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COVID-19 demonstrates urgent need to meet unfulfilled promise of World Conference on Women

2 October 2020 12:58

UNITED NATIONS. KAZINFORM - The UN General Assembly's (UNGA) high-level meeting to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women, on Thursday reached consensus that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated an urgent need for strong push to meet the unfulfilled promise of the 1995 Beijing Conference, Xinhua reports.

The Beijing Conference marked a significant turning point on the global agenda, making it clear that women's rights are at the heart of equality and justice around the world.

But as the UN chief told the gathering, the Beijing Conference was also a «wake-up call» as these rights are still being denied, hindered and ignored everywhere.

«COVID-19 has emphasized and exploited the continued denial of women's rights. Women and girls are bearing the brunt of the massive social and economic impact of the pandemic, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the meeting.

«Twenty-five years after Beijing, we are facing a women led recession as women employed in the informal economy are first to lose their jobs. Women nurses and carers are on the front lines of the response to the pandemic, but men still occupy 70 percent of leadership roles in health care,» he added.

Guterres said women are suffering a shadow pandemic of gender-based violence during COVID-19, together with an increase in abusive and repressive practices, including early marriage and the denial of sexual and reproductive health care.

«Unless we act now, COVID-19 could wipe out a generation of fragile progress towards gender equality,» he added.

«The systems and structures of our world, based on millennia of male domination, are holding women back in all areas, with serious consequences for everyone. COVID-19 demonstrates that we urgently need a strong push to meet the unfulfilled promise of Beijing,» the secretary-general issued the charge in his speech.

Guterres stressed that «this is fundamentally a question of power, so it starts with the equal representation of women in leadership positions, in governments, boardrooms, in climate negotiations and at the peace table - everywhere decisions are taken that affect people's lives.»

Achieving this will require targeted measures, including affirmative action and quotas, and this is a human rights issue and a social and economic imperative, he noted.

«I encourage all member states to make concrete, time-bound and ambitious commitments to women's leadership and full participation,» he added.

The Beijing Conference concluded with a groundbreaking Platform for Action, with commitments covering 12 areas of concern, such as power and decision-making, poverty, violence against women, education, human rights and discrimination against girls.

Since the Beijing Conference, major advances have been made in the global fight for gender equality, as various UN agencies have documented. In 1995, there were 12 women heads of state and government worldwide. Today, the figure has risen to 22.

Moreover, maternal mortality has dropped by nearly 40 percent during this period, more girls are now in school, and women are increasingly involved in peace processes.

However, «this progress is not enough; plus, it has been slow,» said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, which supports countries in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Mlambo-Ngcuka underscored the need for women's leadership, including young women, in efforts to build back better after the pandemic.

«Women and the people of the world are demanding these changes,» she said in a pre-recorded statement.

«This is the time for disrupters, young and old,» Mlambo-Ngcuka continued, saying it is time for actions to change the course of history for women and girls, especially women between the ages of 25 to 34 who are increasingly more likely to live in extreme poverty than their male counterparts.

«It's time to bring an end to discriminatory laws, norms and homophobia, to end men's violence against women and girls, and make a concerted effort to put women at the heart of climate justice,» she said.

Sustainable development cannot be achieved without women's equal participation in decision-making and leadership, said Hilary Gbedemah, chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

She pressed states to «grasp this moment in history» as an opportunity to adopt transformative strategies based on principles of non-discrimination and solidarity to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

The rights of women and girls are non-negotiable, said Natalia Kanem, the head of the UN Population Fund underlined.

She called on leaders to «scale-up» action and investments.

«We urge you to back up words with deeds, and with funding for programs and services that transform women's lives,» she said, speaking from the podium. «Investing in women and girls is not just a question of rights; it's also smart economics, with benefits to society many times the cost.»

Elizabeth Broderick, chair of the Human Rights Council's Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, noted that the pandemic is having a «disproportionately negative impact» on women and anti-gender equality actors across all regions are threatening «hard-fought gains,» she warned.

On behalf of the working group, she asked the international community to use its power and influence to deliver on the promises of the declaration and prevent rollback and reassert gender equality.

Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde told the meeting via a pre-recorded speech that women in her country «are getting better» access to education and health services, with their reproductive rights protected by law and barriers to engagement in economic life addressed, and women constitute half of Ethiopia's cabinet members and 38 percent of its parliament.

«Even so, Ethiopia's women face structural barriers and discrimination, and gains made over the past two decades are at risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic,» she said.

Today, there is an uphill struggle to prevent millions of women and girls from falling into extreme poverty, she cautioned, saying the current challenges cannot be overcome without stronger partnership between relevant stakeholders, including governments, civil society and the private sector.

UNGA President Volkan Bozkir appealed for everyone, everywhere to act now on behalf of the world's women and girls so as to «level the playing field.»

Speaking in person, Bozkir appealed for top-level commitment to girls' education, equal economic opportunities for women, and ending gender-based violence.

He urged countries to «shift established norms» to create a more just world, and thanked civil society groups for bridging divides and filling existing gaps, particularly during the pandemic.

Bozkir issued a call to girls worldwide, including his own granddaughters: «Know this: there is nothing that women cannot do.»

The UNGA president urged girls to «dare to be the first. Dare to do what no woman has done before.»

Keywords: Coronavirus, COVID-19, UN,