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Op-Ed: I Am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights!

On this day, I wish to acknowledge and pay tribute to all women and girls who have carried the torch of gender equality and women’s empowerment and to all men and boys who fought alongside them. In this Decade of action to accelerate the implementation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and on the 25th anniversary since the adoption of the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing +25), widely considered the blueprint for the achievement of gender equality, I call on the society and in particular on all the men and boys to support this worthy and transformative cause.

Indeed, the year 2020 is a milestone moment for accelerating the implementation of global commitments to gender equality. 2020 also marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the 5th anniversary of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the 10th anniversary of the creation of UN Women.

The Beijing+25 and the 2020 confluence of anniversaries provide us with the opportunity to take stock of progress achieved in the implementation of commitments on gender equality and women´s rights. They also give us a historic moment to evaluate what is lagging behind, and how we can guard against regression and achieve irreversible, transformative change. Therefore, let’s all make 2020 count and be a turning point for gender equality.

Gender equality plays a catalytic role not just to transforming the lives of women and girls, but in accelerating progress toward the three dimensions of sustainable development- which are social, economic and environmental. A robust set of internationally agreed norms and standards, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Maputo Protocol, guarantees comprehensive rights to women and girls and recognizes that peace and development are inextricably linked with gender equality.

We must, therefore, be intentional in amplifying women and girls’ voices and in identifying strategies to better facilitate their impact on decision-making processes and secure transformative results. As stated by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, “It is time to stop trying to change women and start changing the systems that prevent them from achieving their potential.  Our power structures have evolved gradually over thousands of years. One further evolution is long overdue. The 21st century must be the century of women’s equality.”

The Government of Rwanda has demonstrated political will and commitment in mainstreaming gender equality and women’s empowerment in all the development frameworks, both at central and local levels. Rwanda continues to register significant gains not only in women’s representation in leadership positions but also in economic, social and political sectors and has now emerged as a regional and global leader in advancing gender equality. Rwanda is also leading on the numbers of signatories to the HeForShe campaign with over 200,000 men signing up as champions for gender equality. However, we are all also mindful of the gaps be they on the economic side and the gender-based violence. Therefore, as Rwandan women are leading this necessary societal transformation, we could not have picked a better national theme for this year’s International Women’s Day: “transformational change: women at the forefront”.

The UN has also made significant progress since the launch of the System-wide Strategy on Gender Parity in 2017, including in increasing women’s representation in its leadership. In 2018, for the first time in its history, the UN reached parity both in its Senior Management Group at headquarters and among Resident Coordinators.  In Rwanda, women lead the majority of resident agencies and the UN Resident coordinator office has reached 80% of women staff. But this is not enough. Our goal is to reach parity at all levels of the Organization, and in all entities.

I, therefore, call for more multi-stakeholder partnerships, reinvigorated political will, and adequate financing to chart the way forward and accelerate the implementation of gender equality commitments.

Through the UN Women-led Generation Equality campaign, we are now bringing together the next generations of women’s rights activists with gender equality advocates and visionaries who were instrumental in creating the Beijing Platform for Action to collectively, tackle the unfinished business of empowering women and girls. Together, we are mobilizing all stakeholders to end gender-based violence; we are calling for economic justice and rights for all; sexual and reproductive health and rights; climate justice; and technology and innovation for gender equality.

As noted by the UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, ‘‘Lessons learnt in the last 25 years have shown what is needed to accelerate action for equality. Generation Equality is one of our answers and together, we are that generation.’’

There has been significant progress on women’s rights since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 25 years ago and today there is greater public support and momentum for the gender equality agenda. Yet, progress has been slow and uneven and to-date no country can claim to have achieved gender equality. In fact, as per the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the goal of equal representation for women and men should have been achieved 20 years ago! Women everywhere still work more hours, earn less, have fewer choices, are disproportionately underrepresented and risk violence at home, at work and in public spaces.

Furthermore, a backlash to women’s rights is taking place not only at the level of rhetoric and public discourse but in some instances, feminist gains are experiencing reversals and the work of those who are fighting for the universal human rights agenda and gender equality is imperiled.

The 2020 World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report shows that while progress is being made in terms of gender equality in political leadership positions, women’s participation in the labor market is stalling and financial disparities are slightly larger. The lack of progress in closing the economic participation and opportunity gap, and other spheres such as educational attainment and health access, leads to an extension of the time it will be needed to close this gap. We need more women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics tracks to tap into the immense potential of the fourth industrial revolution.

Of course, if we are to create a truly equal world, we also need to shift the social norms and gender stereotypes that limit opportunities for women and girls, and which are at the root of recurrent gender discrimination and inequality.

The United Nations has been a key partner of the Government of Rwanda and has built strong partnerships with the civil society, the private sector, and development partners, serving as a hub for knowledge and technical expertise on gender and women empowerment issues. As we begin the decade of action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, we will continue to support and to demand urgent, ambitious and innovative actions to ensure an equal world where we Leave No One Behind.

Let me also note that it is of utmost importance to engage and tap into the great potential of our youth to ensure gender equality for sustainable development. Young people face implausible and sometimes unique challenges, disproportionately affecting girls and young women. However, young people are also already contributing to the resilience of their communities, proposing and implementing innovative solutions, driving social progress and inspiring political change. Young women around the globe possess the collective power to change their lives, their communities and the world we live in. Today more than ever, young women and men have to unite for a truly gender-equal Africa. I am glad to see that both the UN Special Envoy Jayathma_Wickramanayake and the AU Special Envoy Aya Chebbi for youth are young, talented and committed women. Young people are agents of change.

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