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UN Highlights Transformative Power Of Equal Participation, Marking International Women’s Day


Underscoring the transformative power of
women’s equal participation, top United Nations officials
called on all stakeholders to take special measures to
advance their equal participation and achieve rapid
change.

In a message
on International
Women’s Day
, marked annually on 8 March, Secretary-General António
Guterres
outlined “clear evidence”, such as better
social protection programmes, stronger climate policies and
enduring peace agreements, when women are in governments,
parliaments or peace negotiations.

“Whether running
a country, a business or a popular movement, women are
making contributions that are delivering for all and driving
progress towards the Sustainable
Development Goals
(SDGs)”, Mr. Guterres
said.

“I call on countries, companies and
institutions to adopt special measures and quotas to advance
women’s equal participation and achieve rapid change”,
he urged.

The UN began celebrating the International
Day in 1975, which was designated International
Women’s Year
. Over the decades it has morphed from
recognizing the achievements of women to becoming a rallying
point to build support for women’s rights and participation,
in the political and economic arenas.

This year’s
commemorations, under the theme, Women
in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19
world
, comes as the world continues to navigate the
pandemic, which has wiped out decades of hard-won progress
towards gender equality.

COVID-19 erased decades of
progress

Women have borne the brunt of the coronavirus
pandemic – from being pushed into poverty, to losing jobs
as the informal economy shrinks, to an alarming spike in
domestic violence and the unpaid care burden.

However,
in spite of the impact on their lives and rights, women have
stood resolutely on the frontlines of pandemic response, as
essential workers, care givers and leaders.

“As we
recover from the pandemic, support and stimulus packages
must target women and girls specifically, including through
investments in women-owned businesses and the care
economy”, the UN chief urged.

‘No
country prospers without women’s
engagement’

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive
Director of UN-Women, the
Organization’s entity dedicated to gender equality and the
empowerment of women, underlined
the need for political will to actively and intentionally
support women’s representation.

In a message,
she went on to note that concrete efforts such as setting
and meeting parity targets, at all levels of government; or
special measures such as putting in place and enforcing
quotas and policies to address representation for “real
progress” on women’s leadership.

Without such
measures, progress can be slower or even non-existent and
easily reversed, she warned.

“No country prospers
without the engagement of women”, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka
highlighted, calling for women’s representation that
reflects all women and girls in all their diversity and
abilities, and across all cultural, social, economic and
political situations.

“This is the only way we will
get real societal change that incorporates women in
decision-making as equals and benefits us all”, the head
of UN-Women added.

‘Responsibility of our
lifetimes’

We are at a pivotal
moment … the responsibility of our lifetimes is upon us:
to create more equitable, inclusive, just, and sustainable
post-pandemic
societies
 

High Commissioner
Bachelet

Michelle Bachelet,
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said
that discrimination against women is what is holding them
back, not a lack of interest or capacity.

Speaking at
a commemorative event at the Human
Rights Council
, the UN rights chief stressed that
discrimination leads to laws that prevent women from
controlling their bodies, owning land or accessing
credit.

She called for specific action, including
special measures and quotas to “break the cycle of
exclusion”, which results in disproportionate share of
caregiving responsibilities, social norms preventing equal
access to education, as well as violence, harassment and
harmful practices.

“We are at a pivotal moment …
the responsibility of our lifetimes is upon us: to create
more equitable, inclusive, just, and sustainable
post-pandemic societies”, Ms. Bachelet added.

UNICEF/Juan
Haro | Women campaigning against child marriage at a village
in south-centre Niger.

When women
lead, ‘we all win’

Ghada Waly, Executive Director
of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), highlighted,
in particular, the importance of women’s leadership and
representation in law enforcement and judiciary.

Their
increased participation ensures more investigations into
crimes against women, better policing outcomes, and
successful victim-centred approaches, she added, noting that
women also enable “systemic changes”, including lower
rates of violence and greater integrity through
diversity.

“These are major victories for public
trust and effective institutions. When women lead, we all
win”, Ms. Waly said, recalling the UN Crime
Congress Kyoto Declaration
, adopted on Sunday, in which
governments pledged to remove impediments to the advancement
of women within criminal justice systems.

Celebrating
women leaders in Afghan peace
process

Empowering these women,
and expanding women’s participation, will be critical to
ensure a just and sustainable peace that protects the rights
of all
Afghans
 

UNAMA
head Deborah Lyons

In
Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission (UNAMA) highlighted
that 2021 is a “historic opportunity for a lasting
peace” that will benefit all Afghans, reiterating that
women must play a leading role in decision-making at all
levels of the peace process.

“The peace process has
brought to the fore strong Afghan women leaders, who have
negotiated on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
and rallied support in their communities for a peaceful
solution to the conflict”, Deborah Lyons,
Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan
said in a message.

“Empowering
these women, and expanding women’s participation, will be
critical to ensure a just and sustainable peace that
protects the rights of all Afghans.”

Unsplash/Matteo
Massimi | Two women pray at a temple in Yangon,
Myanmar.

Listen to the voices of
Myanmar’s women: UN Country Team

Meanwhile in
Myanmar, the UN Country Team (UNCT) applauded
the country’s women and women civil society organizations
for their role in Myanmar’s “slow journey towards a more
democratic, peaceful and prosperous society”.

“For
decades, women, across Myanmar have worked both in the
shadows and in broad daylight, often at high risks to their
safety and well-being, to advocate for peace, support the
peace process and deliver essential services when and where
there were no government services to be had”, UNCT said in
a statement, praising also their contributions to prevent
and respond to the COVID-19
pandemic.

They are “once again demonstrating their
leadership and agency” following more than one month of
instability and violence, in the aftermath of the military
takeover
on 1 February.

The UNCT added that across
Myanmar, women, young and old are leading the call for
peace, justice and democracy “with courage, braving
bullets and beatings, death and detention, challenging
patriarchy and social norms in the process”.

“At
this time of crisis, we urge all stakeholders, in Myanmar
and abroad, to listen to the voices of the women of Myanmar
and we echo the words of the UN Secretary-General
reaffirming the unwavering support of the UN to the people
of Myanmar in their pursuit of democracy, peace, human
rights and the rule of law.”

Global
commemorations

UN agencies together with partners
also organized commemorative events around the world to mark
the International Day.

The UN World Health
Organization (WHO) introduced the Global
Brest Cancer Initiative
, which aims to reduce global
breast cancer mortality by 2.5 per cent per year until 2040,
thereby averting an estimated 2.5 million deaths. The agency
is also hosting an advocacy event Hearing
the call of women with breast cancer
, where the
Initiative will be presented to the global cancer
community.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) highlighted the
impact of the pandemic on girls, warning that ten
million additional child marriages could occur
before
the end of the decade. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) called on the
international community to take urgent steps to protect refugee,
displaced and stateless women and girls
facing poverty
and gender-based violence due to COVID-19 and its
socio-economic fallout.

Similarly, in Asia and the
Pacific, the UN’s regional development arm, ESCAP, launched a new
report The
long road to equality
, which shows that while levels of
women’s representation in the region have increased, the
progress “remains uneven”, both within and among
countries.

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