In this male-dominated society, women are still facing major issues gaining access to powerful positions. The World Bank reported that only six countries around the world give both men and women equal legal rights in areas that are affecting their work. This shows that the majority of nations still choose not to grant female workers equal opportunity. If this continues in the coming years, it will take over 100 years to close the economic gender gap.
Nationalist, populist, and austerity agendas curtail women’s rights by supporting policies that do not support gender equality. In some countries, femicide rates are rising, and there's no strong legal protection against female genital mutilation or domestic violence. Although governments around the world acknowledge the importance of women's participation in society, they fail to back their words with actions.
Gender discrimination is encoded into law in many countries around the world. Statistics from PanMacmillan.com, a publisher of the world's most inspired, acclaimed and bestselling authors, revealed that 113 countries do not have laws to ensure equal pay for equal work among men and women; 104 countries make certain jobs off-limits for women; 29 countries restrict the hours women can work, 18 countries allow men to prohibit their wives from working, and 17 countries limit when and how women can travel outside the home.
Active participation in the labor force is not only an economic driver but also works to counteract gender power imbalances and contributes to women’s empowerment. Unfortunately, not all countries recognize this. A 2016 report from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) showed that an estimated $95 billion is lost from economies in sub-Saharan Africa each year because women have lower participation in the paid labor force.
Thus, there's a need to strengthen our efforts to protect and promote women's rights, leadership, and dignity. Many international organizations and institutions believe that gender equality and women's rights are fundamental to global progress in peace and security, sustainable development, and human rights.
The Biggest Human Rights Challenge
During the recent UN International Women’s Day observance, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that “gender inequality is the overwhelming injustice of our day.” According to Politico Europe, an online site that covers the politics, policy, and personalities of the European Union, Guterres cited examples in recent months showing how women are barely seen or recognized. For instance, several high-profile peace agreements have been signed with no women at the table. Emergency healthcare meetings were held about the new coronavirus with few or no women participating.
Calling himself a “proud feminist,” Guterres condemned men who continually abuse their power and said that the fight for gender equality is “the biggest human rights challenge we face.” This is proven by statistics reported by many organizations. UN Women, for instance, reported that over 70% of lawmakers and parliamentarians and managers are men and nearly 500,000 women and girls over the age of 15 are illiterate. The recent Gender Social Norms Index by the UNDP found out that nearly 90% of both men and women hold some sort of bias against women.
“Deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny have created a yawning gender power gap in our economies, our political systems, our corporations, our societies, and our culture. Women are still very frequently denied a voice; their opinions are ignored and their experience discounted,” Guterres said.
According to Global Citizen, a movement of engaged citizens who are using their collective voice to end poverty, Guterres gave his speech in anticipation of the adoption of a draft declaration commemorating the 25th anniversary of the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. The said event aims to call for a comprehensive plan of action for achieving gender equality through the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The draft declaration not only acknowledges that progress on gender equality hasn’t gone far enough but also vows to take concrete action to ensure that the fight for gender equality progresses much more quickly and efficiently.
“Twenty-five years after the Beijing conference, progress on women’s rights has stalled and even reversed. We must push back against the push back. It is more important than ever for men to stand up for women’s rights and gender equality,” Guterres added.
Several national and international measures are at work. However, these are not enough to minimize and eliminate gender inequality since it is rooted in our history, tradition, and culture. Harmful gender stereotypes and norms are difficult to eradicate especially in conservative cultures.
No Human Rights Without Gender Equality
While there has been a rise in women's rights advocates across the globe, the efforts are still not enough to protect and promote equal rights. As Medium's article said, "In recent decades, we have seen remarkable progress on women’s rights and leadership in some areas. But these gains are far from complete or consistent — and they have already sparked a troubling backlash from entrenched patriarchy." The only way that people can acquire change is through seeing women's rights as fundamental or as our common objective.
Efforts to achieve gender equality have been present for the most part. Since the United Nations was founded 75 years ago, human rights and gender equality have underpinned landmark global frameworks. This is proven with the UN Charter of 1945, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the Programme of Action that emerged from the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, and the Platform for Action from the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
Unfortunately, the very concept of gender equality remains under threat. According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, there are several things that we can do about this. This includes empowering civil society and communities to champion women’s rights, forging coalitions to address women’s issues, and improving data on women’s rights and gender equality to reveal where needs are the greatest.
Through challenging historic injustices and inequality as well as promoting equal rights, we, as a society, can rebuild global solidarity and reap the benefits of diverse perspectives.