Deyanira Cordoba belongs to a family of coffee growers of Tablon de Gomez, in the of Nariño region of Colombia. As part of a UN Women project, she has learned about her economic rights, bodily autonomy and more. UN Women/Ryan Brown
The COVID-19 pandemic has erased decades of progress towards gender equality.
From high job losses to exploding burdens of unpaid care, from disrupted schooling to an escalating crisis of domestic violence and exploitation, women’s lives have been upended and their rights eroded.
Mothers – especially single mothers – have faced acute anxiety and adversity.
The consequences will far outlast the pandemic.
But women have also been on the frontlines of pandemic response.
They are the essential workers keeping people alive and holding economies, communities and families together.
They are among the leaders who have kept prevalence rates lower, and countries on track for recovery.
This year’s International Women’s Day highlights the transformative power of women’s equal participation.
We are seeing it ourselves at the United Nations, where I am proud that we have achieved gender parity in UN leadership posts for the first time in history.
The evidence is clear.
When women lead in government, we see bigger investments in social protection and greater inroads against poverty.
When women are in parliament, countries adopt more stringent climate change policies.
When women are at the peace table, agreements are more enduring.
And with women now serving in equal numbers at the top leadership posts at the United Nations, we are seeing even more concerted action to secure peace, sustainable development and human rights.
In a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture, gender equality is essentially a question of power.
Males are an essential part of the solution.
I call on countries, companies and institutions to adopt special measures and quotas to advance women’s equal participation and achieve rapid change.
As we recover from the pandemic, support and stimulus packages must target women and girls specifically, including through investments in women-owned businesses and the care economy.
Pandemic recovery is our chance to leave behind generations of exclusion and inequalities.
Whether running a country, a business or a popular movement, women are making contributions that are delivering for all and driving progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is time to and build an equal future. This is job for everyone – and for the benefit of everyone.
Whether running a country, a business or a popular movement, women are making contributions that are delivering for all and driving progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals."
UN Women Executive Director's message 2021
International Women’s Day this year comes at a difficult time for the world and for gender equality, but at a perfect moment to fight for transformative action and to salute women and young people for their relentless drive for gender equality and human rights. Our focus is on women’s leadership and on ramping up representation in all the areas where decisions are made - currently mainly by men - about the issues that affect women’s lives. The universal and catastrophic lack of representation of women’s interests has gone on too long.
As we address the extraordinary hardship that COVID-19 has brought to millions of women and girls and their communities, we also look ahead to the solid opportunities of the Generation Equality Forum and Action Coalitions to bring change.
During the pandemic, we have seen increased violence against women and girls and lost learning for girls as school drop-out rates, care responsibilities and child marriages rise. We are seeing tens of millions more women plunge into extreme poverty, as they lose their jobs at a higher rate than men, and pay the price for a lack of digital access and skills. These and many other problems cannot be left to men alone to solve. Yet, while there are notable exceptions, in most countries there is simply not the critical mass of women in decision-making and leadership positions to ensure that these issues are tabled and dealt with effectively and this has affected the pace of change for women overall.
There are breakthroughs to celebrate, where women have taken the helm of organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank and we look forward to more such appointments that help to change the picture of what a leader looks like. Yet this is not the norm. In 2020, as a global average, women were 4.4 per cent of CEOs, occupied just 16.9 per cent of board seats, made up only 25 per cent of national parliamentarians, and just 13 per cent of peace negotiators. Only 22 countries currently have a woman as Head of State or Government and 119 have never experienced this – something that has important consequences for the aspirations of girls growing up. On the current trajectory, we won’t see gender parity in the highest office before 2150.
This can and must change. What is needed is the political will to actively and intentionally support women’s representation. Leaders can set and meet parity targets, including through appointments for all executive positions at all levels of government, as has occurred in the few countries with gender equal cabinets. Special measures can work; where countries have put in place and enforced quotas, they have made real progress on women’s leadership, as have those that have policies to address representation. Where these measures do not exist, progress is slower or even nonexistent and easily reversed.
No country prospers without the engagement of women. We need women’s representation that reflects all women and girls in all their diversity and abilities, and across all cultural, social, economic and political situations. This is the only way we will get real societal change that incorporates women in decision-making as equals and benefits us all.
This is the vision of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals and the vision of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It is the vision of civil society and multitudes of young people who are already leading the way and of all those who will join us in the Generation Equality Action Coalitions. We need bold decisive action across the world to bring women into the heart of the decision-making spaces in large numbers and as full partners, so that we can make immediate progress on a greener, equitable and inclusive world.
We need women’s representation that reflects all women and girls in all their diversity and abilities, and across all cultural, social, economic and political situations. This is the only way we will get real societal change that incorporates women in decision-making as equals and benefits us all."
Executive Director, UN Women
UNESCO Director-General's message 2021
In 2021, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to exacerbate all the divisions in our world, particularly those due to gender inequalities, it is more important than ever before that 8 March be a day of unity and mobilization.
First and foremost, educational inequalities have worsened, as exemplified by the 767 million women and girls who were deprived of their studies at the peak of the pandemic. Today, in addition to the 132 million who were already out of school before the crisis, 11 million of them may never return.
Socioeconomic vulnerabilities are also increasing dramatically. According to a recent study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), job losses worldwide have affected 5% of women, as compared to 3.9% of men.
Losing their financial independence has meant that women have also been more exposed to violence and discrimination. For example, according to United Nations data, each three-month period of lockdown produces an additional 15 million cases of violence against women, and 2 million preventable cases of female genital mutilation will occur in the coming decade.
In their professional lives, women journalists and artists have not been spared either, as established by a survey conducted by UNESCO, the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and Freemuse: The World Forum on Music and Censorship.
That is why, this 8 March we must all mobilize – women and men alike – to carry the torch of equality.
UNESCO, which has made gender equality a global priority, has been tackling the issue throughout the crisis.
To support girls’ return to school, we have, for example, launched, together with the Global Coalition for Education, the Girls Back to School campaign and published an accompanying guide to good practices, which has been disseminated in more than 50 African Union countries.
We have also given the floor to women artists, scientists, journalists and citizens, for example, in the “A Whole New World, Reimagined by Women” special issue of the UNESCO Courier.
Unquestionably, women need to be agents of change.
Too few are being given the opportunity, however. As the UNESCO Science Report shows, women account for only 33% of researchers worldwide, yet theirs is a key contribution to science: Katalin Karikó’s research, for example, paved the way for the recent breakthrough in mRNA technology.
This underrepresentation is evident both in laboratories and in circles of power: only 20 women in the world are heads of State or heads of government, according to UN-Women.
In the face of these ongoing injustices, in the face of this twenty-first-century “shame”, as put by Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres, it is high time for united action.
Working in the areas covered by its mandate, UNESCO devotes great efforts to supporting women's right to education and promoting women artists, journalists and researchers. It also encourages men's engagement to the cause.
For it is above all in the minds of people that the defences of equality must be constructed in order to break down prejudices and stereotypes.
In 2021, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to exacerbate all the divisions in our world, particularly those due to gender inequalities, it is more important than ever before that 8 March be a day of unity and mobilization."
All over the world, women lead. They lead peace processes, run businesses, establish hospitals and schools. They are presidents of countries and corporate boards. They head international and grassroots organizations, faith-based groups and sports teams, labour and environmental movements, often while caring for their families and communities.
On this International Women’s Day, we celebrate all women, and particularly those leading the charge for equality. I encourage women and girls who dream of leadership to take it up. Do not wait. It is your right, and the world needs you now more than ever.
No country has yet attained complete gender parity in leadership. But I believe that we will get there, and that women, collectively, will change our world for the better. Where there is gender equality, societies are more prosperous. Peace is more durable. All of society benefits.
Yet, many obstacles still block women’s path to leadership. One of the most fundamental is the lack of bodily autonomy. Many women cannot make basic decisions about their bodies, such as whether to have sexual relations or not, to use contraceptives or not, or even make their own health-care choices.
No woman should be denied these choices. Yet we see, one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, how crises can exacerbate existing barriers that hinder the ability of women to exercise bodily autonomy: sexual and reproductive health services were shuttered or scaled back across the globe, and gender-based violence skyrocketed.
A woman who cannot realize bodily autonomy may face compounding barriers to equality throughout her life, undermining the range of rights and choices required to become a leader. That is why we must ensure women both gain skills and opportunities to lead, and can build on a firm foundation of bodily autonomy.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, women have kept entire societies going, sustaining health systems as the majority of front-line workers, and courageously managing extra responsibilities at home in caring for the ill as well as children out of school. They have kept open shelters for survivors of violence against women, and they have scaled mountains, literally, to distribute contraceptives.
In short, women themselves have offered vivid, unforgettable testaments to the value of their leadership. These should be celebrated and replicated, all the way to a world where every woman is able to govern her body and her life, where women lead as equals, as is their right.
Dr Natalia Kanem
On this International Women’s Day, we celebrate all women, and particularly those leading the charge for equality. I encourage women and girls who dream of leadership to take it up. Do not wait. It is your right, and the world needs you now more than ever."
This year’s International Women’s Day is like no other. As countries and communities start to slowly recover from a devastating pandemic, we have the chance to finally end the exclusion and marginalization of women and girls. But to do that, we need immediate action. Women must have the opportunity to play a full role in shaping the pivotal decisions being made right now as countries respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic – choices that will affect the wellbeing of people and the planet for generations to come.
To do this, we must break down the deep-seated historic, cultural, and socio-economic barriers that prevent women from taking their seat at the decision-making table to make sure that resources and power are more equitably distributed. For instance, across the world, women remain concentrated in the lowest paid jobs, many in extremely vulnerable forms of employment. Women are nearly twice as likely than men to lose their jobs during the COVID-19 crisis. Indeed, the pandemic will dramatically increase the poverty rate for women and widen the gap between men and women who live in poverty. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is working with countries across the globe to address these inequalities. Our eye-opening new policy brief explores how a Temporary Basic Income for women in developing countries could provide part of the solution. UNDP argues that a worthwhile monthly investment of 0.07 per cent of developing countries’ GDP could help 613 million working-aged women living in poverty to absorb the shock of the pandemic. It would also contribute to the economic security and independence that is necessary for women to engage more deeply in the decisions that could change their future.
Despite the barriers, women, especially young women, are at the forefront of diverse and inclusive movements for social change -- online and in the streets. That includes their leading role in taking a stand against climate change, fighting for a green economy and pushing for women’s rights. And we know that more inclusive leadership and representation leads to stronger democracies, better governance, and more peaceful societies. Look, for instance, to research by UN Women, which demonstrates that involving women in peace processes is likely to make peace agreements last much longer. However, we aren’t moving fast enough. At the current rate of progress, gender equality among Heads of Government, for example, will take another 130 years. To disrupt the status quo, UNDP is working to amplify women’s voices and promote their participation and leadership in public institutions, parliaments, the judiciary, and the private sector. With our support, some 180 different measures -- from electoral quotas to gender-smart business policies -- were put in place by countries across the globe in 2019. And the COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker by UNDP and UN Women is helping Governments to identify and address gaps in their response to the pandemic – from ways to address gender-based violence to how to redistribute unpaid care work.
To build forward better from the COVID-19 crisis, and to get the Global Goals firmly back on track, we cannot simply return to the world we had before. We must do things differently. That means shattering the barriers that hold women and girls back. This year’s International Women’s Day is a rallying cry for Generation Equality. It is time to finally fully harness the power of women’s leadership to realise a more equal, more inclusive and more sustainable future.
Women must have the opportunity to play a full role in shaping the pivotal decisions being made right now as countries respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic – choices that will affect the wellbeing of people and the planet for generations to come."