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Gender equality in international crosshairs

Image credit: tykhyi / 123rf. Illustration of gender. Women's equality illustration.. Gender discrimination concept. Gender equality concept.
Image credit: tykhyi / 123rf

This week saw an international conference held in Paris, France, where the item on the agenda was one of massive importance: gender equality.

The three-day conference, which opened on Wednesday, foregrounded equality of the sexes as a global priority, seeking to – as The Associated Press (AP) reports – “fast-track the road to gender equality and mobilise millions of dollars to achieve the long-sought goal quickly.” In terms of mobilising funding, the conference succeeded with a mammoth pledge of US$40 billion by various actors encompassing global leaders, philanthropists, and organisations opening their cheque books in the hope of advancing gender equality. 

The importance of promoting gender equality cannot be overstated and certainly should not be understated, as executive director of U.N. Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka made transparently clear in talking to AP. “Many of the problems that women face in 2021, we know the answers,” she said. “The fact…that we are not doing what is right by women is a true reflection of people who really don’t care or understand the pain that women go through.” 

Mlambo-Ngcuka emphasised that, since the 1995 Beijing women’s conference, insufficient progress has been made. As The Associated Press reported, “the underfunding of women’s programmes and the slow implementation of a 150-platform to achieve gender equality adopted by the world’s nations in Beijing in 1995 “leaves a lot of women in a situation where they will never really realize their true and full potential””, according to Mlambo-Ngckua. 

A multisectoral approach is much-needed, the executive director stressed. “Mlambo-Ngcuka said the forums bring together not just the U.N.’s 193 member nations but civil society, the private sector, men and boys, young people, philanthropists and religious and traditional leaders,” AP reported. 

For India, gender equality is an enormous need. The country, in recent years, has slipped in global gender equality rankings. It continues to be embattled by a number of gender-related issues. As previously reported by Health Issues India, “gender discrimination takes many forms – even before birth. The practice of sex-selective abortion and sex-based discrimination afterwards is a scourge in India and has resulted in generations’ worth of so-called ‘missing women.’ 

“As we previously reported, “the practice of sex-selective abortion – despite being illegal in India – is widespread, resulting in 10.6 million missing girls and women between 1970 and 2017. These factors contribute to the country’s imbalanced sex ratio which, as of 2019, stands at 930 females for every thousand males. India ranks at 191st out of 201 countries on sex ratio and 43rd out of 51 among Asian nations.”…Female empowerment is a linchpin of societal advancement. The pandemic has underscored this. But there is much work to do. This piece cannot adequately cover the plethora of issues facing girls and women today, which range from maternal mortality to sexual harassment, stalking, and sexual assault.” 

In the case of the pandemic, women have taken a huge hit. “Studies show that COVID-19 has intensified women’s workloads at home, and nearly half of all women with children at home say they spend more than five hours each day in childcare,” write María Fernanda Espinosa and Nicolette Naylor for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Many women are being forced out of the labour market to manage care responsibilities. An estimated 47 million more women will fall into extreme poverty due to the pandemic. We must do more to address the social ills of our world, especially those that disproportionately impact women. So far, despite the many great examples of progress around the globe, not a single country can claim to have achieved gender equality.” 

A commitment of US$40 billion is good news, but it will not go nearly as far enough as it will take to amend systemic societal issues which leave women at a perpetual disadvantage, as a marginalised community, and relegated as second-class citizens. Inequality is rooted in a myriad of issues, far too complex for one article to address. But such issues are not too complex for a planet to address. 

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