Dual factors are at play regarding gender equality: increased awareness of gender issues coupled with heightened pushback against progress. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, under-secretary-general, United Nations, and executive director, UN Women, says Biarritz is a critical opportunity for progress on gender equality in the law
The world is experiencing both the best and the worst of times for gender equality. We are operating in a context of growing sensitivity to gender issues that has led to game-changing actions and policies. At the same time, we face heightened pushback against progress and regressive positioning on gender roles. The G7 summit in Biarritz provides a critical opportunity for leaders to set their countries firmly on the path to progress.
For almost six months now I have been working alongside a diverse group of advocates as part of the G7 Advisory Council on Gender Equality. We have prepared a set of recommendations for G7 leaders that focuses on strengthening legislative frameworks in four areas: ending violence against women and girls, enhancing education and health, fostering economic empowerment, and combating discrimination in public life.
Our work at UN Women has shown us that, with strong political will and dedicated investment, eliminating discriminatory laws and enacting laws in support of gender equality is not only doable – it can happen rapidly. We are working with more than 30 countries to get to the point of being able to announce in March 2020 that they have achieved equality for women under the law, with this total rising to above 40 the year after that. That is progress that G7 leaders, with their power and resources, can easily emulate and drive forward.
Calls for legal reform
Along with abolishing discriminatory laws, we are calling on G7 leaders to enact law reforms that positively promote and advance gender equality and women’s empowerment, comprehensively and holistically. For instance, legal frameworks to tackle the spectrum of violence against women and girls must address all forms of violence, from sexual harassment to femicide. They must tackle the root causes, such as harmful gender stereotypes and social norms, including ideas of masculinity, while also providing comprehensive services for survivors and holding perpetrators accountable. We recommend positive legal reforms that take into account the many places where violence occurs, including online spaces and workplaces. One key step that countries can take is to ratify the new ILO Convention and Recommendation on violence and harassment in the world of work, which recognises the right of everyone to a workplace that is free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment. According to UN Women’s new Progress of the World’s Women report, one of the most dangerous places to be for many women and girls is their own home. The report’s data shows that more than half (58%) of all female victims of intentional homicide were killed by a family member in 2017, amounting to 50,000 deaths in the year. That’s 137 women each day.
G7 leaders can show how the right laws can shape the whole of society beneficially, for example by ensuring women’s and girls’ equal access to education and training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and in digital technology and artificial intelligence, so that they cultivate the skills necessary to excel in future work. In order to be effective, all reforms must be accompanied by meaningful consultation with women’s rights groups and broader civil society, and backed by dedicated financial investment and strong accountability frameworks, which include monitoring mechanisms.
In Biarritz, we challenge G7 leaders to commit to enacting comprehensive laws that guarantee equal rights and opportunities for women and girls, and to eliminate all the discriminatory laws in their countries that continue to hold women back. Now is the time for leaders to use their influence to advance women’s and girls’ rights, irreversibly.