Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the opening meeting of the sixty-second session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – Photo courtesy of United Nations, Loey Felipe
CAIRO – 13 March 2018: “From ‘MeToo’ to ‘Time’s Up’ to ‘The Time is Now’, women and girls are calling out abusive behaviors and discriminatory attitudes. Power is normally never given, power normally needs to be taken.” These were the remarks by U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the opening of the annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which is running from March 12-23. Guterres called himself “a proud feminist” and reaffirmed his commitment to doing his part, urging all men to support women’s rights, gender equality and human rights.
Guterres praised the vital role of the CSW as one of the most dynamic intergovernmental bodies to erase stereotypes and fight discrimination limiting women’s and girls’ opportunities.
The U.N. chief said that changing “the unequal power dynamics” underpinning discrimination and violence against women is “the greatest human rights challenge of our time” and a goal that is “in everyone’s interest.”
“Discrimination against women damages communities, organizations, companies, economies and societies,” he added, explaining that such attacks of fundamental rights of women and girls can fuel radicalization and extremism.
On steps taken by the U.N. to mainstream gender, the U.N. chief said that the international organization already reached gender parity in the senior management group for the first time in the U.N. history. He also said that women now fill one-third of positions as heads and deputy heads of peacekeeping missions, and that the organization will continue to work to meet the targets. Moreover, he highlighted the zero tolerance of sexual harassment that he introduced upon his appointment to improve reporting and accountability.
The CSW session of 2018 focuses on “challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment of rural women and girls.” It aims to change existing social norms and prevent violence against rural women and girls. Guterres said that lifting up marginalized women, especially women in rural communities, refugees and migrants, will ensure that no one is left behind and is essential to fulfilling the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to eradicate poverty and create a safer, more sustainable world on a healthy planet. He added that girls born in poverty are at higher risk of dropping out of school, marrying as children, suffering complications during birth, experiencing violence and also passing the legacy to their children.
Rural women and girls play a critical role in ensuring both food and social security for their families and communities, and they represent the largest source of untapped potential; however, they also face multiple forms of discrimination and violence. This is particularly the case for agricultural workers, indigenous and tribal women, fisherwomen, and informal workers.
They have limited access to and control of land and productive resources, they do most of the unpaid and unrecognized household care, they lack access to information and communications technologies, suffer from legislation that limits their ability to take loans and achieve economic independence, and they are heavily impacted by poor infrastructure, unregulated migration and climate disasters resulting from climate change. This vulnerability is exacerbated by intersecting inequalities against young women and girls, older women, heads of households, women with disabilities, migrants, refugees and internally displaced women.
Challenges facing rural women and girls include threats to their sexual and reproductive health and rights as a result of cultural and religious norms, leading to unintended pregnancies and complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Gender-based violence (GBV) and other harmful practices, including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and forced marriages of child girls, threaten their well-being. The changing climate further limits their access to land, water and energy, and it increases the time and effort spent by women to secure water and fuel for their families. This is in addition to already limited access to formal and informal education, which leads girls to miss out on education and income-generating opportunities.