Let’s make 2020 the year of gender equality: Using milestones to get organized

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By Paula Sevilla Núñez, Pathfinders Program Associate at the NYU Center on International Cooperation

I want to talk about something that threatens the livelihood of at least half of the world’s population. It reduces the productivity of the global economy and harms the prosperity of all societies. It results in the death of more than 135 people every day. And not a single country has successfully defeated it. No, it is not a virus of any kind — it is gender inequality.

The urgency that has marked global efforts to respond to the coronavirus in recent weeks has been sorely lacking when it comes to tackling gender inequality. The pictures emerging from women’s marches around the world last Sunday on International Women’s Day delivered a clear message that women are tired of inaction. This anger and frustration is closely linked to broader protests against inequality, exclusion, and injustice that have been spreading around the world. (It is no coincidence that the chilling song Un violador en tu caminothat denounces sexual assault came to fame during the surge of protests in Chile against the government.) The achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and its goal of peaceful, just and inclusive societies is dependent on addressing gender discrimination and gender inequality.

2020 offers the promise that this growing urgency can be translated into tangible action at international, national, and local levels. Much work remains to be done on this front. As member states adopted a political declaration commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for action, they warned that progress has not been fast or deep enough, that in some areas progress has been uneven, that major gaps remain and that obstacles, including structural barriers, discriminatory practices and the feminization of poverty, persist.”

Pathfinder member states are aware that their own paths to SDG16+ can often be uneven and imperfect, but they are committed to exploring ways to advance the targets for inclusive societies. In their comprehensive reviews of the implementation of the Beijing Platform of Action, they discuss both milestones, and the challenges they faced in delivering on gender equality and fighting gender-based discrimination and violence. These national reviews can offer fresh insights into the steps that can be undertaken throughout the Decade of Action to address the challenges identified.

Some examples taken from national reviews of Pathfinder countries addressing gender inequality include:

  1. Inclusive development, shared prosperity and decent workSweden’s Agency for Economic and Regional Growth’s Öppna upp! (“Open Up!”) strategy pursued publicly funded business promotion on equal terms, irrespective of gender, origin, age and geographical location. The Agency for Economic and Regional Growth has doubled financial support to women who run businesses and increased the percentage of applications granted to women. The Government also developed a labor market strategy to address the psychosocial challenges of modern work life that disproportionately affect women.
  2. Poverty eradication, social protection, and social services — Recognizing that the burden of domestic labor falls often on women and girls, Mexico’s Federal Employment Law was updated in 2019 to include required protections for domestic workers, including their registration in the social security system and obligatory contributions by employers. The Social Security Institute (IMSS) and the Ministry of Women (INMUJERES) have also established programs and guides to support domestic workers to navigate their rights and access social services, ranging from care, education, financial inclusion, and gender-based violence prevention services.
  3. Freedom from violence, stigma and stereotypes — In the Republic of Korea, the Ministry of Justice has committed to providing a public defender service to protect the rights and interests of victims of sexual violence, for whom legal service expenses will be fully covered by the government. It has also committed to providing constant training for public defenders and testimony assistants to enhance the quality of their services, particularly for cases involving children and people with disabilities.
  4. Participation, accountability, and gender-responsive institutions — Sierra Leone has promoted the participation of women in governance through quota systems and the enactment of the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) Policy and Bills. Gender Desks and Gender Officers have also been established in government ministries and agencies, including the police and armed forces.
  5. Peaceful and inclusive societiesTunisia’s national plan for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was adopted in 2018 following consultations and conversation between different ministries, civil society representatives, and other public institutions. It aims to promote the active participation of women in combating terrorism, as well as eliminating all forms of gender-based discrimination to build sustainable peace.
  6. Environmental conservation, climate action, and resilience-buildingEthiopia’s policies for sustainable development and a transition towards a green economy have also involved measures to increase women’s access to natural resources, including land and water. Through the implementation of the nation-wide land certification program, millions of women have acquired land use right certificates, either jointly with their spouse or separately.

The initiatives, programs and policies outlined in national reviews provide a useful basis for advancing the gender equality agenda through tangible action, as well as a tool with which to hold relevant actors accountable. Luckily, 2020 is full of occasions to advance this agenda. The upcoming Generation Equality Forums, taking place in Mexico in May, and in France in July, will bring together civil society actors to launch six catalytic action coalitions for gender equality. October this year will see the 20th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, following the 5-year mark of the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Gender equality is not only a goal on its own (SDG5), it underpins every other SDG and is at the heart of the imperative to leave no one behind.

Even when leaders and decision-makers commit to act to advance gender equality, it takes collective effort to ensure they are held accountable, and that their words are transformed into meaningful action. Just as the coronavirus outbreak forces us to challenge the necessity of holding conferences and gatherings, we should think about how we can make more out of less. Let’s invest less in travel time and reduce the number of speeches we deliver this year… instead, let’s concentrate on ensuring that these gatherings and celebrations have strategic value and support networks that are coordinating implementation. In this milestone year, let’s focus on the steps we need to take to ensure that our mobilization makes the maximum impact.

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