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

Queen Charlotte crackdown

RCMP target impaired driving amidst rising numbers of the offence

Australian gold mining giant acquires Red Chris mine

Newcrest now owns 70 per cent of the mine south of Iskut and operatorship

Haida Gwaii storm causes B.C. ferry delay

Skidegate to Prince Rupert route affected

Rainfall warning for Haida Gwaii

High winds also expected to hit the islands

Haida Gwaii eagles recovering in Ladner care facility

Treatment for the eagles is both costly and time intensive

Bodies of two missing Surrey men found near Ashcroft

Ryan Provencher and Richard Scurr have been missing since July 17

Pregnant teachers fight to change WorkSafeBC compensation rules

Agency does not recognize risk to unborn babies when mother catches illness from work

Five hedgehogs quickly adopted after being left at BC SPCA

Lucky new owners picked up their pets from Maple Ridge branch on Aug. 20

B.C. cricket players get interrupted by racist remark

Community has had protocols in place for years to respond to prejudice

Groovy B.C. wedding a throwback to Woodstock ‘69

Couple hosts themed wedding 50 years after legendary festival

Nearly 50% of Canadians experience ‘post-vacation blues’: poll

48 per cent of travellers are already stressed about ‘normal life’ while still on their trip

More women may need breast cancer gene test, U.S. guidelines say

Recommendations aimed at women who’ve been treated for BRCA-related cancers and are now cancer-free

Most Read