Gender equality, the ‘unfinished human rights struggle of this century’

Achieving equal rights for women is “the unfinished human rights struggle of this century”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in remarks to the Generation Equality Forum which began online from Mexico City on Monday. 

Although acknowledging significant victories achieved over recent decades, the UN chief stressed progress has been slow.  Meanwhile, regressive laws have resurfaced, violence targeting women and girls has increased, and the “seismic shocks” of the COVID-19 pandemic have decimated many gains.  

“It is time to regroup and re-energize our quest to create a more equal, more just, more sustainable world in which all people can realize their human rights without discrimination and without fear”, said Mr. Guterres, speaking in Spanish. 

Generating change 

The Generation Equality Forum brings together governments, international organizations, the private sector and young people, in efforts to advance global commitments on gender equality.  Elvira Pablo of the Generation Equality Youth Task Force put it bluntly:  “We youth are tired of hearing words and commitments without immediate action. This is the time to act .”

The forum was convened by the UN’s gender entity, UN Women, and is co-hosted by the Governments of Mexico and France.  The initial three-day meeting is now underway in the Mexican capital, and the culmination will take place in Paris in June. 

“By the time we get to Paris in June, we want to see bold commitments and investments on the table, and a strong multi-stakeholder movement for gender equality”, the Secretary-General said. “The realization of the equal rights of half our population is the unfinished human rights struggle of this century. “ 

For Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the UN Women Executive Director, the forum represents a chance to effect real change in the world. 

“We want to look to the future beyond the crisis, rather than doubling down on the mistakes of the past”, she said.  “We want an opportunity to build a new, feminist economic model that works for women, and a world that is safe for women. Such economic models prioritize both care for people, and care for our planet.” 

Make way for youth 

The UN Secretary-General outlined five areas for action as countries recover from the pandemic, starting with protecting women’s equal rights and repealing discriminatory laws. 

He called for special measures and quotas to ensure equal representation, and highlighted the need for equal pay as well as job protection and social protection policies. 

Mr. Guterres urged governments to immediately enact emergency response plans to address the rise in violence against women and girls that has emerged alongside the pandemic, while his final point underscored hope for the future. 

 “Give space to the intergenerational transition that is underway and to the young people who are advocating for a more just and equal world”, he said.