Why propping up women is a worthy goal

Wednesday March 8 2017

A Pakistani woman cleans pulses along a roadside in Karachi on March 7, 2017, ahead of International Women's Day. PHOTO |  RIZWAN TABASSUM | AFP

A Pakistani woman cleans pulses along a roadside in Karachi on March 7, 2017, ahead of International Women's Day. PHOTO | RIZWAN TABASSUM | AFP 

By ANTONIO GUTERRES
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Women’s rights are human rights. But in these troubled times, as the world becomes more unpredictable and chaotic, the rights of women and girls are being reduced, restricted and reversed.

Women and girls should be protected to enjoy their rights and make sure they can realise their full potential.

Historical imbalances in power relations between men and women, exacerbated by growing inequalities within and between societies and countries, are leading to greater discrimination against women and girls.

Around the world, tradition, cultural values and religion are being misused to curtail women’s rights, to entrench sexism and defend misogynistic practices.

Women’s legal rights, which have never been equal to men’s on any continent, are being eroded further. Women’s rights over their own bodies are questioned and undermined. Women are routinely targeted for intimidation and harassment in cyberspace and in real life.

In the worst cases, extremists and terrorists build their ideologies around the subjugation of women and girls and single them out for sexual and gender-based violence, forced marriage and virtual enslavement.

Despite some improvements, leadership positions across the board are still held by men, and the economic gender gap is widening, thanks to outdated attitudes and entrenched male chauvinism. We must change this, by making it possible for their voices to be heard and giving them control over their own lives and over the future of our world.

Denying the rights of women and girls is not only wrong; it has a serious social and economic impact that holds us all back. Gender equality has an effect that is essential to fully functioning societies and economies.

Women’s access to education and health services has benefits for their families that extend to future generations. An extra year in school can add up to 25 per cent to a girl’s future income.

GENERATES GROWTH

When women participate fully in the labour force, this creates opportunities and generates growth. Closing the gender gap in employment could add some $12 trillion to global Gross Domestic Product by 2025.

Increasing the proportion of women in public institutions makes them more representative, increases innovation, improves decision-making and benefits whole societies.

Gender equality is central to the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, the global plan agreed by the leaders of all the countries to meet the challenges we face.

Sustainable Development Goal 5 calls specifically for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and this is central to the achievement of all the 17 goals.

I am committed to increasing women’s participation in our peace and security work. Women negotiators increase the chances of sustainable peace, and women peacekeepers decrease the chances of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Within the United Nations, I am establishing a clear road map with benchmarks to achieve gender parity right across the system, so that our organisation truly represents the people that we serve. Previous targets have not been met. Now we must move from ambition to action.

On this International Women’s Day, let us all pledge to do everything we can to overcome entrenched prejudice, support engagement and activism, and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Mr Guterres is the Secretary-General of the United Nations