forum.

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Generation Equality: Women’s Leadership as a Catalyst for Change, Say 49 UN Women Envoys

Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

This article has been co-authored and signed by 49 UN women Ambassadors*

UN Women announces the theme for International Women’s Day, 8 March 2021 (IWD 2021) as, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world. Credit: UN Women/Yihui Yuan

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 1 2021 (IPS) – March, women’s history month, closes with the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico and against the background of significant setbacks on the empowerment of women caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


From our seats in the General Assembly and our screens at home we have seen it growing: the increase in deaths; gender-based, including intimate partner, violence; abuse of women and girls who speak out; the widening of the gender gap for access to digital technologies; the loss of jobs, the decrease of women’s participation in public life and decision-making; disrupted access to essential health care; increase in child marriage; and the diminished access to education.

Day by day in this yearlong battle against the pandemic we have seen how women are impacted twice: first by the virus, and then by its devastating secondary effects.

We are 49 women ambassadors representing countries from all regions of the world, and we believe that such a reality is simply intolerable. Here, we tell that story and what needs to be done to urgently recover the hard-won gains of recent years.

The COVID-19 crisis has a woman’s face.

The face of women nurses, doctors, scientists, care-givers, sanitation workers, and of those leading the response to the pandemic. Women are on the front line: As leaders delivering effectively with vision and care.

But also, as victims of structural vulnerabilities and of violence and abuse.

The “shadow pandemic” of exploitation and abuse, including domestic and intimate partner violence, should be a jarring wake-up call to us all. The latest WHO data show that 1 in 3 women experience intimate partner violence during their lifetime, while the UN reports that women with disabilities have four times the risk of experiencing sexual violence in comparison to women without disabilities.

Women will also bear the heaviest toll of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic because they often carry the responsibility for unpaid dependent care and are over-represented in jobs most affected by the crisis – hospitality, tourism, health, and trade.

The lack of women’s participation in society threatens to delay the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Politically-motivated gender-based violence online and offline is a barrier to women’s ability to participate fully and equally in democratic processes.

Moreover, the persistently high rate of grave violations of women’s rights worldwide is appalling.

Against this background, this March, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) focused on two issues: fighting gender-based violence, and scaling up women’s full and effective participation at all levels and in all sectors.

“Gender equality: From the Biarritz Partnership to the Beijing+25 Generation Equality* Forum”, hosted by France and Mexico ahead of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, 2019. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Meaningful participation of women in politics, institutions and public life is the catalyst for that transformational change, which benefits society as a whole. Only four countries in the world have a parliament that is at least 50% women.

Worldwide only 25% of all parliamentarians are women. Women serve as heads of state or government in only 22 countries today, and 119 countries have never had a woman leader.

According to UNESCO, 30% of the world’s researchers are women. While 70% of the health and social care workforce are women, they make up only 25% of leaders in the global health sector.

Current projections show that if we continue at the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years. These figures speak of unacceptable barriers and bottlenecks that continue to block women’s participation.

As the Secretary-General of the UN says, parity is ultimately a question of power. As women, we are often reluctant to use this word. But as women ambassadors at the UN, representing countries from around the world, it is a word we cannot and will not be too shy to use.

Power is not an end in itself: it is the power to change things, to act and have equal opportunities to compete. While as women Ambassadors we are still under-represented here in New York – only 25% of Permanent Representatives are women – we are committed to being a driving force to shift mindsets. We are long past the point where women should have to justify their seat at the table.

A large body of research and scientific literature provide unequivocal evidence of the value of integrating women’s perspectives in decision-making. Countries led by women are dealing with the pandemic more effectively than many others.

Peace processes and peace agreements mediated with the active participation of women are more durable and comprehensive. Yet women make up only 13% of negotiators, 6% of mediators and 6% of signatories in formal peace processes.

When women have equal opportunities in the labor force, economies can unlock trillions of dollars. Yet last year, the International Labor Organization found that women were 26% less likely to be employed than men. In 2020 only 7.4% of Fortune 500 companies were run by women.

Worldwide, women only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, while the gender gap in internet access grew from 11% in 2013 to 17% in 2019, reaching 43% in the least developed countries.

The so-called “motherhood penalty” pushes women into the informal economy, casual and part-time work. After slow but steady gains over the last few decades, COVID-19 has forced millions of women out of the formal labor market.

The solution to this will not occur spontaneously nor by magic. We need positive action. We need data disaggregated by sex and age so we can better analyze the scope of the problem; we need targeted policies and earmarked investments.

We have to strengthen support services for survivors of abuse, as well as prevent violence and end impunity. And we need to reduce the digital divide and promote access for women to information and public life.

We must rebalance the composition of decision-making bodies. We need to integrate gender into the design and implementation of recovery plans. We need to ensure the availability, accessibility, quality, and continuity of health services for women, including sexual and reproductive health services.

Social protection programmes should be gender responsive and account for the differential needs of women and girls. We need to promote access for women to decent work and overcome the choice between family and work that is too often imposed on women. Women should have targeted support for entrepreneurship and investment in education that guarantees equal access.

This should not only start with women, but with girls. Getting more girls into school, including back into school following the pandemic, improving the quality of education girls receive, and ensuring all girls get quality education: this will enable female empowerment and gender equality, which will be critical for the effective participation of future generations of women. We must make justice accessible to all women and end impunity for sexual violence.

This will also require role models. As women ambassadors, we bear testament to young generations of girls and women across the world showing that, like us, they can make it. No career and no goal are off-limits for them, as they are in all their diversities, nor beyond their capacities.

Parity is not a zero-sum game but a common cause and a pragmatic imperative. Men can be and are our allies in achieving parity. We look forward to continuing momentum on accelerating progress on achieving gender equality through the Generation Equality Forum and its Action Coalitions. Let us together set the stage for an inclusive, equal, global recovery. Let us make this generation “Generation Equality”.

There’s no more time to lose. We’ve lost enough to COVID already.

*List of participating Ambassadors, (including one Chargé d’affaires, a.i.) who co-authored this article (and the day they took office)

AFGHANISTAN H.E. Mrs. Adela Raz (8 March 2019); ALBANIA H.E. Ms. Besiana Kadare (30 June 2016); ANDORRA H.E. Mrs. Elisenda Vives Balmaña (3 November 2015); ANGOLA H.E. Ms. Maria de Jesus dos Reis Ferreira (21 May 2018); ARGENTINA H.E. Ms. María del Carmen Squeff (31 August 2020); BANGLADESH H.E. Ms. Rabab Fatima (6 December 2019); BARBADOS H.E. Ms. H. Elizabeth Thompson (30 August 2018); BHUTAN H.E. Ms. Doma Tshering (13 September 2017); BRUNEI DARUSSALAM H.E. Ms. Noor Qamar Sulaiman (18 February 2019); BULGARIA H.E. Ms. Lachezara Stoeva (17 February 2021); CHAD H.E. Ms. Ammo Aziza Baroud (11 December 2020); CZECH REPUBLIC H.E. Mrs. Marie Chatardová (2 August 2016); DOMINICA H.E. Ms. Loreen Ruth Bannis-Roberts (22 August 2016); EL SALVADOR H.E. Mrs. Egriselda Aracely González López (21 August 2019); ERITREA H.E. Ms. Sophia Tesfamariam (5 September 2019); GREECE H.E. Ms. Maria Theofili (13 September 2017) ; GRENADA H.E. Ms. Keisha A. McGuire (12 April 2016); GUYANA H.E. Mrs. Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett (2 October 2020); HUNGARY H.E. Ms. Zsuzsanna Horváth (16 February 2021); IRELAND H.E. Ms. Geraldine Byrne Nason (18 August 2017); ITALY H.E. Ms. Mariangela Zappia (13 August 2018); JORDAN H.E. Ms. Sima Sami Bahous (22 August 2016); KYRGYZSTAN H.E. Ms. Mirgul Moldoisaeva (12 April 2016); LEBANON H.E. Ms. Amal Mudallali (15 January 2018); LITHUANIA H.E. Ms. Audra Plepytė (18 August 2017); MADAGASCAR Ms. Vero Henintsoa Andriamiarisoa (Chargé d’affaires, a.i.); MALDIVES H.E. Ms. Thilmeeza Hussain (21 May 2019); MALTA H.E. Mrs. Vanessa Frazier (6 January 2020) ; MARSHALL ISLANDS H.E. Ms. Amatlain Elizabeth Kabua (5 July 2016); MICRONESIA H.E. Mrs. Jane J. Chigiyal (2 December 2011); MONACO H.E. Ms. Isabelle F. Picco (11 September 2009); MONTENEGRO H.E. Mrs. Milica Pejanović Đurišić (21 May 2018); NAURU H.E. Ms. Margo Reminisse Deiye (27 November 2020); NETHERLANDS H.E. Ms. Yoka Brandt (2 September 2020); NORWAY H.E. Ms. Mona Juul (14 January 2019); PANAMA H.E. Ms. Markova Concepción Jaramillo (16 November 2020); POLAND H.E. Ms. Joanna Wronecka (19 December 2017); QATAR H.E. Sheikha Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani (24 October 2013) ;RWANDA H.E. Mrs. Valentine Rugwabiza (11 November 2016); SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES H.E. Ms. Inga Rhonda King (13 September 2013); SLOVENIA H.E. Ms. Darja Bavdaž Kuret (18 August 2017); SOUTH AFRICA H.E. Ms. Mathu Theda Joyini (22 January 2021); SURINAME H.E. Ms. Kitty Monique Sweeb (19 June 2019) ; SWEDEN H.E. Ms. Anna Karin Eneström (6 January 2020) ; SWITZERLAND H.E. Mrs. Pascale Baeriswyl (26 June 2020); TURKMENISTAN H.E. Mrs. Aksoltan. Ataeva (23 February 1995); UNITED ARAB EMIRATES H.E. Mrs. Lana Zaki Nusseibeh (18 September 2013); UNITED KINGDOM H.E. Dame Barbara Woodward (2 December 2020); UNITED STATES OF AMERICA H.E. Ms. Linda Thomas-Greenfield (25 February 2021)

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