This virtual event gathered voices of many women leaders – starting from the first women President of Ethiopia Sahle-Work Zewde to the European Union Commission President Ursula Von Leyen and the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel.
Many countries paid their special efforts to send their female representatives to UNO. It happened after many people pointed out that few women had a chance to speak when the Assembly started its work.
“Men still dominate in politics, – says сказала Simonetta Sommaruga, the current President of Switzerland, in her recorded video speech, – I was struck by the fact that barely a dozen of countries of 193 members of the General Assembly were represented by women”. But this time on a provisional list of speakers including 154 speakers, 90 were women and 64 were men.
The USA sent the video speech of their Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos. Russia was represented by the Deputy Minister of Labour, Olga Batalina. Iran’s speaker was also a woman, Masoumeh Ebtekar, Vice President for Women and Family Affairs. It’s interesting to mention that she was also the head of the delegation in Beijing and 25 years after she said: “The world needs to change the paradigm to reflect justice, human values and protection of women’s rights”. According to Human Rights Watch in 2015, women in Iran are faced to serious discrimination when it comes to marriage, divorce, and child custody.
The Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel also said about absence of women in politics despite they are highly effective: “Nowadays states where women take responsibilities are successful in economy and social development and in piece-building processes”. But still there are only 22 countries who have women as the heads of the governments.
Some advocacy groups express their displeasure to the fact that in recent years usual allies of women’s rights have turned their backs to this issue. Countries like the United States have insisted to remove the wording “reproductive rights” from a UN declaration in 2019.
Shannon Kowalski, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the International Women’s Health Coalition, wrote in a her Twitter post: “Twenty-five years later, it really should not be up for debate,” She wrote, “If we can’t control our own bodies, we can’t control other elements of our life. And for all of the progress we make, we have to keep fighting to retain it.”
“I have doubts that many of the participants in Beijing 25 years ago would have imagined where we are today: while there is much to be proud of, it is shocking that the fight for equality remains so controversial and that champions like the United States have given up their leadership,” said Dr. Paige Arthur, deputy director of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation.
Covid-19 and Women
One of the top themes for the meeting was the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on women. According to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: “Women and girls are bearing the brunt of the massive social and economic impact of the pandemic,” he said in his speech, “Women who work in informal economics are the first to lose their jobs”.
According to UN Women, women are disproportionately represented in sectors worst hit by the pandemic, they do most of the unpaid care work generated by the pandemic and they have fewer economic resources to fall back on. With the closure of schools, child marriages are also on the rise.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeated the warning of Secretary-General: “The terrible reality is that the Covid-19 pandemic threatens the progress we have made,” Trudeau said, “In fact, it’s strengthens inequalities all over the world”.
According to Paige Arthur of New York University, this situation also gives a possibility to find concrete solutions: “Although the Covid-19 pandemic has created a special crisis for women, it has also led to greater recognition of the key need for social protection,” she said.
The way forward
Some countries’ representatives offered to take responsibilities and make specific actions to protect women’s interests in native countries and abroad. Ursula Von Der Leyen, the President of the European Union Commission, reminded the audience of the fact that she offered a new strategy for gender equality within her first 100 days in office.
She also promised to do more: “I will present binding measures on pay transparency before the end of this year. We need pay transparency, so that women can prove they are underpaid and we could can defend their rights.”
Stefan Lofven, the Prime Minister of Sweden also boasted the feminism ib his country. In 2019 Sweden was among the top ten countries according to the World’s Equality Index. “I lead the world’s first feminist government. A gender equality perspective is central to all government ministries and to all our priorities, in decision-making and allocating resources.” Since Sweden adopted its feminist foreign policy, many countries, such as Canada, France and Luxembourg followed its example.
Colombia also celebrated the fact that for the first time in history, it has a gender-equal cabinet of ministers. Marta Lucia Ramirez, who spoke on behalf of the country, is the first woman to be elected Vice President, but the country still has to elect a woman in the top job. The United Arab Emirates, a conservative country where women have no protection against gender violence, also has some positive results. “My country made history this year when it launched a spacecraft to Mars, where women composed 80% of the team’s scientists,” said Hessa Bint Essa Buhumaid, the UAE’s Minister of Community Development.