World leaders commit $ 40 billion to advance gender equality

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– Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women


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World leaders do not meet often for the sole purpose of investing money in the advancement of women. They usually don’t even meet for important discussions on the issue; it seems to only happen once every quarter of a century.

The last time was in 1995 for the Beijing World Conference on Women. It was then that Hillary Clinton, the first lady at the time, gave her now iconic “women’s rights are human rights” speech, deemed so daring at the time that officials advised her to soften it. . China even interrupted the broadcast of her speech in the convention center while she spoke.

At the end of this summit, almost all the countries of the world had committed themselves to “the full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life”. He was considered revolutionary even though activists viewed the engagement as toothless.

More than two decades later – and after a pandemic that reversed many advances in gender equality – world leaders gathered in Paris on Wednesday with a heightened sense of urgency, committing to a host of new ambitious gender equality goals. And this time with significant financial commitments on the table.

At the Generation Equality Forum hosted by UN Women, political leaders, business leaders and activists unveiled a total of $ 40 billion to advance gender equality, possibly the largest amount ever spent on gender equality . The funding will be used to institute hundreds of new gender-focused policy proposals on issues such as gender-based violence, which has increased globally during the coronavirus pandemic, economic empowerment and access to health services. reproductive health.

“Women represent only a quarter of those who are executives, they are a quarter of parliamentarians in the world, they are a quarter of those who negotiate climate change, less than a quarter of those who negotiate peace agreements “, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, said at the opening ceremony. “A quarter is not equality. Equality is half.

Ms. Clinton returned to the stage and urged global leaders and activists to “continue the progress that began and spread around the world 26 years ago.”

“Looking back, I think we’ve made some progress – not close enough – and we need to re-commit to going even further,” she said.

French President Emmanuel Macron noted that Covid-19 has turned out to be “an anti-feminist virus” that has plunged more women around the world into poverty, pushed more girls out of school and locked women away with it. their attackers.

Significant non-government commitments were also announced on Wednesday. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said it will spend $ 2.1 billion on gender equality work over five years, one of the organization’s most important commitments. The announcement cemented Ms. French Gates’ long-standing interest in gender equality, which she says remains an underfunded area of ​​philanthropy. The Ford Foundation has committed $ 420 million over the next five years, including $ 159 million dedicated to addressing gender-based violence.

UN forums tend to be best known for photo opportunities, handshakes and lofty statements, not large-scale catalytic actions. The platform agreed in Beijing had no real financial support and did not involve the private sector or civil society in the negotiations or the drafting of global priorities.

To avoid repeating that mistake, the organizers of this year’s forum devised a new system: all participants, whether UN member states or grassroots activist organizations, would be required to submit clear and measurable proposals under one of the six main policy areas. : eliminate gender-based violence, promote women’s economic empowerment, improve access to sexual and reproductive health care, increase gender parity in private and political spheres, invest in climate change-oriented solutions on gender and reduce the digital gender divide.

“We recognize that not everyone starts from the same starting point but everyone can make an effort according to their national capacity, and it is therefore up to the countries to define in which fields they want to engage”, a declared Delphine O, Secretary General of UN Women. Global Forum.

Some government officials have tried to squeeze in half-baked commitments, such as laws that had already been passed or items without a budget, Ms. O said. In these cases, UN Women went back to these participants and told them asked to step up their game.

But some commitments were ambitious, sometimes to the surprise of the forum organizers. Kenya, for example, presented a plan to tackle gender-based violence that includes new funding for survivor recovery centers, legal services and psychological support systems. Other African countries then used Kenya’s proposal as a template for their own plans to tackle gender-based violence.

The United States had not registered to participate in the forum under President Donald J. Trump but changed course under the Biden administration, submitting its finalized commitments last Friday. The range of US commitments, developed by the Biden administration’s new Gender Policy Council, fell into three categories: women’s economic security, gender-based violence, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, both nationally and internationally.

“This is the strongest entry from the United States in many years,” said Sarah Hendriks, director of the political and intergovernmental division of UN Women.

Among Wednesday’s many charismatic speakers, one – Shantel Marekera, a lawyer from Zimbabwe and member of the UN Youth Task Force – seemed to capture the mood.

“It seems silly that we are still talking about it in 2021,” she said on stage in Paris. “We’re done talking. “


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