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It’s been 26 years since the Beijing  Fourth World Conference on Women  where UN Women drafted the Platform for Action, a roap map for addressing the international crisis of gender inequality. 

While progress has been made in addressing gender equality since then, the ultimate vision for girls and women has yet to be fulfilled. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the violence and poverty that women face. To refocus this important work given today’s realities, the 2021 Generation Equality Forum was born.

GENERATION EQUALITY 2021

In March, the Mexico City Generation Equality Forum (GEF) convened UN Women, INMUJERES (Mexico’s National Institute for Women), and dozens of other women’s rights organizations to start creating action plans to end gender inequality once and for all. The GEF had three specific objectives: 

  1. Develop a global feminist strategy to promote accelerated change towards gender equality in the coming years.
  2. Forge an alliance of champion countries that will promote gender equality in multilateral forums.
  3. Establish Action Coalitions – groups of international leaders from activist groups, philanthropic organizations, and UN member states tasked with translating ideas into concrete change on these specific areas of inequality:

GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AND COVID-19

Gender-based violence surfaced as a compelling issue to address immediately. COVID-19 ushered in a new wave of violence against women, with 243 million women and girls experiencing violence (physical or sexual) from a partner in the past year alone. 

Dubbed “The Shadow Pandemic” by UN Women, this quiet increase in domestic violence has been magnified by the financial challenges, isolation due to social distancing, and vacant public spaces sparked by the pandemic.

Africa in particular felt some of the strongest impact of this uptick in domestic violence. Though the continent has largely escaped devastating infection rates thus far, it has felt the ripple effect of COVID in the form of an unanticipated economic downturn, causing violence against women to skyrocket.

ECONOMIC JUSTICE AND WOMEN’S POVERTY

Given its impact on many other aspects of women’s rights, economic justice emerged as another compelling issue to address. Ann Linde, Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, summed up the matter during a plenary session: “Without economic empowerment, it is hard to leave an abusive relationship. Without economic empowerment, it is hard to claim your sexual and reproductive rights.” 

Without economic empowerment, it is hard to leave an abusive relationship. Without economic empowerment, it is hard to claim your sexual and reproductive rights.

A review of some stark numbers reveals that poverty has a woman’s face. Worldwide, women earn just over half of what men earn for similar labor and rarely inherit wealth from family members. Social entrepreneur Ndidi Nwuneli  also noted that food insecurity disproportionately impacts women and children. 

“Food insecurity affects women more than any other group,” Nwuneli said. “Most women will go hungry so their children can eat, and they are the bedrock of the food and agriculture ecosystem.”

She urged ground-up ventures to tackle the cause of economic inequality at its root by placing women in economic leadership positions and supporting women entrepreneurs. 

FEMINIST LEADERSHIP AND THE RIGHT TO LEAD

As many of the forum’s panelists were political and social leaders, feminist leadership was also a critical topic of discussion. Placing more women in positions of influence, conditions can drastically improve for the everyday woman. 

Malado Kaba, the first female finance minister of Guinea, underscored the necessity of having women leaders in health, education, and sustainability. During the pandemic, countries with female leadership, like New Zealand, fared notably better than those with male leadership. Women continue to prove themselves in positions of power, but the pace in closing leadership’s gender gap is demonstrably slow. 

“Women’s participation is a right,” said activist Hajer Sharief. “It’s not something that is given to us, it’s not something extra—it is our right as women and young women to participate in every decision-making process that affects our daily life.”

#ACTFOREQUAL

The dialogues sparked at the Mexico City Generation Equality Forum were not just an intellectual exercise. Driven by a sense of urgency and frustration at the lack of progress since Beijing, the UN Women representatives reinforced the forum’s primary mission: to provoke concrete action and commitment to create meaningful change. 

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, urged Action Coalitions to use the time between the Mexico City and the upcoming Paris forums to generate funding and solutions to the issues discussed.

The Mexico forum closed on a note of hope and resolve.  “I want to thank the young women who represent the hope and cry of a generation that will not allow itself to be left behind,” said Nadine Gasman, president of INMUJERES Mexico. “Powerful voices were heard, bonds were woven, concern was shared about the effects of the pandemic on women, and most importantly, commitments were made that I am sure will mark the path…to achieve the equality we want by 2030.”

The final event of the 2021 Generation Equality Forum will take place in Paris from June 30 to July 2.  The event will bring together governments, international organizations, civil society, youth, the private sector and activists from around the world to make concrete, ambitious and sustainable commitments to achieve gender equality. We highly encourage readers to register for the final event of the 2021 Generation Equality Forum.

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