The active participation of civil society organizations (CSOs) is a critical element in the work of the Commission of the Status of Women. The virtual town hall will be the UN Secretary-General's António Guterres annual consultation with women's civil society.
Gender equality is essentially “a question of power” that for millennia, has, “to the detriment of all”, been mostly in the hands of men, the UN chief told a town hall meeting on Wednesday, devoted to the issue.
UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous moderated the conversation.
“The challenges we face today – the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, the growth and spread of conflicts – are largely the result of our male-dominated world and male-dominated culture,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement during a side event of the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
He explained that the “perilous state” of world peace cannot be separated from “millennia of patriarchy and the suppression of women’s voices” and cited that as the reason why gender equality and parity are “fundamental prerequisites for a safer, more peaceful, more sustainable world for all.”
The UN chief turned to his Our Common Agenda report, which outlines transformative actions to share power more equally, beginning with repealing all laws that discriminate on grounds of gender.
Secondly, where necessary, special measures and quotas should be imposed that ensure the equal participation of women in all sectors and levels of decision making, he argued.
Investing in women’s economic inclusion and addressing unpaid care work, should be another priority he said, while also focusing on the voices and leadership of young women.
For his final point, he said every country should have a plan to end all forms of violence against women and girls.
“This must be treated as the emergency that it is – backed by the laws, policies and political will needed to achieve this goal,” he said.
“Taken together, these five actions have the potential to radically transform societies and create the gender-equal world we need”.
The UN chief highlighted growing emergencies – from the war in Ukraine to “chaotic coups and conflicts” in multiple countries – and the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, describing “an atlas of human suffering” impacting women and girls disproportionately; and an unequal COVID recovery that’s eroding women’s rights.
“These are widespread and interlinked crises that affect us all – but not equally,” he said.
With the economy faltering, more women have lost their jobs, he added, and unpaid care work continues to fall on women and girls – with “dire consequences for education, economic independence, and intergenerational poverty.”
Despite the ongoing gender-based violence emergency, the UN chief said that women continue to advocate and raise their voices for peace, equality, climate action, sustainable development, and human rights.
“Courageous women are in the streets on every continent, fighting for their rights, and for more peaceful, inclusive, sustainable economies and societies that benefit us all,” he said.
Mr. Guterres said that the CSW theme Achieving gender equality…in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes was “more necessary than ever.”
“It is the greatest sustainable development challenge of our age,” he said, explaining that the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss “pose an enormous threat to progress on women’s rights and gender equality”.
“The climate crisis is a human rights crisis – and a women’s rights crisis,” and climate action must include “investing in women activists, human rights defenders, and civil society organizations”.
Our Common Agenda is “a feminist agenda, based on equal power, participation and leadership by men and women,” said the UN chief, vowing to prioritize gender equality.
He explained how the report responds to today’s social and economic needs; climate and environmental crises; digital revolution; and gender justice, all of which “is long overdue.”
“Our Common Agenda…recommits to the internal reforms needed to make the United Nations a global leader as a gender-equal organization,” stated the top UN official.
To this end, he has asked the Deputy Secretary-General to oversee an independent review of the gender architecture of the entire UN family, “to ensure that we are fit for purpose to deliver on gender equality”.
The UN chief raised the alarm over a global decline in civic space, citing an authoritative survey revealing that just three per cent of people around the world live in countries where civil society organizations can operation in freedom.
“Civil society organizations link governments and people,” he said, describing them as “a vital voice for human rights”.
“When civil society is muzzled, we lose an essential forum for dialogue – the lifeblood of democracy,” Mr. Guterres continued, advocating for the protection and expansion of civic space, where women’s rights organizations, young activists and women environmental and human rights defenders can play their full part.
“See me as an ally”, he told the town hall meeting.