More from UNDESA Vol 23, No. 03 - March 2019

Empowering women to achieve the global goals

by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women

If you wonder why gender equality is so important, just try to think of any part of the world, or even any business, where it’s possible to say that we’ve already achieved it. Whether you consider equal pay for women when they do the same job as a man; a balanced group of decision makers bringing their experience to bear on an issue in boardrooms or parliaments; or women’s full engagement in peace processes; in every case there are gaps that are holding us back from achieving the 2030 Agenda vision of an end to poverty and a peaceful, sustainable world. Those gaps are the spaces where women – and girls – are missing.

These days we’re also seeing mass gatherings of women and girls mobilizing to make their voices heard, in the global marches and online movements such as #MeToo, TimesUp, NiUnaMenos and #TotalShutdown that continue to grow around the world. Most recently, striking schoolchildren in several countries across Europe and elsewhere have been calling out for climate justice and action by policy makers. Their vibrant impatience is the hallmark of new generations of young activists whose engagement is a critical part of the road to 2030.

They are right to be impatient: progress has been made but it’s still too slow. Despite advances in girls’ enrolment in primary education, 15 million girls of primary-school age are not getting the chance to learn to read or write compared to about 10 million boys. Every year, 12 million girls marry before the age of 18.  Violence against women and girls remains a global pandemic, with one in three women and girls experiencing physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Today, women hold 24 per cent of parliamentary seats globally – still only half way to parity – and the global gender pay gap stands at 23 per cent.

A good education can boost quality of life and open doors to decent work opportunities. It can give women and girls the life skills they need in order to know and claim their rights, to stand up against discrimination and violence, to become fully engaged citizens and to make decisions about their health care, including their sexual and reproductive health. It also benefits children, families and societies more broadly through poverty reduction and enhanced economic growth.

We need men and women working side by side to dismantle the barriers to gender equality. One of the biggest problems is the unequal division of household work to care for the home and family members. Women spend on average 18 per cent of their day on this unpaid work, versus 7 per cent for men. In some countries that gap is much wider. Whether it is a young girl who is pulled out of school to fetch water or a woman who works full-time and then comes home to a “second shift”, when men step up and do their fair share, women are enabled to pursue paid employment, leadership and leisure activities.

Governments and private sector leaders can play a critical role in making these choices easier, by implementing policies that support paid parental leave, affordable child care and flexible work arrangements. We can also do a great deal to change mindsets through working with partners on changing the stereotypes of men and women that appear in advertising, marketing and many forms of media and entertainment. Something as simple as changing the numbers of women who are depicted in advertising as professionals, rather than only as carers, can make an important contribution to changing what we regard as normal – and to shape a more ambitious future.

Sport can also be one of the great drivers of gender equality by teaching women and girls the values of teamwork, self-reliance and resilience. It can provide girls with social connections and a refuge from violence in their homes and communities, and help them to understand their bodies and build confidence and the ability to speak up. This is particularly important during adolescence, when many girls abandon sport, whether under pressure to conform to traditionally “feminine” stereotypes, or because of early motherhood faced by young women like Dayane Santos in Brazil, whose life was turned around by the ‘One Win Leads to Another’ programme. Similar pressures to conform to pre-set educational stereotypes can stifle girls’ engagement in the learning they need to equip them for the future.

We need to ensure that women and girls are learning the right skills for the changing world of work. Rapid technological and digital advances, including automation, robotics and artificial intelligence are leading to a loss of jobs, and raising the potential for heightened inequality, especially gender inequality. Collaborative initiatives like the African Girls Can CODE programme are combatting this challenges and building equality, through equipping participants like 15-year-old Eno Ekanem, from Abuja, Nigeria with the digital literacy and personal development skills they need to pursue education and careers in ICT and coding.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development envisages for us a world where no one is left behind, where every woman, man, girl and boy is able to live up to their full potential. Eno and Dayane show us just how important equality is to bringing lasting change, and how those changes go hand in hand with improvements for us all.

Leaving no one behind on World Water Day

Despite the progress of recent decades, billions of people are still living without safe water – their households, schools, workplaces, farms and factories struggling to survive and thrive.

Just four years into the 2030 Agenda, the world is already off-track to meet SDG 6: to ensure water and sanitation for all by 2030. Demand is rising, pollution is worsening, funding is lacking and governance is often weak.

Already-marginalized groups are being disproportionately affected by this water crisis. Women, children, refugees, indigenous peoples, disabled people and many others are often overlooked, and sometimes face discrimination, as they try to access and manage the safe water they need.

‘Leaving no one behind’ is the theme of World Water Day on 22 March 2019 and the United Nations World Water Development Report launched on 19 March.

The campaign and report shine a light on the grounds for discrimination that deny so many people access to safe water and sanitation, such as gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, and economic and social status.

To ‘leave no one behind’, water services must meet the needs of marginalized groups and their voices must be heard in decision-making processes. Regulatory and legal frameworks must recognise the right to water for all people, and sufficient funding must be fairly and effectively targeted at those who need it most. These are all critical action points in the UN’s Water Action Decade, which continues until March 2028.

‘Water for all’ is not only the right thing to do, it is essential to achieving the 2030 Agenda. We have to act urgently, leaving no one behind.

Key events:

World Water Day pivot event – launch of UN World Water Development Report
Venue: Palais des Nations, Geneva
Date: 19 March 2019
Time: 16:00-17:30

‘Water in Armed Conflict’ – panel discussion
Venue: International Peace Institute, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York City
Date: 22 March 2019
Time: 10:00-12:30

Gender equality and women’s empowerment in numbers

Gender equality and women’s empowerment is the key to achieving all the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite progress, gender inequality continues to hold women and girls back and deprive them of basic rights and opportunities.

The practice of child marriage has been declining in the last decade, with the proportion of women who were married in childhood decreasing from one in four to approximately one in five. Child marriage is a violation of human rights that often leads to a lifetime of disadvantage and deprivation, especially for girls.

One in five girls and women (aged 15 to 49) who have ever been married or in union experience physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the last 12 months, based on data from 87 countries.

On average, women spend approximately three times as many hours in unpaid domestic and care work as men, and significantly more if they have children.

Around 2017, one in three girls aged 15 to 19 had been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) in the 30 countries where the practice is concentrated, down from one in two around the year 2000. Some countries are making rapid progress. FGM is a human right violation affecting girls and women worldwide. It may lead to severe pain, excessive breathing, infections (including HIV), infertility, complications during childbirth and even death.

Globally, the percentage of women in single or lower houses of national parliament increased from 19 per cent in 2010 to around 23 per cent in 2018. Slow progress indicates the need for stronger political will and more ambitious measures.

Women occupy less than one third of senior- and middle-management positions in majority of the 67 countries with data.

International Day highlights forests’ role in education for sustainable development

Throughout human history, forests and trees have been connected to learning, wisdom and enlightenment.  Forests and trees have served as outdoor classrooms, providing healthy learning-locations for outdoor-education and fostering environmental stewardship in children from an early age.

Forests are among the world’s most productive renewable natural resources, providing sustainable paths to development as a key driver of economic growth while providing livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people, particularly in rural areas. Education is a key enabler for sustainable development, and for the sustainable management of forests. Learning about forests, and their sustainable management is not just good for the environment, it is the foundation for sustainable livelihood and communities.

In recognition of these important interlinkages between forests and education, the central theme of the 2019 International Day of Forests is “Forests and education.”  The International Day of Forests is observed annually on 21 March, provides a global platform to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and trees.

This year, UN DESA’s United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat will organize a special event in celebration of the International Day of Forests on 21 March at UNHQ in New York, which will highlight how forests and education are essential for creating a sustainable future for all. The event will be held in the ECOSOC Chamber, from 10 am to 1 pm, and will feature remarks by senior UN and government officials, a panel discussion and a general discussion by Member States and UN entities.

The International Day of Forests was established by the UN General Assembly in 2012.  Activities held around the world range from scientific conferences and workshops, to art exhibits, tree-planting and community-level events. The theme of the International Day reflects the multi-faceted values of forests, highlighting how forests enrich our daily lives and support global sustainability.

For more information: International Day of Forests

Follow Us