Blog by Linda Witong, SI Special Advisor to Advocacy.
The opening of the Generation Equality Forum, on 29 March in Mexico City, gave us a preview of a new approach to the future on the part of the United Nations (UN). It began with UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Prior to laying out his plan for a new approach, Guterres began by observing that, while there had been significant victories within the last 26 years in achieving gender equality through the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, progress remained “too slow” or had even been diminished by a number of factors. The result? In 2021, power still remained predominantly in the hands of men. Moreover, prior to the pandemic, in many places the very idea of gender equality had come under attack, regressive laws had returned and horrific violence against women had increased. According to Guterres, the “seismic shocks” of the COVID-19 pandemic only made matters worse as it shattered the lives of millions more women and girls while also further destroying many of their previous gains.
But Guterres believed he had a solution which involved 5 critical steps. However, it needed to be carried out by women and men alike.
- Women’s equal rights needed to be protected and discriminatory laws needed to be repealed.
- Equal representation needed to be ensured – from company boards to parliaments and beyond – through special measures and quotas.
- Women’s economic inclusion had to be advanced through equal pay, job protection, targeted credit and investments in the care economy and social protection.
- Emergency response plans had to be immediately enacted in order to address violence against women and girls.
- Space had to also be given to the intergenerational transition that was under way as well as to the young people who were advocating for a more just and equal world.
Under-Secretary-General of the UN and UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Miambo-Ngcuka, also spoke at this event. Miambo-Ngcuka agreed with Guterres’ observations that progress had been slow and uneven even before the COVID-19 pandemic as “public rhetoric on gender equality” had not been “matched either by action or by financing”. Miambo-Ngcuka also added that “no one was willing wait any longer either as the driving energy of a new vast and diverse population of feminists across multiple sectors, believed that we had to achieve gender equality in our generation.” Like Guterres, Miambo-Ngcuka viewed the pandemic as creating seismic shocks, which forced “massive job losses for women, plunged 47 million more women into extreme poverty and precipitated a ‘shadow pandemic’ regarding all forms of violence against women around the world”.
Miambo-Ngcuka viewed Generation Equality as offering a critical opportunity to confront these rising crises, as well as the enduring structural inequalities that preceded it. Like Guterres, Miambo-Ngcuka saw this as “an era of catalytic action to accelerate change” in which the phenomenon of bystanders would have to end. Everyone had to be involved in this endeavour. Miambo-Ngcuka also foresaw a future in which we looked “to the future beyond the crisis, rather than doubling down on the mistakes of the past.” This future would involve “all hands on deck”with activists working “side-by-side with governments, corporations, international organisations and philanthropists designing and shaping a bold agenda for accelerated action on women’s rights” which would “come with concrete actions.” The plan would not just involve a global agenda. It would also involve implementing its goals “everywhere, locally and nationally” with “investments, accountability and time frames”. This future would result in a new, feminist economic model that worked for women as well as creating a world that was safe for women and prioritised care for both people and our planet.
Miambo-Ngcuka ended her speech with an African proverb which observed that if one “wanted to go fast”, they should “go alone”. However if one wanted to go far, they should to “go together”. In her view, Generation Equality would “go together and move fast” as it would be “propelled by young people as well as the remaining population to go fast, as they went far”.
Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, also weighed in on this issue adding that no crisis or obstacle would hinder their fight for the full enjoyment of the rights of every woman in the world. Pacific Island feminist and Technical Adviser of the Shifting the Power Coalition, Sharon Bhagwan Rolls added another incentive to this mix which would guarantee that these goals could be accomplished in an accelerated manner. According to Rolls, “these decisive, collective, urgent and transformative actions” needed to be done in order to ensure that their children as well as their grandchildren were beneficiaries “to equality, development and peace across all of our nations.”
(Lead image: UN Women/Paola García)
For the full transcript of the Opening remarks by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at opening of the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico, click HERE.
To watch the recorded sessions of the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico, click HERE.