Last weekend, the historic Generation Equality Forum in Paris concluded with new commitments designed to address inequality, and other injustices.
Despite decades of progress in closing the gender equality gap, close to nine out of 10 men and women around the world, still hold some sort of bias against women, going by 2020 findings by UN Development Programmme (UNDP).
The first UNDP Gender Social Norms Index analysed data from 75 countries, which are collectively home to more than 80 per cent of the global population, and found new clues to the invisible barriers women face in achieving equality – potentially forging a path forward to breaking through the so-called “glass ceiling”.
According to the data, almost half of those polled feel that men are superior political leaders, while more than 40 per cent believe they make better business executives and are more entitled to jobs when the economy is lagging. Moreover, 28 per cent think it is justified for a man to beat his wife.
”We have come a long way in recent decades to ensure that women have the same access to life’s basic needs as men”, said the head of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office, Pedro Conceição, acknowledging that “we have reached parity in primary school enrollment and reduced maternal mortality by 45 percent since the year 1990”
But, he conceded, “gender gaps are still all too obvious in other areas, particularly those that challenge power relations and are most influential in actually achieving true equality”.
The analysis also highlighted a bias shift in some 30 countries, revealing that while some show improvements, attitudes in others appear to have worsened in recent years – signaling that progress cannot be taken for granted.
“The fight about gender equality is a story of bias and prejudices”, maintained Conceição.
The new analysis shines a light on why enormous “power gaps” continue between men and women in economies, political systems and corporations, despite tangible progress in closing gender inequalities in developmental areas, such as education and health as well as in removing legal barriers to political and economic participation.
UNDP gave the example that while men and women vote at similar rates, only 24 percent of parliamentary seats worldwide are held by women and there are only 10 female heads of government out of 193 Member States.
Furthermore, women are paid less than men working the same jobs and are much less likely to be in senior positions.
According to the data, less than six per cent of chief executive officers in the US stock market index S&P 500 companies, are women. And while they work more hours than men, their work is more likely to be unpaid care labour.
“The work that has been so effective in ensuring an end to gaps in health or education must now evolve to address something far more challenging: a deeply ingrained bias – among both men and women – against genuine equality”, said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, adding that “current policies, while well intentioned, can only take us so far”.
Change discriminatory beliefs
UNDP pointed out that 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing+25), the most visionary agenda on women’s empowerment to date and called on world leaders to accelerate action to meet global targets on gender equality.
The UN agency is urging governments and institutions to utilize new policies to change these discriminatory beliefs and practices through education, and by raising awareness and changing incentives.
For instance, taxes can be used as an incentive for sharing child-care responsibilities, or women and girls can be encouraged to enter traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as the armed forces and information technology.
“The women’s rights demonstrations we’re seeing across the world today, energised by young feminists, are signaling that new alternatives for a different world are needed,” said UNDP Gender Team Acting Director Raquel Lagunas.
“We must act now to break through the barrier of bias and prejudices if we want to see progress at the speed and scale needed to achieve gender equality and the vision laid out in the Beijing Declaration over two decades ago and the Sustainable Development Goals”, she spelled out.
In the meantime, chief of UN’s gender empowerment agency is declaring that women are still “sitting in the corridors when men are inside at the table negotiating peace”,
Close to $40 billion was pledged in new investments, as well as ambitious policy and programme commitments from governments, civil society and others, to help fuel a new global five-year action plan to accelerate true gender parity, by 2026.
“The Generation Equality Forum marks a positive, historic shift in power and perspective”, said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.
The Forum has been held at a critical moment, as the world assesses the disproportionate and damaging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls.
Gender equality advocates took the opportunity to press for gender-responsive stimulus and recovery plans to ensure that women and girls are not left behind as the world re-builds.
The $40 billion in investments represent a major step-change in resourcing for women’s and girls’ rights, as lack of financing has been a major reason for slow progress in advancing gender equality and in enacting the women’s rights agenda of the milestone 1985 Beijing Conference, according to UN Women ??.
Governments and public sector institutions have committed to $21 billion spending on gender equality investments, the private sector $13 billion and philanthropy $4.5 billion.
UN entities, international and regional organizations committed an aggregate of $1.3 billion.
“The Forum’s ecosystem of partners – and the investments, commitments and energy they are bringing to confront the greatest barriers to gender equality – will ensure faster progress for the world’s women and girls than we have seen before”, said the head of UN Women.
Many organisations have made strong policy and program commitments, including 440 civil society organizations and 94 youth-led organizations.
Hosting the event, the French Ambassador and Secretary-General of the Forum, Delphine O, said the it had “reversed the priorities on the international agenda and made gender equality, for too long underestimated, a long-term issue for the international community, along with climate, education and health. France will continue to be at the forefront to accelerate gender equality progress”.
Others speak out
UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Anne Hathaway, gave her personal commitment to “continue to be a global advocate for the legal and policy changes that will empower both women and men to begin the equal distribution of care responsibilities that will help change our world”.
Former US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, who now heads the US international development agency, USAID, offered “a simple message, informed by decades of evidence: if you want peace in this world, trust women to deliver it”.
African Union Goodwill Ambassador on Ending Child Marriage, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, said: “I relived the experience of 1995, when I was a young women’s rights activist at the Beijing Conference…Now it’s time to invest in girls and young women even more – for resources to reach rural and marginalised communities, for technology for public good and available to all, and for member states’ greater accountability to human rights of women and girls”.
Taking the lead
Over the past three days, the Forum engaged nearly 50,000 people in a mainly virtual format to rapidly advance of gender justice.
It launched a Global Acceleration Plan for Gender Equality designed by six Action Coalitions partnerships that have identified the most critical actions required to achieve gender equality, ranging from gender-based violence and technology to economic and climate justice.
The Forum also launched a Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action, and announced new gender equality initiatives focused on health, sports, culture, and education.
UN Women will maintain a critical role driving the Forum’s 5-year action plan, overseeing the implementation of commitments to ensure accountability and progress.
“Together we have mobilized across different sectors of society, from south to north, to become a formidable force, ready to open a new chapter in gender equality”, said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka.