Gender inequality's 2030 'expiration date'

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women address journalists during a press briefing on the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, which was held in Beijing in September 1995. Photo by: Evan Schneider / U.N.

Almost two decades after 189 governments made a historic commitment in China to a world of equality between women and men, it’s time to discuss progress made and challenges ahead.

U.N. Women hosted on Thursday in New York a public event to launch their year-long campaign to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the historic 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where tens of thousands of government, NGO and private sector officials produced the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a document lauded as visionary for its time and which today continues to pave the way for women’s empowerment and gender equality.

“Progress has been made — but we need more, and faster,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said. She pointed out, there is still “unfinished business” in the 12 critical areas of concern for women that were laid out in Beijing.  For instance, although the prevalence of female genital mutilation has declined, 30 million girls are still at risk in the next decade. Likewise, 35 percent of women around the world today have experienced some type of physical or sexual violence, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization.

“We are giving gender inequality an expiration date,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said, adding that men and boys must join the conversation and citing U.N. Women’s He For She campaign.

At the event, other participants, like U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, reminded participants that the essence of the Beijing vision is to build a better world for all of us, not just women and girls: “Remember, nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.”

Eliasson pointed out how even today only 21.8 percent of parliamentarian worldwide are women. One of them is Ine Eriksen Soreide, the Norwegian minister of defense, who cited her country as an example for gender equality.

“We have full participation of women in all sectors of society — and that is why we are a wealthy country,” Soreide said.

Gloria Steinem, a well-known U.S. advocate for women’s empowerment, noted that “we can’t be separated from the mainstream, we are the mainstream” and stressed that “the human race is like a bird with two wings. If one wing is broken, no one can fly.”

So how do we move forward and put the principles laid out in the Beijing Declaration to action? It’s time to implement, according to Greta Gunnarsdottir, permanent representative of Iceland — another world leader on gender equality — to the United Nations. “Let’s move gender equality to the top of the global agenda,” she said.

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    Jenni Cardamone

    Jenni Cardamone is manager of partnerships and communications for Devex. In this role, she leads communications partnerships with premiere development organizations and global corporations through special initiatives, content exchanges, and events.

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