Photo: A glimpse of the Women Leadership Forum. Credit: Katharina Schiffl. - Photo: 2022

Women Leadership Forum Discusses the Significance of Gender Equality

By Aurora Weiss

VIENNA (IDN) — The gender pay gap, inequality in access to education and the labour market: These issues remain pertinent in the 21st century. Achieving full gender equality, one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), could take close to 300 years if the current rate of progress continues, noted a report published by UN Women and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) in early September.

Against this backdrop, the European Brand Institute, in cooperation with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), organized the 10th “Women Leadership Forum” at the Vienna International Centre on September 20.

The Forum was initiated in 2013 with the panel discussion ‘Equality Creates Values’, said its founder, Ms Renate Altenhofer. “Over the past ten years, the Forum has become a stage to make female leaders visible and raw models for the next generation,’’ she added.

And this, particularly in view of the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, violent conflict, climate change, and the backlash against women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are further exacerbating gender disparities, avers the report.

The UN expects the pandemic to push an estimated 47 million additional women and girls into extreme poverty and further widen the gender poverty gap. Data from 16 countries show women have done 29 per cent more childcare per week than men during the pandemic. Nearly one in two women reported that they or someone they know have experienced violence since the start of the pandemic, according to survey results from 13 countries.

To change the current situation for the better and achieve progress, equal efforts are needed by both men and women, UNIDO’s Director General Gerd Müller said.

“We all have a responsibility. We need a fundamental change in politics, economy, and society. It doesn’t require only strong women; we also need committed men. For example, in African countries in positions of power, out of 54 states, only two are led by women.”

Equality for girls and women has many dimensions: cultural, social, economic, and legal, said Mr Müller. Equally vital is equality in law, political participation, economic life, equal educational opportunities for all girls and women worldwide, and most importantly, promoting financial inclusion, he added. Currently, one billion women have no access to the financial market, though women are crucial for peace and progress and the future of our planet.

The 2030 Agenda embraces three pillars of sustainability: economic, social and environmental. Therefore, it is necessary to put women at the heart of the economy.

< Ghada Waly (left), director general of the United Nations Office at Vienna and (right) our reporter Dr Aurora Weiss. Credit UNIS Vienna /Nikoleta Haffar.

As an example, Ghada Waly, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and director general of the United Nations Office at Vienna, mentioned her home country of Egypt, where women maintain most households. Unemployment is three times higher among women than men. “It is clear that inclusivity and diversity require effort. It is very difficult to achieve them because they touch the core of our society. That is why it requires the commitment of both women and men in leadership positions,” she pointed out.

“At UNODC, we believe that more female police officers, prosecutors, lawyers, and judges will contribute to better protection of women from violence and lead to a more peaceful society. Women are underrepresented in this sector, and they are making 1 of 6 police officers on the global scale. We know that women’s representation in law enforcement and law institutions is linked to the core effective victim centre response to crimes. More women in the justice sector are good for justice,” Ms Waly stressed.

Gender equality is not only a problem in certain professions but also needs to be addressed geographically. For example, even if women in Kenya are trained to access funding for agriculture, the problem arises that these funds cannot be utilized because women cannot legally own land.

The Arab region has the lowest female labour force participation rate in the world: 26 per cent compared to the global average of 56 per cent. In contrast, the male labour force participation rate is 76 per cent, above the global average of 74 per cent.

Female unemployment in the Arab states is 15.6 per cent, three times higher than the global average. The proportion of women in leadership positions is low in the region, with only 11 per cent of women holding leadership positions, compared to the global average of 27.1 per cent.

Jordan has the lowest rate of women’s economic participation of any country not at war.

According to an International Labour Organization (ILO) report released this year, the female labour force participation rate is less than 15 per cent, compared to about 60 per cent for men.

For women in countries such as Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, access to jobs is even more limited, safety issues are greater, support structures are poor, and opportunities are even worse.

The gender imbalance in leadership positions is still significant. Data from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022 show that women still hold less than one-third of leadership positions.

Women and girls around the globe continue to face obstacles that limit their possibilities and challenge their futures, U.S. Ambassador to Austria Victoria R. Kennedy stressed at the Women Leadership Forum in Vienna.

The American diplomat, lawyer, activist, widow and second wife of long-time U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy delivered an inspiring speech. She emphasized how important role models are because when women achieve high office or business success, they impact and empower future generations of women and girls to follow in their footsteps.

“Kamala Harris is the first female Vice President of the United States, and she is the first African and Asian American woman to hold such a lofty office. And when women achieve high positions, we help pave the way for future generations of women and girls to follow in our footsteps,” said Ambassador Kennedy.

She also remembered how she chose her career path during the 1970s when the women’s liberation movement in the United States was in full swing. Even though her father was a lawyer, she did not see herself in that profession because it was exclusively reserved for men. It took a male professor to open her eyes, recalled Ambassador Kennedy.

The professor told her the story of Carla Hills, a female lawyer. She had just been appointed by the president of the United States to be his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. At that time, in the mid-1970s, Carla Hills was only the fourth woman to serve as a cabinet secretary in the entire history of the United States. The male professor challenged her with a simple question that changed her life: “If she can do it, then why can’t you?” [IDN-InDepthNews – 03 October 2022]

Photo: A glimpse of the Women Leadership Forum. Credit: Katharina Schiffl.

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

This article was produced as a part of the joint media project between The Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group and Soka Gakkai International in Consultative Status with ECOSOC on 3 October 2022.

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. You are free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please give due credit.

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