UN commemoration of International Women’s Day: I am Generation Equality
Brief summary of presentation of information made
The work of many leaders and activists culminated at the Beijing Platform for Action 25 years ago, when the world committed to women’s rights as human rights. The 64th Commission on the Status of Women offers the opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come and how far we’ve still got to go in achieving gender equality. All around the world, women continue to face discrimination and persecution in contradiction to the commitment made by the world’s countries. Executive Director of UN Women, Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, challenged that our best was not good enough. “It is not yet time to rest, we have a lot more work to do,” she said. The UN commemoration of International Women’s Day highlighted what this work will look like moving forward and how can we participate in it.
Greater change is needed:
H.E. António Guterres, Secretary General of the UN and self-proclaimed feminist, stated that “gender inequality is the biggest human rights challenge we face...Progress on women’s rights have stalled,” with a recent global index report showing that ninety percent of people have at least one gender bias. Although women make up over half the world’s population and workforce, they are still underrepresented in education, management, business and government. Ninety-three percent of Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs are men; only twenty-five percent of world parliaments are made up of women; gender-based violence is still prevalent
across the world; seventy-three percent of managers are men; seventy percent of climate negotiators are men; and pay parity has still not been achieved. Nobel Peace Laureate, Dr Leymah Gbonee, lamented that “twenty-five years on we are watching a continuation of all challenges.”
An issue of power:
There are still not enough women at the table to see true gender policy transformation. Gender violence and climate change were highlighted as examples where women are the most at-risk people group, yet the least equipped to facilitate change. The gender gap exists in both companies and political systems. Representation is key to seeing real transformation, and this requires women to be in positions of power. Dr Charlotte Bunch, feminist author and organiser, drew attention to the role that power plays in destroying people and our planet. “Whilst one culture or gender or age group feels they must dominate over others, we all suffer. The need now is to move to collaborative living over dominance,” she said. The Secretary General of the UN has declared, “There is no justification for women’s continued exclusion.”
The crucial role of young people:
The impact young people are having as activists all over the world was highlighted as playing a key role in achieving equality. Young people are heading movements all around the world, especially in the area of climate action. Young people were encouraged by H.E. Mher Margaryan, Chair of the 64th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, to continue speaking up - not to wait for the baton to be passed, but to take the lead on their own. The response came from Dr Charlotte Bunch that young women are not waiting; instead, they are “moving in resistance to the domination they are experiencing.” But as 14-year-old climate activist Ms Alexandra Villaseñor highlighted, the question is: who is listening? And from those who hold the power, who will share it with them? Every generation must be mobilized for the cause.
Intersections of injustice:
As the UN looks to the achievement of all Sustainable Development Goals, it was made clear that without achieving gender equality, SDG 5, we cannot hope to achieve the other Sustainable Development Goals. Women’s rights are human rights – but women’s rights also bring positive change to the rights of all people and planet. Every injustice is interconnected and needs to be addressed as such. The Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, is Finland's third female government leader and the youngest-serving world leader. In her address, she drew attention to the importance of taking action to end all forms of violence and of putting women and girls at the center of technology and innovation. She challenged that every person and every country has work to do when it comes to achieving gender equality, saying, “Gender equality profits the whole society. Gender equality and inclusion frees us all.”
Systemic change is needed
The call was made by many speakers to be more deliberate and strategic in our progress towards gender equality. Change needs to be systematic, institutional, cultural and global, and we must ensure that the progress is irreversible. Dr Gbowee recognized the lack of funding and
resourcing available and said more must be done to reconcile collaboration. To move forward, we must stop working in silos. Funding competition is often designed to pit groups against each other, so we must begin to organize ourselves to come together to see how our issues interconnect and to also include more people on this journey.
Push back against the push back
Many speakers challenged us that although opposition against gender equality and the rights of women are real, we must ensure the conversation about equality is heard. Despite the push back, we must continue to speak out. Real change requires that we move beyond the conference room walls where we talk to the already converted. The conversation must move to action, and that action must apply to communities. The change we need is not small; it requires ambitious policies, deliberate decisions, transformation, collaboration, and a commitment to continue moving forward. There is much work to do to achieve SDG 5 by 2030 – and readjustments and incremental change will not get us there. The Secretary General summed up the focus of this next chapter with these words:
“Generation equality cannot be generation gradual improvement.”
What was of particular significance to share with The Salvation Army globally?
In order to achieve a world with gender equality, governments, individuals and organizations like The Salvation Army must raise their commitment to the achievement of SDG 5. Every territory, division, corps and social service can join the call of the UN Secretary General to move beyond conversations about gender equality to actionable, systemic and irreversible change. And this change must not happen in isolation - the voices of women are intersectional. Indigenous cultures, young people and minorities must be heard at every level of decision making.
The imbalance in power for women that is seen across every society is also seen within The Salvation Army and in the areas in which we work. To address the inequalities women face, transformative decisions must be made at every level of our organization. Salvationists are needed to participate in pushing for change internally and externally. Just as communities and countries are positively impacted when women have equal rights and representation, The Salvation Army will also be better equipped to work in areas of social injustice and bring God’s love to the world when women have an equal share in power and young people have full rights of participation.
Issues highlighted of relevance:
- Important role of young people’s voice in transformative action to achieve gender equality
- Need to work collaboratively with other organizations; avoiding silos to share resources and make a bigger impact
- Need to build a culture that understands that women’s rights impact whole communities. If The Salvation Army is committed to combatting injustice, we must address inequality for women.
- Need to make systemic change to ensure women are equally represented at every level of our organization and that they hold an equal share of power in a way that creates an irreversible culture of women’s equality within our organization.
Web links for more information
Tags: United Nations, Women, SDG5: Gender Equality, Events