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Progress towards gender equality is faltering
by UN Women, UNDP, Equality Now, ActionAid
10:45am 6th Mar, 2020
Mar. 2020
Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, UN Women today launched its report, “Women´s Rights in Review 25 years after Beijing”, a comprehensive stock-take on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, which remains the most comprehensive agenda for gender equality ever agreed.
The report finds that progress towards gender equality is faltering and hard-won advances are being reversed. Rampant inequality, the climate emergency, conflict and the alarming rise of exclusionary politics all threaten future progress towards gender equality.
The report flags the lack of effective action to boost women’s representation at the tables of power and warns that the vision of the Beijing Platform for Action will never be realized if the most excluded women and girls are not acknowledged and prioritized.
UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “The review of women’s rights shows that, despite some progress, no country has achieved gender equality. Equality isn’t just one quarter of the seats at the tables of power. But that’s the current reality of women’s representation, across the board.
Men are 75 per cent of parliamentarians, hold 73 per cent of managerial positions, are 70 per cent of climate negotiators and almost all of the peacemakers. This is not an inclusive and equal world and we need to take action now to create one that does not discriminate against women. Only half is an equal share and only equal is enough”.
Despite unprecedented global challenges, the report also proves that positive change is possible, as shown by the success of women’s collective action to obtain accountability for crimes against them and the flourishing of feminist movements across the world.
The report showcases successful initiatives in scaling up public services to meet women’s rights, from increasing access to contraception and childcare, to reducing domestic violence and increasing women’s participation in politics and peacebuilding.
The report is based on the UN Secretary-General’s Report, which is the most comprehensive and participatory stock-taking exercise on women’s rights ever undertaken, with contributions from 170 Member States.
The report reveals that there have been advances in women’s and girls’ rights since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action. There are now more girls in school than ever before, fewer women are dying in childbirth and the proportion of women in parliaments has doubled across the world. Over the past decade, 131 countries have passed laws to support women’s equality.
But progress has been far too slow and uneven:
Globally, progress on women’s access to paid work has ground to a halt over the past 20 years. Less than two thirds of women (62 per cent) aged 25-54 are in the labour force, compared to more than nine out of ten (93 per cent) men.
Women continue to shoulder the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work, and are on average paid 16 per cent less than men, rising to 35 per cent in some countries.
Nearly one in five women (18 per cent) have faced violence from an intimate partner in the past year. New technologies are fueling new forms of violence, such as cyber-harassment, for which policy solutions are largely absent. Tens of million girls are still not in school. Men still control three quarters of parliamentary seats. Women are largely excluded from peace processes, representing only 13 per cent of negotiators and only 4 per cent of signatories.
To catalyze systemic and lasting change the report points to the need to vastly increase financing for gender equality, to harness the potential of technology and innovation and ensure that development is inclusive of women and girls who face multiple forms of discrimination.
Mar. 2020 (UNDP)
Almost 90% of people are biased against women, according to a new index that highlights the “shocking” extent of the global backlash towards gender equality.
Despite progress in closing the equality gap, 91% of men and 86% of women hold at least one bias against women in relation to politics, economics, education, violence or reproductive rights.
The first gender social norm index analysed data from 75 countries that, collectively, are home to more than 80% of the global population. It found that almost half of people feel men are superior political leaders and more than 40% believe men make better business executives. Almost a third of men and women think it’s acceptable for a man to beat his wife.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP), which published its findings this week, is calling on governments to introduce legislation and policies that address engrained prejudice.
“We all know we live in a male-dominated world, but with this report we are able to put some numbers behind these biases,” said Pedro Conceicao, director of the UNDP’s human development report office. “And the numbers, I consider them shocking.
“What our report shows is a pattern that repeats itself again and again. Big progress in more basic areas of participation and empowerment. But when we get to more empowering areas, we seem to be hitting a wall.”
Conceicao said the data show that perceptions and expectations in society about the role of women are prejudiced against them.
“While in many countries these biases are shrinking, in many others the biases are actually sliding back. If you take the overall average of the information we have, we show that on average we are sliding back – that biases, instead of shrinking, are growing back.”
The figures are based on two sets of data collected from almost 100 countries through the World Values Survey, which examines changing attitudes in almost 100 countries and how they impact on social and political life. The figures cover periods from 2005-09 and 2010-2014, the latest year for which there is data.
Of the 75 countries studied, there were only six in which the majority of people held no bias towards women. But while more than 50% of people in Andorra, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden were free from gender prejudice, even here the pattern was not one of unmitigated progress.
Sweden, for example, was one of several countries – including South Africa, India, Rwanda and Brazil – in which the percentage of people who held at least one bias increased over the nine years the data covered. More than half of people in the UK and the US held at least one bias.
“UNDP is very conscious of the backlash against women’s rights. We are aware and we are concerned, so we think the report … is an answer to push back the pushback,” said Raquel Lagunas, acting director of UNDP’s gender team. “We cannot pick and choose, saying: ‘These human rights are for women, and these ones are not.’”
Lagunas said it was difficult to predict whether attitudes have changed more recently, but suggested the report’s findings “may make the road ahead more difficult”.
“We can see big progress in the next five years [in some countries] and still at the same time see pushback in other countries,” she said.
“We need to invest and double efforts to address the hardcore areas of power – political power, economic power – and we think, we hope, this publication is going to have impact in the countries we [UNDP] work, and open conversations with governments, because gender equality is a choice.”
The report comes as rights campaigners call on world leaders to accelerate action to meet global targets on gender equality.
“As representatives of leading organisations championing gender equality, we’re raising the alarm about the pace of progress. There is no time left for business as usual: gender equality can be achieved for billions of girls and women by 2030, but it requires everyone to move faster,” read an open letter, signed by nine presidents and CEOs of organisations including Plan International, Women Deliver, the One Campaign and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“We’ve found that, if the current pace continues, 67 countries – home to 2.1 billion girls and women – will not achieve any of the key gender equality targets we studied by 2030.”
These countries are not just the poorest. If trends over the past two decades continue, the US will be among them.
In June, a gender index published by the Equal Measures 2030 partnership found that no country was on track to achieve gender equality by 2030, the deadline to achieve the UN sustainable development goals.
Mar. 2020
Words and Deeds: Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing +25 Review Process. (Equality Now)
More than 25 years ago, governments around the world pledged to change or remove their existing unfair laws and make legal equality a reality. But that goal is far from being realized. Equality Now is committed to holding governments accountable for their promises, creating a better world for women and girls.
A country’s laws set the tone for how it treats its people, and how its people treat each other. Governments must protect women’s and girl’s rights in all spaces and relationships, public or private, married or not.
When laws are unfair - when they discriminate on the basis of sex - cultural inequality and violence against women are legitimized, and become endemic. Attempts to reform family laws are often portrayed as threats to group identity and right and used as justifications to resist demands for reform.
We are committed to holding governments accountable for changing or removing unfair laws and creating a better world for women and girls.
The Beijing Platform for Action: Equal Laws For An Equal World
In 1995, at the UN’s 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, governments from around the world agreed on a comprehensive plan to achieve global legal equality, known as the Beijing Platform for Action.
As part of this plan, each government in attendance pledged to repeal or amend any laws that discriminate on the basis of sex, with the aim of giving every person in the world an equal opportunity to live a safe, happy and fulfilled life.
More than 25 years later, we are still waiting for many of those laws to be changed.
Which Laws Are A Problem?
While legal discrimination exists in many forms, there are four broad categories of legal discrimination, each including laws related to:
Marital Status - Sex discrimination in marital status laws renders women and girls subordinate in many aspects of family relations before, during, and after marriage
Personal Status - Sex discrimination in personal status laws negatively impacts the ability of women to conduct various aspects of their daily lives.
Economic Status - Sex discrimination in economic status laws restricts women from being economically independent, limiting access to inheritance and property ownership as well as employment opportunities, thereby reinforcing gender stereotypes and roles.
Violence - Sex discrimination in laws purporting to address violence, or silence on the issue within the law, can actually promote or perpetuate violence against women and girls because there is little to deter perpetrators from committing crimes or inadequate recourse for victims; intimate partner and sexual violence is disproportionately inflicted upon women and adolescent girls.
* 5th edition - Words and Deeds: Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing +25 Review Process report:
Mar. 2020
We mean business: protecting women’s rights in global supply chains. (ActionAid)
Pollution, land grabbing, exploitation of workers, violence against human rights defenders and other misconduct – multinational companies often manage to avoid any consequences for such human rights violations and environmental impacts linked to their activities. For women this can be an even larger problem, especially for those living in poverty and marginalised communities in the Global South.
This can be seen in many ways. When water sources are polluted women have to travel farther to collect water, and when children fall ill due to polluted water, women’s care and domestic work increases.
Entrenched gender inequalities and patriarchal norms mean that women are over-represented in export- orientated manufacturing and the agri-food sector, both characterised by very poor working conditions in many countries around the world.
Women are also more vulnerable to land grabbing, as they are often not allowed to legally own land, though they produce much of the food consumed in developing countries.1 Women battle against inequity and abuse every day, but do not have the means to access justice.
The adverse human rights impacts of corporate activities are by no means gender neutral. Business activities can lead to gender-specific harms and discrimination, exacerbate existing inequitable gender roles and structures within a community, and create further discrimination based on intersecting identities such as race, class, age, caste, migrant status, sexual orientation, gender identity or geographical location.
When seeking redress and remedy, women face additional barriers to justice due to patriarchal norms.
In recent years states have increasingly started to consider binding measures to prevent and mitigate human rights abuses in supply chains, and to guarantee access to justice for victims of such abuses.
This can be seen, for example, in mandatory human rights due diligence legislation emerging in countries such as France, which builds on the recommendations of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Mandatory human rights due diligence is seen as a critical way for companies to identify, prevent and mitigate adverse impacts.
Legislation also needs to provide meaningful liability, with access to remedy for rights violations throughout companies’ supply chains and operations, particularly in contexts where legal frameworks and enforcement of regulations governing business activity may be weak – as is the case in many developing countries.
Identifying, addressing and holding companies to account for the adverse gendered impacts of their activities on women needs to be embedded in this emerging due diligence legislation and wider business and human rights policies and strategies, or we risk adopting measures that will leave women behind.
This paper explains why such an approach is needed, and how states and companies can integrate gender-responsive human rights due diligence into existing and emerging efforts in the area of business and human rights.

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