International Women’s day – Press Conference (5 March 2020)

Press Conference by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director, and Silke Staab, UN Women Research and Data Specialist, on the upcoming International Women’s day.

Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, UN Women today (5 Mar) 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.

At a press encounter for the launch in New York, the Head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said, “the report shows that we have made some progress in the last 25 years, but it also highlights the fact that progress has been made in those areas where there has been targeted investment by member states, and this is in particular in health, in education.”

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.

Mlambo-Ngcuka noted that the review of women’s rights shows that, despite some progress, no country has achieved gender equality, and when it comes to power positions of power, “women are squeezed into a quarter of the space.”

She said, “we have 75 percent of lawmakers and parliamentarians being men. We have 73 percent of managerial positions held by men. We have 70 percent of climate negotiators, also men. And when it comes to peacemakers it’s even less even though we know that when women participate significantly it also guarantees peace that lasts longer.”

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.

Mlambo-Ngcuka said “the deep stereotypes about women, the prejudices that exist about women, the misogyny that has increased unfortunately, the rhetoric from leaders, also, and the fact that the legislation that perpetuates discrimination even though it has changed, there is still a lot that still remains. So, a combination of all these facts has made the progress to be painfully slow.”

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.

Violence against women, Mlambo-Ngcuka said, “is a global pandemic.” She said, “it is not a case of being a rich country, or a poor country. This is one thing that happens in every society, in every class, in every culture.”

The 25th anniversary of the Beijing conference makes 2020 a milestone year for gender equality. UN Women’s multi-generational campaign, Generation Equality, is sparking public mobilization, demanding accountability and driving accelerated action to advance women’s rights and gender equality, including to tackle the unfinished business of Beijing.

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