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Fight For Gender Equality Faces Resistance From The United Nations: Study

Guterres, the former prime minister of Portugal, was sworn in December 2016 after a campaign in which many countries urged selection of a woman.

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U.N.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses delegates during the opening session of a UN Migration Conference in Marrakech, Morocco, Dec.10, 2018. VOA

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has inched up slightly in the eyes of women’s groups who said on Wednesday he has delivered on some promises to make the global organization a feminist institution but faces a major backlash and resistance.

The Feminist U.N. Campaign, a coalition of women’s rights groups, advocates and U.N. staff, gave him a grade of B-, up from the C+ it gave him a year ago.

The coalition launched its report card after the secretary-general said he would be a feminist leader when he took office two years ago.

United Nations, Global warming, climate change
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses during the opening of COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 3, 2018. VOA

Global movement

In that time, the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment and assault has become a global movement.

Guterres has promoted women’s rights and equality publicly, sought gender parity in leadership and rolled out efforts against sexual harassment and gender-based violence, the report said.

But an internal backlash and bureaucracy threaten his progress. His efforts to make structural changes have met “considerable resistance” from staff and member states that resist women’s rights, it said.

Lyric Thompson, an author of the report and a director at the Washington-based International Center for Research on Women, said she thinks Guterres has “a genuine intent and interest in being a champion” of women’s rights.

Women's March,
People carrying signs join hundreds of demonstrators in the Women’s March in downtown Los Angeles, Jan. 20, 2018. VOA

“The question is can he do everything in his power to be a feminist leader who enables that transformation and who makes it the new normal?” she said to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The U.N. is “years away” from being a feminist institution, and attitudes of immunity and privilege operate to scuttle equality efforts, she said.

Just last week, a U.N. survey showed one third of its staff and contractors experienced sexual harassment in the past two years.

More than 30,000 people answered the survey, complaining of offensive jokes, remarks and sexual stories and of being touched in ways that made them uncomfortable.

The U.N. has tried to increase transparency and strengthen how it deals with such accusations over the past few years after a string of sexual exploitation and abuse accusations against U.N. peacekeepers in Africa.

The head of the U.N. agency for HIV and AIDS is stepping down in June, six months before his term ends, after an independent panel said his “defective leadership” tolerated “a culture of harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse of power.”

Women
Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, center, address the human rights conference titled “Protecting Health Rights of Women and Girls Affected by Conflict,” during the U.N General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2018 at U.N. headquarters. VOA

‘Considerable progress’

The secretary-general’s office said it was pleased that the women’s groups saw improvement in Guterres’ handling of gender issues and agreed that more needs to be dome.

Also Read: Women Living in Countries with Gender Equality have better Cognitive Test Scores: Study

“At the same time, we believe the secretary-general has achieved considerable progress within the complex U.N. system at achieving real reforms to make the U.N. a better workplace for women and men alike,” his office said.

Guterres, the former prime minister of Portugal, was sworn in December 2016 after a campaign in which many countries urged selection of a woman. The U.N. has not been headed by a woman since its creation in 1945. (VOA)

Next Story

UN Launches Campaign to Bring Young Generation into Gender Equality Fight

UN Women announced its new "Generation Equality: Realizing women's rights for an equal future'' at a news conference

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gender equality
FILE - Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of U.N. Women, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in New York, March 7, 2018. VOA

The U.N. women’s agency launched a campaign Monday to bring a young generation of women and men into the campaign for gender equality ahead of next year’s 25th anniversary of the conference that adopted the only international platform to achieve women’s rights and empowerment.

UN Women announced its new “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future” at a news conference where it also made public events planned to mark adoption of the 150-page platform for action to achieve gender equality by 189 governments at the 1995 Beijing women’s conference.

“Today, nearly 25 years after the historic Beijing conference, the reality is that not a single country can claim to have achieved gender equality,” said a statement from UN Women’s executive director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “Despite some progress, real change has been too slow for most women and girls in the world, and we see significant pushback in many places.”

“Women continue to be discriminated against and their contributions undervalued,” she added. “They work more, earn less and have fewer choices about their bodies, livelihoods and futures than men – and they experience multiple forms of violence at home, at work and in public spaces.”

gender equality
Chinese women delegates walk together to pose outside the Great Hall of the People after attending a plenary session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing, Thursday, March 8, 2018. VOA

Mlambo-Ngcuka said the General Equality campaign is aimed at speeding systematic change “on the laws, policies and outdated mindsets that must no longer curtail women’s voice, choice and safety.”

UN Women’s deputy executive director, Asa Regner, said at the news conference that there have been positive results since Beijing. She pointed to a record number of girls in school, better access to health care, a decrease in maternal mortality, more women in top positions in the business world and fresh efforts to address violence against women and to put women at peace negotiating tables. But she said the biggest challenges are to change male-dominated “power structures” that leave far more women and girls facing poverty and violence.

Ahead of next year’s anniversary events, UN Women has asked all 193 U.N. member nations to submit details and data on what their countries have done to implement the 1995 Beijing platform, Regner said. As of Friday, she said, it had received 22 responses but hopes the entire membership will answer.

The Beijing platform called for bold actions in 12 critical areas for women and girls including combatting poverty and violence, improving human rights and access to reproductive and sexual health care, and ensuring that all girls get an education and that women are at the top levels of business and government, and the top table in peace negotiations.

Events leading up to next year’s anniversary include the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women’s annual meeting in March 2020 devoted to Beijing’s implementation, a high-level meeting when world leaders gather for the annual General Assembly session in September 2020, and a “Global Gender Equality Forum” co-hosted by France and Mexico in France bringing civil society representatives and activists of all ages together to look to the future. No date has been announced yet for that event.

gender equality
UN Women announced its new “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future” at a news conference. VOA

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at Monday evening’s opening of an exhibition on women who were part of the Soviet Union’s military effort in World War II that “we will not achieve peace” or any of the U.N.’s development goals for 2030 “without the full and equal participation of women.”

“Yet we all know that there is still a stark imbalance of power around the world, and we are even seeing a backlash in some areas against women’s rights,” he said.

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Regner said the majority of countries favor progress on gender equality, but there is “pushback.” There are governments and movements, she said, that value “so-called traditional family values and other ideas around women’s and men’s roles both in families and in societies which do not correspond to international agreements, and which would not necessarily give women the space and possibility to decide over their own lives, bodies, economic empowerment, etc.”

Regner, a former Swedish minister, said UN Women’s task is to spur implementation of Beijing and other agreements – and “we will never back down.” (VOA)