Equality a long way from being realised – says UN Executive Director
- as International Women’s Day is observed
Although there has been some progress over the last century to define and ensure that women have equal rights, the hopes of equality expressed on that first International Women’s Day are a long way from being realised.
This notion was expressed by Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, in her message to mark International Women’s Day being observed the world over today.
The day is being observed under the theme ‘Time to make the promise of equality a reality.’
Bachelet, in her message, went on to highlight that almost two out of three illiterate adults are women and alluded to the fact that girls are still less likely to be in school than boys. The challenges faced by women extends even to the their physical wellbeing evident by the reality that a woman dies in pregnancy or due to childbirth-related complications despite existing knowledge and resources to make birth safe.
Across the world, she said, women continue to earn less than men for the same work, and in many countries, too, they have unequal access to land and inheritance rights. And despite high-profile advances, women still make up only 19 percent of legislatures, eight percent of peace negotiators, and only 28 women are heads of state or government, Bachelet asserted.
“It is not just women who pay the price for this discrimination. We all suffer for failing to make the most of half the world’s talent and potential. We undermine the quality of our democracy, the strength of our economies, the health of our societies and the sustainability of peace.”
According to Bachelet, this year’s focus of International Women’s Day on women’s equal access to education, training, science and technology underscores the need to tap this potential.
However, she cautioned that since the agenda to secure gender equality and women’s rights is a global issue it presents a challenge for every country, rich and poor, north and south.
“It was in recognition of both its universality and the rewards if we get this right that the United Nations brought together four existing organisations to create UN Women. The goal of this new body, which I have the great privilege to lead, is to galvanise the entire UN system so that we can deliver on the promise of the UN Charter of equal rights of men and women. It is something I have fought for my whole life,” Bachelet intimated.
She said that as a young mother and a paediatrician, she had experienced the struggles of balancing family and career thus saw firsthand how the absence of child care prevented women from paid employment.
The opportunity to help remove these barriers was one of the reasons she opted to venture into politics and sought to support policies that extended health and childcare services to families and prioritised public spending for social protection.
Her passion saw her becoming the President of Chile from March 2006 through March 2010 making her the first woman president in that country’s history. “As President, I worked hard to create equal opportunities for both men and women to contribute their talents and experiences to the challenges facing our country.
“That is why I proposed a Cabinet that had an equal number of men and women.”
As Executive Director of UN Women, Bachelet said that she is on a mission to use her journey and her collective knowledge and experience to encourage progress towards true gender equality across the world.
She noted that efforts will have to be made to work in close partnership, with men and women, leaders and citizens, civil society, the private sector and the whole UN system to assist countries to roll out policies, programmes and budgets to achieve this worthy goal.
“I have seen myself what women, often in the toughest circumstances, can achieve for their families and societies if they are given the opportunity. The strength, industry and wisdom of women remain humanity’s greatest untapped resource. We simply cannot afford to wait another 100 years to unlock this potential.”
According to Bachelet it was a hundred years ago today that women across the world took an historic step on the long road to equality. The first ever International Women’s Day was called to draw attention to the unacceptable and often dangerous working conditions that so many women faced worldwide.
Although the occasion was celebrated in only a handful of countries, it brought over one million women out onto the streets, demanding not just better conditions at work but also the right to vote, to hold office and to be equal partners with men, the Executive Director recounted.
The Executive Director also pointed to the fact that one hundred years ago, only two countries allowed women to vote, underscoring that “today that right is virtually universal and women have now been elected to lead Governments in every continent.”
Women today also hold leading positions in professions from which they were once banned, Bachelet observed, adding that far more recently than a century ago, the police, courts and neighbours still saw violence in the home as a purely private matter.
Today, she noted that two-thirds of countries have specific laws that penalise domestic violence and the United Nations Security Council now recognises sexual violence as a deliberate tactic of war.