Women “Make Demands That Bite”

Actor and activist Danai Gurira, left; Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, center; and actor and activist Reese Witherspoon take part in the celebration of International Women’s Day at UN Headquarters in New York, March 8, 2018 (Photo courtesy United Nations)

By Sunny Lewis

NEW YORK, New York, March 13, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – “Women are fighting to take steps that change their lives, and they are refusing to accept the practices that have normalized gender inequality, sexual misconduct, exclusion and discrimination across all walks of life,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told the opening session of the annual Commission on the Status of Women meeting at UN headquarters on Monday.

Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa is currently serving as executive director of the agency UN Women with the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

She highlighted the importance of this year’s focus on rural women.

“It speaks to our commitment to fight some of the biggest challenges of our time: poverty, inequality, intersectionality and an end to violence and discrimination against women and girls, no matter where they live, or how they live, so that we leave no one behind,” she said.

Calling it “a tipping point moment,” Mlambo-Ngcuka urged the Commission to seize the opportunity to secure and accelerate progress, build consensus and share best practices to serve rural women, “the poorest of the poor.”

“It has never been so urgent to hold leaders accountable for their promises for accelerating progress” on the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], she said. An unprecedented hunger for change in women’s lives is being seen around the world, as well as a growing recognition that when women banded together, “they can make demands that bite.”

Referring to himself as a “proud feminist,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “Changing the unequal power dynamics that underpin discrimination and violence is not only the greatest human rights challenge of our time, it is also in everyone’s interests.”

“Discrimination against women damages communities, organizations, companies, economies and societies,” he continued. “That is why all men should support women’s rights and gender equality.”

At the Commission meeting today, the European Union unveiled a new, global, multi-year project called the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, aimed at eliminating all violence against women and girls.

The Spotlight initiative is a “robust, comprehensive and targeted approach” that builds on the global #Metoo and #TimesUp initiatives, which “have certainly helped raising awareness about inequalities and discrimination that women face in the workplace, from pay gaps, under-representation to inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment,” said Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development.

The EU will make an initial investment in the order of €500 million (US$620 million). Other donors and partners will be invited to join the Initiative to broaden its reach and scope.

The money will be managed by a UN multi-stakeholder trust fund, with the support of three core agencies: the UN Development Programme, UN Population Fund, and UN Women, and overseen by the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General.

This year’s attention to women-centered concerns began on International Women’s Day, March 8, with actors Reese Witherspoon and Dania Guria spotlighting sexual abuse and the need for women’s empowerment.

“Understand that we will not leave, that we will not shut up, we want to see us represent 50/50,” said the American Oscar-winning actor and producer.

“Understand that we will not leave, that we will not shut up, we want to see us represent 50/50,” said Witherspoon on March 8 at UN headquarters. “We will defend women next to us.”

American-Zimbabwean actor and playwright Danai Gurira, who in addition to portraying Michonne in the TV series “The Walking Dead” and Okoye in the movie “Black Panther,” is an education and women’s rights activist, testified about her own experience as a woman in her profession.

“I drew strength [for my characters] from women from my own life in Zimbabwe,” she said.

“The potential of girls and women must not be squandered,” said Gurira, thanking those who stand up for women’s rights and urging everyone to join them.

Many thousands of women joined in marches around the world on International Women’s Day

Under the slogan “Different Causes, Shared Anger,” women and men gathered for a march to support women’s rights in Beirut, Lebanon, March 8, 2018 (Photo by Joelle Hatem)

International Women’s Day was marked in Spain with an unprecedented strike organized by women workers targeting gender inequality and sexual discrimination. The 24 hour strike was joined by 5.3 million women leading events and street protests across 200 Spanish locations; some of the top women politicians joined it. All shouted “If we stop, the world stops.”

According to Eurostat, in Spain, women are paid 13 percent less than men in the public sector and 19 percent less in the private sector.

In Saudi Arabia, women exercised a new freedom as restrictions were relaxed under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. They went jogging.

In Mosul, Iraq, women ran saying they wanted to win back their rights following the brutal occupation by ISIS which was ended in July.

In Rome, Italy, a group of prominent Catholic women met to demand a greater say in Church governance. But the list of speakers angered the Church and Pope Francis has declined to attend or celebrate Mass. A former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, described the Catholic Church as an “empire of misogyny.”

Activists in China were angered by the attitude of retailers who named the day “Queens’ Day” or “Goddesses’ Day” and offered women customers discounts on goods such as cosmetics.

Female journalists in Ukraine started a Facebook drive called “I am not your darling” in response to President Petro Poroshenko’s use of the term in replying to a woman reporter.

In France, the daily paper Liberation raised its price on Thursday, but only for men, to highlight the gender pay gap. President Emmanuel Macron also pledged to “name and shame” companies that pay women less than men for doing the same work.

But the spotlight this year is really on rural women. They make up more than one-fourth of the world population and the majority of the 43 percent of women in the global agricultural work force.

They till the lands and plant seeds to ensure food security for their communities and build climate resilience. Yet, because of deep seated gender inequalities and discrimination, rural women fare worse than rural men or urban women on almost every measure of development.

For instance, fewer than 20 percent of landholders worldwide are women, and while the global pay gap between men and women stands at 23 percent, in rural areas, it can be as high as 40 percent.

Rural women lack infrastructure and services, decent work and social protection, and are left more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Yet, says the United Nations, rural women and their organizations represent an enormous potential, and they are on the move to claim their rights and improve their livelihoods and wellbeing. They are using innovative agricultural methods, setting up successful businesses and acquiring new skills, pursuing their legal entitlements and running for office.

Here are some key targets of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda that affect women and girls:

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes.

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education.

End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.

Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Featured image: In celebration of International Women’s Day, March 8, 2018, the New York Stock Exchange and 62 other stock exchanges around the world hosted a bell ringing ceremony to raise awareness of the pivotal role the private sector can play in advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment. (Photo courtesy UN Women)

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