UN Calls for ‘Stepping it Up’ to Achieve Gender Equality, SDGs
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The world must take immediate actions to close gender gaps and promote women's empowerment to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and leave no one behind, said UN leaders on the occasion of this year's International Women's Day (IWD), marked on 8 March 2016.

UN agencies and other international organizations called for gender equality and women's empowerment at special events and in new publications.

womenday20168 March 2016: The world must take immediate actions to close gender gaps and promote women’s empowerment to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and leave no one behind, said UN leaders on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD), marked on 8 March 2016. UN agencies and other international organizations called for gender equality and women’s empowerment at special events and in new publications.

The theme for the 2016 Day, ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up for Gender Equality,’ refers to the 2030 deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include targets on gender equality and empowerment of girls and women. It also refers to UN Women’s Step it Up Initiative, which calls for national commitments to close gender equality gaps, and which has garnered pledges from over 90 Member States to address barriers to gender equality in their countries.

“Stepping it up means coming out of the ‘business as usual’,” as well as making sure that gaps in the approaches of the last 20 years are being addressed, explained UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. She noted that men and boys must be part of the solution. She called for heads of State to take responsibility for protecting women and girls from violence, and for continued progress on gender within the UN system, cautioning against all-male panels and urging the selection of a woman as the next UN Secretary-General.

“We have shattered so many glass ceilings we created a carpet of shards,” by empowering women as agents of change, said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, noting that he has appointed nearly 150 women at the level of Assistant Secretary-General or Under-Secretary-General, “so women can advance across new frontiers.” He said he also has promoted gender sensitivity training and resource tracking for gender equality in UN budgets.

UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark stressed that it is “not a choice, but an imperative” to close gender gaps in education, health, labor markets and other areas. She said it will be impossible to achieve the SDGs without addressing gender inequalities and discrimination against women, and highlighted the importance of access to safe water and sanitation and protection from gender-based violence.

Other organizations highlighted women’s empowerment through natural resource management, including the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), and the International Water Management Institute’s (IWMI) discussion of how multiple-use water services in Nepal help women become decision-makers in their communities. Bioversity International showcased ’12 tips for effectively communicating research findings to women and men,’ and launched a Gender and Social Inclusion Strategy. The Secretariat of the South Pacific (SPREP) and the EU highlighted the role of women’s participation in waste management, emphasizing that waste management initiatives are more likely to meet everyone’s needs when women’s voices are heard and addressed, including during the project design and implementation process. SPREP also showcased its internal progress on gender equality.

Despite the importance of having women “at the table,” they play a limited role in international environmental decision-making, are under-represented in forest user groups and have fewer access rights in fisheries, observed UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias. He called for reducing constraints that limit women’s engagement as effective actors in conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of their benefits. The Ramsar Convention highlighted ways in which women act as agents of change in local water governance and help secure wetland-based livelihoods, in Ramsar sites in Burkina Faso, Greece, Iraq, Mexico and Senegal.

The UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) highlighted the role of women entrepreneurs in environmentally sustainable business, during a panel discussion in Vienna, Austria. The event addressed how to support gender equality and sustainability across the industrial sector, including as a contribution to the 2030 Agenda. In Geneva, Switzerland, officals from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and other bodies participated in the first annual Geneva Gender Debate, which focused on gender parity. The Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies organized the debate.

Also on women and work, the International Labour Organization (ILO) released a report finding that women’s progress in education over the past two decades has not translated into comparable improvements in their positions in the workforce. ‘Women at Work: Trends 2016′ finds that: women work longer hours per day than men in paid and unpaid work; women carry out more than two-and-half times more unpaid household and care work than men; and inequality between men and women persists across the global labor market, resulting in an overall gender social protection coverage gap. If current trends continue, it will take over 70 years to close gender wage gaps globally, the report concludes. ILO also hosted an event, ‘Getting to Equal by 2030: The Future is Now,’ which discussed the urgency of addressing gender gaps to achieve the SDGs and achieve full, productive employment and decent work for all by 2030. ILO Director-General Guy Ryder noted that women face “enormous challenges” in finding and keeping decent jobs, and called for “immediate, effective and far-reaching” action to develop coherent, mutually supporting policies for gender equality.

It could take 118 years to close gender gaps in economic participation in Asia and the Pacific, unless immediate steps are taken to ensure equal pay for equal work, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) said at a joint event with UN Women. ESCAP Executive Secretary Shamshad Akhtar called for generating new ideas to break through gender barriers, with a special “focus on those who are most frequently excluded, including women and girls with disabilities, those living in rural poverty and those who are members of ethnic minorities.”

Gender parity in parliament is unlikely to be achieved within a generation, finds the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) ‘Women in Parliament 2015: the Year in Review.’ Although women make up 22.6% of all Members of Parliament, the rate of progress has slowed to “snail-pace” growth in 2015, it notes. IPU Secretary-General Martin Chungong said IPU’s statistics indicate the need for creative solutions and a change in mindsets, in order to have “any chance” of meeting goals on political participation and empowerment.

On girls’ issues, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced an initiative to end child marriage by 2030 and protect the rights of vulnerable girls. Child marriage leads to intergenerational cycles of poverty, hurts economies and makes girls more likely to be out of school, suffer from domestic violence, die from pregnancy or childbirth, or contract HIV/AIDS, according to the UN. If current trends continue, said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, the number of girls and women married as children will reach nearly 1 billion by 2030: “1 billion childhoods lost, 1 billion futures blighted.” The UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage will work to prevent girls from marrying too young and support those already married as girls in 12 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The Programme will: educate communities and parents on the dangers of child marriage; provide economic support to families; enforce minimum age of marriage laws; and focus on increasing girls’ access to education and health care.

On humanitarian issues, members of the World Future Council, including UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Executive Secretary Monique Barbut, called for world leaders to take action to protect refugee women and children from violence, including by adopting comprehensive legal measures and services to ensure safe transit and reception facilities and development of cross-border strategies to track and protect vulnerable individuals. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said women must have the right to be part of political processes and negotiations. He noted that he has established a special advisory board composed of Syrian women to advise him on Syria’s political landscape. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Martin Kobler, underscored the role of Libyan women in reconciling communities and delivering humanitarian aid, recommending greater participation of Libyan women in all spheres of life.

The World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) underscored the importance of accelerating women’s empowerment to achieve a “zero hunger world” and achieve the SDGs, at an event in Rome, Italy. WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said “stepping up” on gender is both a moral imperative and crucial to eradicating hunger. She called on everyone to ask themselves, “what step must I take, both today and throughout the year, to ensure I will make a difference for girls by removing a barrier or opening a door?” The WFP also shared ten facts about women in the world, stressing gender equality as critical in achieving zero hunger.

In New York, the UN organized a panel on how to achieve a gender-equal planet by 2030, as well as a panel on gender equality in the UN system. UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Mogens Lykketoft identified four ways to step up efforts towards gender equality: empowering women and girls; tackling gender stereotypes head-on; leading by example, proposing for example that the UN appoint the first-ever female UN Secretary-General; and working together to engage all sectors of society. He also asked, “why should gender-based violence be accepted as the norm?”

Other events included: ‘Ring the Bell for Gender Equality,’ during which women leaders rang the bells at stock exchanges to raise awareness on gender equality in sustainable development and business; and HeforShe Arts Week in New York, during which Broadway shows, galleries and opera will highlight gender equality in their work.

In Nairobi, Kenya, the African Development Bank (AfDB) launched a partnership to increase awareness on cyber-based gender violence, with Facebook and the Kenyan authorities. The partnership recognizes that online violence against women and girls is widespread but not adequately addressed, often due to a lack of data, and aims to empower the policie and judiciary to handle cybercrimes. [UN Women Event Page] [UN Press Release 1] [UN Women Executive Director Interview] [UN Women Executive Director Statement] [UN Secretary-General Statement] [UNDP Administrator Statement] [UNDP Administrator Statement 2] [IFPRI Blog] [IWMI News Story] [Bioversity News Story 1] [Bioversity News Story 2] [SPREP Press Release] [SPREP Press Release 2] [Ramsar News Story] [CBD Executive Secretary Statement] [WFP News Story] [UN Press Release 2] [ILO Press Release] [ILO Event Page] [Women at Work] [ESCAP Press Release] [UNIDO News Story] [UN Press Release 3] [UN Press Release 4] [Women in Parliament 2015] [UNICEF Press Release] [UNCCD Press Release] [World Future Council Statement] [UNSMIL Head Statement] [IFAD Press Release] [FAO Press Release] [UNCTAD Press Release] [UNGA President Statement] [AfDB Press Release] [UNECA Press Release] [IISD RS Story on Climate and Energy Initiatives for the Day]

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