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3 questions to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women’s Executive Director, on gender equality around the world ahead of the Generation Equality Forum

Published 8 March 2021 in News

Ahead of the Generation Equality Forum, Focus 2030 and Women Deliver conducted a groundbreaking survey of 17,160 adults representative of the population in 17 countries to capture their opinions and experiences of gender inequality : "Citizens call for a gender-equal world: a roadmap for action". Furthermore, the study captures public opinions on policy, programmatic, and financial investments that governments, the private sector, and civil society should make to accelerate progress towards gender equality.

Interview with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women

Focus 2030 : UN Women is organizing the Generation Equality Forum, the 5th conference on women since the Beijing conference in 1995. Our survey revealed that “On average 60% of respondents believe that gender equality has progressed in their country since the 4th world conference”. Studies have shown that this perception is not a reality, and that the pandemic is threatening to delay and even prevent the achievement of gender equality. How can the Forum be an opportunity to set new goals and tackle gender inequalities worldwide once and for all ?

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka : A quarter century since the landmark Beijing World Conference on Women public rhetoric on gender equality has not been matched by action and implementation. While there has been progress in the past 25 years, no country has achieved gender equality. As a result, 20 per cent of women and girls annually report experiencing sexual and physical violence and 19 per cent are married before the age of 18. Women do on average 3 times more unpaid care work than men. They hold just 16.9 per cent of board seats worldwide and are 13 per cent of peace negotiators. At the current rate of progress, gender parity will not be reached in national legislatures before 2063, or among Heads of State and Government for another 130 years.

We celebrate positive changes, such as the 38 per cent drop in the ratio of maternal deaths since 2000 and the 131 countries that have introduced legal reforms to support gender equality. But decades of under-investment in women’s rights mean that overall this progress has been too slow and too easily reversible. We are seeing this fragility firsthand with the COVID crisis, which threatens to roll back even hard-won gains that women have made. Many countries are reporting rising violence against women and women’s economic wellbeing has been disproportionately impacted. Many women have seen their unpaid care work increase and we estimate that the ongoing pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line. We are living through a gender equality crisis, and the Generation Equality Forum gives us a critical opportunity to confront it, as well as the enduring structural inequalities that preceded it.

The Forum, organized by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of France and Mexico in conjunction with youth and civil society, will be a once-in-a-decade opportunity to change our societies and cement women’s leadership as we recover from COVID-19. It will kick off in Mexico City 29-31 March and culminate in Paris, France, in June.

This landmark effort will bring together governments, corporations and change-makers to define and announce ambitious investments and policies. The result will be a permanent acceleration in equality, leadership and opportunity for women and girls worldwide, and embed gender equality as a vital component of building back greener, equitable, gender-responsive and inclusive societies.

The Generation Equality Forum will also fuel a significant and lasting coalition for gender equality. It presents a vital moment for activists, feminists, youth and allies to achieve transformative change for generations to come. Alongside this major effort, the public will be encouraged to take action and make their own commitments for gender equality through the new UN Women campaign for the Generation Equality Forum, ActforEqual, to create a groundswell of awareness and action on gender equality in the run-up to the Forum.

Stating that “women’s rights are human rights” institutionalized the rights agenda for women and changed legislation and constitutions in some countries. It created a new jurisprudence for women’s rights, which led to legislation against female genital mutilation, child marriage and gender-based violence, and created an enabling climate for the #MeToo movement. Yet, for most women, the rights laid out in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action are not yet realized and development falls short. Generation Equality gives us a way to strengthen the nexus of rights and development in a measurable manner.

Focus 2030 : The Generation Equality Forum is an ambitious global gathering bringing together stakeholders from various backgrounds working hand in hand to bring forward actions and measures to be taken over the next 5 years. How can the work of the Action coalitions be a real catalyst for change and encourage stakeholders to take bold commitments ?

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka : The Action Coalitions are innovative partnerships of member states, corporations, youth-led, civil society and international organizations and philanthropies, designed to propel a dramatic acceleration in gender equality. The leadership group currently numbers 92 leaders from 24 countries. By their nature, the Action Coalitions are made up of groups that have differences and know how to acknowledge these differences and work together despite them to achieve the main objective of the Coalition. Action Coalitions will collaborate to announce ‘blueprints’ for action at the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico which will result in bold commitments at the Forum in France in June.

The Action Coalitions are defining the most catalytic areas of focus for accelerating implementation of gender equality and will work to deliver concrete and transformative change for women and girls around the world in the coming five years. They will seek a wide range of commitments from diverse organizations – governments, nonprofits, corporations and youth leaders – on six themes ranging from Feminist Movements and Leadership to Violence Against Women. In addition, a Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action will work to drive action and resources towards women and girls in conflict and crisis settings. The leaders are together calling on other organizations to join them as “commitment-makers” in these efforts.

Focus 2030 : In 1995, the Beijing declaration and platform for action was adopted. In 2021, civil society and advocates for gender equality are hoping that concrete measures will be taken to advance gender equality on the occasion of the Generation Equality Forum. According to our survey, “Young women have the highest expectations, with 75% of female respondents aged 18-24 who expect their government to increase funding for gender equality”. As adolescents and young women are at the heart of this campaign, which outcomes would constitute a real success for the empowerment of the new generations ?

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka : At such a critical moment, it is invigorating to see that global public opinion – especially that of young women – is not only behind us, but pushing us to do more. We must achieve gender equality in our generation, and it must be intersectional and intergenerational. Youth is at the heart of this agenda.

UN Women recognizes the immense value of young people who are at the forefront of global action for change, both in responding to the pandemic and in working to address the systemic inequalities it has exposed. Young people bring fresh and new perspectives to see and address issues. The Generation Equality Youth Task Force is a space for young people leading efforts to place youth at the center of the Beijing+25 process.

Youth represent new energy for the long road ahead despite complex challenges brought on by the pandemic. With school closures impacting more than 1 billion students globally, adolescent girls are at larger risk of sexual abuse and early marriage. More than one in six young people have stopped working due to the pandemic. Despite these challenges, young people are harnessing their expertise to rebuild in ways that address the systemic discrimination that has been exposed by the pandemic.

The Generation Equality Forum will celebrate the leadership, creativity and commitment that these young people bring to their advocacy for gender equality, the protection of their sexual and reproductive health and rights, climate action, the equal distribution of social and economic goods, and to ending sexual abuse and child marriage. We realize that gender inequality is a cause that cannot wait. To eradicate it and guarantee the rights of girls and women in all their diversity we must involve youth and act now, together.

Excerpts from the report:

« In 14 of the 17 countries surveyed, the 20% of respondents in the highest income group are more likely than the 20% of respondents in the lowest income group to perceive an improvement in gender equality over the last 25 years. Regardless of income, most respondents still have the perception that gender equality has progressed. »

Find more details page 27 of the report

« When asked to identify the actions governments should take to advance gender equality at a national level, on average across the countries, respondents are particularly keen for governments to “reform laws to promote equality between women and men and end discrimination against women.” On average, nearly half of the respondents (46%) across all 17 countries select this option. »

Find more details page 33 of the report

Documents to download

Les Aspirations Citoyennes en Faveur de l’Égalité Femme-Hommes dans le Monde - Women Deliver / Focus 2030 [Rapport complet]