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Women’s leadership in tackling global challenges

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Women Heads of State and Government on stage, together with the President of the General Assembly and his predecessor, for a meeting on the sidelines of UNGA77, part of the newly established Platform of Women Leaders. Photo: Steven Viju Philip

Women Heads of State and Government meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York on Tuesday have highlighted how women’s full and effective participation and decision-making are crucial to addressing global priorities. 

The newly established UNGA Platform of Women Leaders held an event where they discussed global issues under the theme of Transformative Solutions by Women Leaders to Today’s Interlinked Challenges

In attendance were President Katalin Novák of Hungary, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland, Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa of Samoa, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja of Uganda, Prime Minister Evelyn Wever-Croes of Aruba, and Prime Minister Silveria E. Jacobs of St. Maarten, as well as former Prime Minister Helen Clark of New Zealand. 

Making a ‘positive difference’ 

Recent global crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency and conflicts, have shown the positive difference women’s leadership and decision-making can make in executive positions, parliaments, and public administration.  

For example, data from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women, shows that governments with higher women’s representation in parliaments adopted a higher number of gender-sensitive policy measures in response to the pandemic, including policies aimed directly at strengthening women’s economic security. 

Tuesday’s event was hosted by the Office of the President of the UN General Assembly and UN Women, in cooperation with the Council of Women World Leaders (CWWL). 

Transformative leadership 

In his remarks to the gathering, General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi made the case for having more women in government. 

“Women’s leadership is transformative. The women leaders with us today are living proof of this fact,” he said. 

“Inclusive governance can result in policies that create positive change over the long term. By integrating the views of diverse women – especially at the highest levels – governments can effectively tailor and target solutions to those most in need.” 

Long road ahead 

Out of the 193 countries that are UN Member States, only 28 women serve as elected Heads of State or Government.  

There also is still a long way to go when it comes to the proportion of women in other levels of political office.   

Globally, women comprise 21 per cent of the world’s ministers, 26 per cent of national parliamentarians, and 34 per cent of elected local government seats.   

A new UN report has further revealed that at the current pace of progress, equal parliamentary representation will not be achieved until 2062

Sima Bahous, Executive Director of UN Women, sees a strong role for the newly created leadership platform. 

“When more women lead in political and public life, everyone benefits, especially in crises,” she said.

“A new generation of girls see a possible future for themselves. Health, education, childcare, and violence against women, receive greater attention and better solutions. We must find every possible way to amplify the assets women leaders bring. This Platform is an opportunity to do just that.” 

‘We must act now’ 

The UNGA Global Platform of Women Leaders has its genesis in a September 2021 meeting between women Heads of State and Government and Abdulla Shahid, who was President of the General Assembly at the time. 

Mr. Shahid underscored the importance of Tuesday’s event, given the statistics.  

“At our current rate of progress, it could take 300 years to achieve gender equality,” he said. “We must act now. Accelerate investment in girls and women. Scale up efforts to empower women. Expand opportunities for girls. Eliminate gender-based violence.”  

More women, more diversity 

The UNGA Platform of Women leaders will also help bring visibility to women in prominent political leadership positions, according to the event’s organizers. 

The critical role of women’s leadership in driving sustainable development is well documented, they added.  

Countries with greater numbers of women political leaders tend to give greater attention to issues such as health, education, infrastructure, and ending violence against women.  

In response to the pandemic, women leaders championed policies that addressed its social and economic impacts on the most vulnerable groups.  

Representation matters 

Data also shows that in conflict-affected contexts, women’s representation in public life brings heightened credibility to peace processes and negotiations, helping unify divided communities.  

Furthermore, research has also shown that seeing more women in power increases girls’ educational and career aspirations. 

“It is my strong belief that the world needs more women leaders and more diverse leaders, people with all kinds of backgrounds and life experiences,” said Ms. Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland and the CWWL Chair. 

“The decisions leaders make affect all people in our societies. These decisions should be made by people who have a real and deep understanding of how most people live, of what their concerns are, and are therefore responsive to their needs.” 

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Fight against human trafficking must be strengthened in Ethiopia

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A group of internally displaced people due to the Tigray conflict gather in a site in Ethiopia's Afar region, Ethiopia. © UNHCR/Alessandro Pasta

Throughout Ethiopia’s Tigray, Afar and Amhar regions, women and girls are becoming increasingly vulnerable to abduction and sex trafficking as they flee ongoing armed conflict, a group of UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Monday.

The protracted conflict in the three northern regions have heightened risks of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a form of sexual violence in conflict, the experts said in a statement.

“We are alarmed by reports of refugee and internally displaced women and girls in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions being abducted while attempting to move to safer places,” they said.

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“We are concerned at the risks of trafficking, in particular for purposes of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.” 

Women and children in crosshairs

Amidst abductions and displacement, the UN experts raised serious concerns over Eritrean refugee women and children being at particular risk of sex trafficking.

“Urgent action is needed to prevent trafficking, especially for purposes of sexual exploitation, and to ensure assistance and protection of all victims, without discrimination on grounds of race or ethnicity, nationality, disability, age or gender,” they said.  

Meanwhile, the hundreds of children who have been separated from their families, especially in the Tigray region, are particularly vulnerable, warned the independent experts.

“The continuing lack of humanitarian access to the region is a major concern,” the experts continued, urging immediate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent all forms of trafficking of children and to ensure their protection.

Identifying victims

They added that sufficient measures were not being taken to identify victims of trafficking, or support their recovery in ways that fully takes account of the extreme trauma being suffered.

“The failure to provide accountability for these serious human rights violations and grave crimes creates a climate of impunity, allows trafficking in persons to persist and perpetrators to go free,” underscored the six UN experts.

They urged all relevant stakeholders to ensure that victims of trafficking can adequately access medical assistance, including sexual and reproductive healthcare services and psychological support.

The experts said they had made their concerns known to both the Governments of Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea.

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35 years of Cultural Routes: Safeguarding European Values, Heritage, and Dialogue

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A Europe rich in history, heritage, dialogue and values: the Council of Europe Cultural Routes’ programme celebrates its 35th anniversary, on the occasion of the 11th Advisory Forum in Minoa Palace Hotel, Chania, Crete (Greece) on 5-7 October, with a special event to highlight the relevance of Cultural Routes for the promotion of cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and sustainable tourism.

The Forum is organised by the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and the European Institute of Cultural Routes, in co-operation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization, the Region of Crete, the Municipality of Chania, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Chania, and the Historic Cafes Route. The 2022 edition will be the opportunity to underline the growing relevance of the Cultural Routes methodology and practices in promoting Europe’s shared cultural heritage while fostering viable local development.

Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge will participate in the high-level dialogue, together with Minister of Culture and Sports of Greece Lina Mendoni, Minister of Tourism of Greece Vassilis Kikilias, Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Vice-President and Chairperson of the Greek Delegation Dora Bakoyannis and Chair of the Statutory Committee of Cultural Routes Ambassador Patrick Engelberg (Luxembourg). 

Over three days of workshops and interactive debates, three main general sessions will be explored:

  1. Promoting European Values and Intercultural Dialogue;
  2. Safeguarding Heritage in Times of Crisis;
  3. Fostering Creative Industries, Cultural Tourism, Innovative Technologies for Sustainable Communities.

The Forum will discuss trends and challenges in relation to Cultural Routes, providing a platform for sharing experiences, reviewing progress, analysing professional practices, launching new initiatives and developing partnerships across Europe and beyond. Participants range from managers among the 48 cultural routes to representatives of national ministries, International Organisations, academics, experts and tourism professionals.

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Little progress combating systemic racism against people of African descent

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More than two years since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States sparked the global Black Lives Matter movement, there’s been only “piecemeal progress” in addressing systemic racism, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said on Friday, in a new report.While more people have been made aware of systemic racism and concrete steps have been taken in some countries, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights called on States to demonstrate greater political will to accelerate action.

“There have been some initiatives in different countries to address racism, but for the most part they are piecemeal. They fall short of the comprehensive evidence-based approaches needed to dismantle the entrenched structural, institutional and societal racism that has existed for centuries, and continues to inflict deep harm today,” said Nada Al-Nashif, who will present the report to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

Triggering change

The report describes international, national and local initiatives that have been taken, towards ending the scourge of racism.

These include an Executive Order from the White House on advancing effective, accountable policing and criminal justice practices in federal law enforcement agencies; an Anti-Racism Data Act in British Columbia, Canada; measures to evaluate ethnic profiling by police in Sweden; and census data collection to self-identify people of African descent in Argentina.

The European Commission has issued guidance on collecting and using data based on racial or ethnic origin; formal apologies issued, memorialization, revisiting public spaces, and research, to assess links to enslavement and colonialism in several countries.

‘Barometer for success’

The report notes that poor outcomes continue for people of African descent in many countries, notably in accessing health and adequate food, education, social protection, and justice – while poverty, enforced disappearance and violence continues.

It highlights “continuing…allegations of discriminatory treatment, unlawful deportations, excessive use of force, and deaths of African migrants and migrants of African descent by law enforcement officials”

The barometer for success must be positive change in the lived experiences of people of African descent,” continued Ms. Al-Nashif.

“States need to listen to people of African descent, meaningfully involve them and take genuine steps to act upon their concerns.”

Higher death rates

Where available, recent data still points to disproportionately high death rates faced by people of African descent, at the hands of law enforcement, in different countries.

“Families of African descent continued to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes they faced in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives”, the report says.

It details seven cases of police-related deaths of people of African descent, namely George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (US); Adama Traoré (France); Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto (Brazil); Kevin Clarke (UK) and Janner [Hanner] García Palomino (Colombia).

While noting some progress towards accountability in a few of these emblematic cases, “unfortunately, not a single case has yet been brought to a full conclusion, with those families still seeking truth, justice and guarantees of non-repetition, and the prosecution and sanction of all those responsible,” the report says.

Ms. Al-Nashif called on States to “redouble efforts to ensure accountability and redress wherever deaths of Africans and people of African descent have occurred in the context of law enforcement, and take measures to confront legacies that perpetuate and sustain systemic racism”.

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