By Caroline Mwanga
NEW YORK (IDN) — The international community has set the goal of achieving gender equality by 2030. But UN Women, a United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, maintains that “at the current rate of progress, gender equality will not be reached among Heads of Government until 2150, another 130 years”.
This projection is based on the new data published ahead of the ten-day 65th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65).
In light of the evolving COVID-19 situation and taking into account the latest guidance from the United Nations Secretary-General and the World Health Organization (WHO), CSW65 is taking place in a hybrid format with mostly virtual meetings. Representatives of Member States, UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all regions of the world are invited to attend the session.
The priority theme is women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.
A new report reveals that despite women’s increased engagement in public decision-making roles, equality is far off: women hold about 21 per cent of ministerial positions globally, only three countries have 50 per cent or more women in parliament, and 22 countries are headed by a woman. “
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted women disproportionately—from loss of jobs to rise in violence against women and unpaid care work. Although women are at the front line of COVID-19 response as healthcare workers, innovators and leaders, their contributions remain less visible and less valued. Only 3.5 per cent of COVID-19 task forces across 87 countries had gender parity.
Despite increases in the number of women at the highest levels of political power, widespread gender inequalities persist, according to the 2021 edition of the IPU–UN Women “Women in politics map”.
The IPU-UN Women map presents new data for women in executive, government, and parliamentary positions as of January 1, 2021. The data shows all-time highs for the number of countries with women Heads of State and/or Heads of Government, as well as for the global share of women ministers.
However, after last year’s spike of 21.3 per cent of women holding ministerial portfolios, progression has slowed—with just a small increase to 21.9 per cent in 2021. The data also reveals that the number of countries with no women in government has increased, bucking a downward trend seen in the last few years.
There were also sluggish gains in the global growth of women legislators in 2021, as shown in the IPU’s annual report on “Women in parliament”, launched around International Women’s Day on March 8. As of January 1, 2021, the global share of women in national parliaments is 25.5 per cent, a slight increase from 24.9 per cent the year before.
Europe has the most women leaders, and the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway beside Germany are currently led by women. The number of countries in which women hold half or more ministerial positions dropped from 14 this time last year to 13 in 2021. The environment or energy portfolio tops the ministerial portfolios held by women. Women ministers also dominate portfolios covering social affairs, women’s affairs and gender equality.
Women’s under-representation as health ministers was especially concerning in the midst of the pandemic: while women made up 70 per cent of health sector workers, only 24.7 per cent of the world’s health ministers were women. The scourge of violence against women in politics hinders development and challenges democracy everywhere. IPU studies have revealed that more than 80 per cent of women parliamentarians surveyed had faced psychological violence, at least 25 per cent had suffered physical violence and 20 per cent had been sexually harassed.
Against the backdrop of such figures, Secretary-General António Guterres said in virtual dialogue with Group of Friends of Gender Parity on the International Women’s Day, that for the past year, the UN has been dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on all its work, including efforts on gender parity.
“But the pandemic cannot be used as an excuse to put gender parity efforts on hold. Gender parity is a necessity, not an add-on extra. A global pandemic makes it more important than ever.”
Mr Guterres pledged a strong commitment and a conscious effort to make up any lost ground and use the current crisis to dismantle gender stereotypes and change the UN’s organizational culture. “Gender parity must be taken into account in all our plans for our future workforce and working practices. Gender equality is a question of power. We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture and male-dominated power structures. This has inevitably affected the institutional culture of the United Nations, and of diplomacy as a whole.”
IPU Secretary General (IPU) Martin Chungong said: “This year’s growth in the number of women in political decision-making is just not good enough. Especially when you consider that 70 per cent of health, care, and service workers during this pandemic are women. It’s up to all of us, both men and women, to keep pushing for greater representation of women in politics. We have the tools to make it happen. What we need now is the political will.”
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “No country prospers without the engagement of women,” stressing that “we need women’s representation that reflects … all their diversity and abilities, and across all cultural, social, economic and political situations.”
This year’s map shows that we still need “bold, decisive action across the world to bring women into the heart of the decision-making spaces in large numbers and as full partners. There’s no doubt this can and should be done. It should be done now.”
It is also an important bridge to the Generation Equality Forum, organized by UN Women and co-hosted by the Governments of France and Mexico, in conjunction with youth and civil society, and will be a pivotal opportunity to change our societies and cement women’s leadership as we recover from COVID-19. The Forum will kick-off in Mexico City from March 29 to 31 March, and culminate in Paris from June 30 to July 2, 2021. [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 March 2021]
Image credit: UN Women
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