In this Friday, March 8, 2019 photo provided by the United Nations, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, third from right, executive director of UN Women, speaks at the United Nations Observance of International Women’s Day at the United Nations headquarters. (Eskinder Debebe/The United Nations via AP)

UN chief warns of ‘relentless’ pushback on women’s rights

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cited online abuse of women who speak out

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Monday that there is a “deep, pervasive and relentless” pushback on women’s rights and called for a fight to “push back against the pushback.”

Calling himself “a proud feminist,” the U.N. chief said, “It is a fight we must win — together.”

Guterres spoke at the opening of the annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women, which since its establishment in 1947 has been committed to achieving “equality with men in all fields of human enterprise.”

The secretary-general told hundreds of ministers, delegates and representatives from civil society and business that the U.N. body could equally go by another name: “the Commission on the Status of Power — because this is the crux of the issue.”

While advocates for gender equality are mobilizing as never before, Guterres said, “around the world, there is a pushback on women’s rights.”

He pointed to increased violence against women, especially defenders of human rights and women running for political office. He cited “online abuse of women who speak out,” women 26 per cent less likely to be employed than men, and “an ongoing uphill battle for reproductive rights.”

“And nationalist, populist and even austerity agendas are tearing social fabric — aggravating inequality, splintering communities, curtailing women’s rights and cutting vital services,” Guterres said.

READ MORE: Venezuela seeks UN support against ‘military aggression’

The fight against these negative trends is a fight that must be won, he said.

“So let us say it loud and clear,” Guterres said. “We will not give ground. We will not turn back. We will push back against the pushback. And we will keep pushing. For wholesale change. For rapid change … our world needs, starting by addressing the imbalance in power relations.”

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of the U.N. women’s agency, gave some examples of pushback in an Associated Press interview ahead of the commission’s meeting.

In negotiations on its final document, she said, some countries don’t want health care facilities to provide “sexual and reproductive rights,” issues that were fought over and are part of the 1995 platform for action adopted by the world’s nations at the U.N. women’s conference in Beijing.

In addition, she said, “Some countries don’t want to use the word gender. You must always say men and women, so that you do not include people who are gender non-conforming.”

She said these ideological issues are “the usual pushback” that are “ultimately about women’s bodies.”

Mlambo-Ngcuka told the commission on Monday that gains for women over the past two decades “are fragile, and we are seeing them reverse.”

The latest data indicate 131 million girls worldwide aren’t going to school and there has been a 6 per cent increase in girls not attending elementary school, she said.

“On average, globally, women still have only three-quarters of the legal rights of men, and more than one billion have no recourse against violence or are restricted in their education or employment — what is now being called ‘economic violence,’” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

And every day, approximately 830 women — 99 per cent of them in developing countries — die of preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, she said.

Ireland’s U.N. ambassador, Geraldine Byrne Nason, who presides over the Commission on the Status of Women, said the Beijing declaration statement that women’s rights are human rights generated optimism, but “we have been disappointed.”

Today, she said, less than 7 per cent of heads of state and government are women, and only one in four parliament members around the world are female. And, she said, “it’s estimated if we don’t act, it will take 217 years to reach parity between men and women in pay and employment opportunities.”

“So what went wrong?” Byrne Nason said. “The truth is that collectively we haven’t yet succeeded in making sure that women are wherever decisions are being made.”

She said gender empowerment means handing over or sharing power “and we know how hard that is.”

READ MORE: Soldiers unleash tear gas amid tension on Venezuela’s border

“What we’re trying to achieve is that men have their rights, and nothing more, and that women have their rights, and nothing less,” Byrne Nelson said.

She said the commission will be deliberating in the next two weeks about maternity, pensions, safe roads and transport, schools that teach girls skills to succeed, women’s access to vital health care, “and the fair distribution of care and the domestic work between men and women.”

Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

This week in photos | The spirit of giving comes to Haida Gwaii

Masset Lions Telethon, Queen Charlotte’s annual craft fair, Fields store coming along in Skidegate

Snowfall warning continues for parts of B.C.’s Interior

First significant snowfall of the season prompts Environment Canada warning

Northwest B.C. wildlife shelter rescues particularly tiny bear cub

Shelter co-founder says the cub weighs less than a third of what it should at this time of year

Masset residents receiving extra incentive to get home safe this holiday season

Masset RCMP, B.C. Liquor Store and local elementary schools team up to curb drinking and driving

Former Burns Lake mayor gets two years for sexual assaults against minors

Banned from taking work involving young people for five years

VIDEO: Boys help rescue Cariboo bear cub

The cub, weighing just 24lbs, has been taken to wildlife sanctuary in Northwest B.C. for the winter

‘Things haven’t changed enough:’ Ecole Polytechnique anniversary prompts reflection

Fourteen women were fatally shot by a gunman at the Montreal school on Dec. 6, 1989

Bear raids freezer, gorges on Island family’s Christmas baking

Hungry bruin virtually ignored meat and fish, focused, instead, on the sweets

B.C. pharmaceutical company’s stocks double in value after successful lupus drug trial

More than 40 per cent of patients using voclosporin saw improvements in kidney function

Second warning on romaine lettuce from California region as another E. coli case reported

Two cases of E. coli have been reported in relation to the illness in the U.S.

Coastal GasLink receives first delivery of pipe sections

Company expects to begin welding and pipe laying in 2020

Residents in B.C. city could face 133% tax hike in ‘worst case’ lawsuit outcome: report

An average home could see a tax increase of $2,164 in one year

B.C. Transit finds 28 used fareboxes online, saves $300,000

‘Someone joked maybe we can buy used fareboxes on eBay,’ CEO says

Many of Canada’s working poor can’t afford lawyers, don’t qualify for legal aid

One lawyer says many people earn too much to qualify for legal aid, but not enough to really live on

Most Read