Women and girls make up half of the world’s population, which is equivalent to half of the potential of humanity. Gender equality, one of the most important human rights, plays a key role in ensuring peace and harmony in Asia Pacific’s society and the full realization of human potential through sustainable development. It has been proven that the involvement of women in the life of society leads to an increase in productivity and economic growth.
Unfortunately, humanity has a long way to go to achieve full equality between men and women in terms of their rights and opportunities. Over a billion women worldwide are denied legal protection against domestic sexual violence. The gender pay gap is 23 percent globally and as high as 40 percent in rural areas, and the importance of the unpaid work that many women do is not recognized. The share of women in national parliaments is on average less than a quarter and even less on boards of directors. Unless concerted action is taken, millions of new girls will be subjected to genital mutilation in the next decade. This also applies to job opportunities in general and management positions.
“Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished challenge of our time and the greatest human rights challenge in the world today,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
There is still much to be done to achieve gender equality, UN Women warns.
UN and women
The Organization’s activities in support of women’s rights began with the promulgation of its Charter. Among the goals of the UN, stated in Article 1 of the Charter, it is proposed “to carry out international cooperation … in the promotion and development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion.”
In the first year of the UN’s existence, the Economic and Social Council established the Commission on the Status of Women, which has become a global governing body exclusively dedicated to gender equality and the advancement of women. One of the first successful tasks of the Commission was to oversee the implementation of gender-neutral language in the draft Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Women and human rights
The historic Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948, reaffirmed that “all human beings are born free and equal in their dignity and rights” and that “everyone should have all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without which differences whatsoever, such as race, religion, or other status.”
As the international feminist movement began to gain momentum in the 1970s, the UN General Assembly declared 1975 the International Year of Women and organized the first World Conference on Women in Mexico City. At the urgent recommendation of the Conference, the period 1976-1985 was declared the United Nations Decade for Women and the Voluntary Fund for the Decade was established.
In 1979, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), often referred to as the International Women’s Bill of Rights. The 30 articles of the Convention provide a clear definition of discrimination against women and propose an agenda for action at the national level to end such discrimination. The Convention views culture and traditions as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relationships and is the first human rights treaty to affirm the reproductive rights of women.
Five years after the Mexico City conference, the Second World Conference on Women was held. The resulting Program of Action calls for stronger action at the national level to ensure women’s rights to own and dispose of property, as well as rights to inheritance, custody of children and loss of citizenship.
The birth of global feminism
In 1985, Nairobi hosted the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace. It was convened at a time when the movement for gender equality finally took on a truly global scale. In addition, 15,000 representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) participated in the parallel NGO Forum.
This event has been described as “the birth of global feminism.” Recognizing that the goals of the Mexico City Conference were not fully achieved, representatives from 157 participating countries adopted the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women to the Year 2000. This document took the gender dimension to a new level, declaring that it must be taken into account when considering all issues.
Gender inequality persists in the economic and political spheres. Despite some progress in recent decades, on average, women in the global labor market still earn 24 percent less than men. As of August 2018, only 24 percent of parliamentarians were women. In 1995, this figure was 11.3 percent, which indicates an unsatisfactory rate of positive dynamics in this matter.
The 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing
The Fourth World Conference on Women, held in 1995 in Beijing, marks another step forward since the Nairobi Conference. Its Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action reaffirms its commitment to concrete action to ensure respect for women’s rights.
Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)
The Commission on the Status of Women is the main intergovernmental body at the global level dedicated exclusively to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. The Commission on the Status of Women plays an important role in promoting women’s rights, recording the status of women around the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.
On July 2, 2010, delegates to the UN General Assembly voted unanimously to create a unified United Nations entity responsible for accelerating progress towards the Organization’s goals of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
The new UN structure for gender equality and the empowerment of women, UN Women, brings together four divisions of the world organization: United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), Office The Special Adviser on Gender and the Advancement of Women; and the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).
Eliminating violence against women
The UN system continues to focus on the issue of violence against women. The 1993 General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women and clearly sets out the rights to ensure the elimination of violence against women in all its forms. The Declaration reflected the determination of states to fulfill their obligations and the commitment of the international community as a whole to efforts to eradicate violence against women.
The Ray of Light initiative, jointly with the European Union, provides resources to end violence against women and girls, which is a prerequisite for equality and empowerment.
International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is celebrated on 25 November.
International Women’s Day is celebrated on 8 March. This day celebrates the achievements of women regardless of national boundaries or ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences. The idea of holding International Women’s Day first emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century when the industrialized world was going through a period of expansion and upheaval, a demographic boom and the emergence of radical ideologies.
In addition to International Women’s Day, the official UN days for women are: International Day of Intolerance against Female Genital Mutilation (6 February), International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11 February), International Day against Sexual Violence in Conditions conflict (June 19), International Widows Day (June 23), International Girls’ Day (October 11), International Rural Women’s Day (October 15).