For International Women's Day, UN leaders underscored the importance of gender equality in achieving the SDGs.
UNEP, ITU and other organizations shared stories of success while the UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction called for better data on the impacts of disasters on women and girls.
8 March 2018: On International Women’s Day, UN leaders reaffirmed that “progress for all women, everywhere” is crucial to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Day focused on the theme, ‘Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives,” and featured events and news stories in support of gender equality, and the launch of the Women2030 global coalition website.
In his message for the Day, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres observed that recent waves of women’s activism have exposed “historical and structural inequalities that have allowed oppression and discrimination to flourish.” He described empowering women and girls and achieving gender equality as “the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world,” observing that gender equality “is not a favor to women,” but a human rights issue in everyone’s interest. Guterres shared his plans to address gender parity “across the board” at the UN and to improve reporting and accountability, among other actions. He said the UN anticipates reaching gender parity among UN Country Team leaders by April 2018.
Gender equality “is not a favor to women,” but a human rights issue in everyone’s interest.
Speaking at a commemoration event at UN Headquarters, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Miroslav Lajcak emphasized that the world is “doing more” to address gender equality, from enacting laws and policies to protect and advance women, to marching and speaking out for women’s rights. He stressed that the UN’s top management has reached gender parity and other industries and sectors are making progress towards this goal. Still, Lajcak stressed such actions are not enough and called for a reinvigorated focus on gender to empower women, advance gender equality and mainstream gender. He stressed women’s participation and equality as critical to achieve the SDGs.
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said this year’s theme showcases the life of women activists whose commitment has brought change over generations for women’s rights. She commended women who speak out for justice, from women who gave testimonies at the International Criminal Court to those who advocate for legal reform. Mlambo-Ngcuka called for ending the culture of gender-based poverty, abuse, and exploitation through efforts to achieve lasting equality.
The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), UN Women and the UN RCM Thematic Working Group on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women convened an event on progress made for women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality in Bangkok, Thailand. ESCAP Executive Secretary, Shamshad Akhtar, emphasized the need for urgent action to ensure all women in all settings are empowered through equal opportunity, choice, and access to resources. The UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific’s Regional Director, Miwa Kato, shared the findings of UN Women’s ‘Turning Promises into Action’ report, noting that there is “huge variation across countries” in the region. For example, in Cambodia, women do 10 times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men compared to 1.8 times in Bhutan and 2.6 times globally. Participants called for governments in the region to take urgent action to empower women and girls to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In Ethiopia, the UN held a panel discussion on the Day’s theme in which women activists shared their success stories. Participants also discussed challenges faced by rural women, such as women’s access to and control of land, climate change, and access to education and reproductive services.
The UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, underscored the realization of gender equality in achieving the SDGs. She highlighted several barriers faced by women and girls in enjoying their human rights, including data from 34 African countries between 2000 to 2015 that found 43% of females are illiterate compared to 8% of males, a situation that undermines women’s participation in public and political life. Songwe urged renewing commitments and redoubling efforts to promote gender equality, saying such action is at the top of his personal agenda.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) showcased the stories of three ‘Young Champions of the Earth.’ These champions founded a sustainable fabrics company in Canada; initiated a project to tackle invasive alien species (IAS) in Niger’s waterways that would improve access to clean drinking water and protect aquatic life; and protected native flora and fauna while reducing air pollution and vulnerability to natural disasters through green rooftops in Ecuador.
In a statement for the Day, UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori, called for UN Member States to improve their data on the impacts of disasters on women and girls. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 to 2030 has an online monitoring system that collects data on mortality and the number of people affected by disasters. Mizutori explained that having data on the extent to which a disproportionate number of women and girls are affected by disasters would help compel governments and civil society organizations to recognize women “as agents of change” and ensure they are “represented in disaster management agencies,” ultimately leading to saving more lives.
Houlin Zhao, International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Secretary-General, emphasized bridging the gender digital divide as critical for achieving the SDGs. Zhao showcased the achievements of women in information and communications technologies (ICT) and highlighted the EQUALS Global Partnership, which works to improve women’s access to technology, promote female leadership in the tech sector, and build relevant digital and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills. ITU, UN Women, the International Trade Centre, GSMA and the UN University established the partnership, which recognizes efforts to empower women in ICT through the EQUALs in Tech Awards. Zhao also highlighted upcoming events on gender and ICTs, including at the forthcoming Commission on the Status of Women.
On the occasion of the Day, Global Water Partnership Southern Africa (GWPSA) highlighted its work to mainstream gender in its work on SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), stressing the importance of women’s participation in high-level policy and decision making to improve water resources management at all levels. In a news story, GWPSA women and women in the GWPSA network shared their thoughts on how activism can empower water and women.
The Women2030 global coalition, a coalition of organizations that collaborates to support SDG achievement in a gender-equitable and climate-just way, launched its website. The website aims to support SDG implementation with a gender equality lens by building the capacity of women’s and gender civil society organizations to advance gender-responsive sustainable development policies. In particular, the website focuses on progress on SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 6, SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 12 (responsible production and consumption), SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 15 (life on land). The website features information about the SDGs and gender equality, gender disaggregated data, a resource database and training materials, among other policy and advocacy tools. The website also features women’s stories of change.
Also for the Day, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) featured news stories on integrating gender and natural resources into peacebuilding projects, women’s economic independence in artisanal and small-scale mining, and gender-responsive climate adaptation in Peru, among other items. [UN Secretary-General Statement] [UN Women Press Release] [UNGA President Statement] [ESCAP Press Release] [UNECA Press Release] [UNECA Executive Secretary Statement] [UNEP News Story] [UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction Statement] [ITU Press Release] [GWP News Story] [Women2030 Press Release] [Blog on Women in Mining]