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Issue #1684      May 13, 2015

Opportunities to achieve gender equality

Buenos Aires, 6 May 2014 – UN Development Program (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark called 2015 a “new opportunity” to achieve gender equality as she kicked off a three-day global meeting to mark the 20th anniversary of the landmark conference on women that enshrined the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Opening the international conference addressing challenges facing women and girls titled “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015” with Minister of Social Development for Argentina Alicia Kirchner and the head of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Helen Clark stressed that, in addition to a specific gender equality goal in the new Post 2015 global development agenda, it is crucial to ensure all policies at the national and local levels are seen through a “gender lens” to help overcome historic inequalities between men and women.

“In pursuing economic growth which benefits all citizens, it is important to focus not only on ensuring that women can participate in the decisions which affect their lives, but also on overcoming the barriers, including institutionalised discriminatory practices and attitudes, which keep poor women poor,” said Helen Clark, addressing over 200 global leaders, parliamentarians, policy makers, researchers, and women from civil society organisations and communities around the world.

“This includes addressing the scourge of violence against women, and also the disproportionate burden of unpaid work carried out by women and girls which deprives them of time to earn money, gain new skills, and take part in public life,” she continued. “Such moves in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment are at the heart of UNDP’s efforts to eradicate poverty, improve the lives of women, and drive sustainable development.”

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka issued a call to “tackle the root causes of women’s poverty”, including by ensuring decent work for women.

“For women’s poverty to be history, women need to be in protected and decent jobs in overwhelming numbers,” she said.

“There can be no gender equality without justice, inclusion, growth and social development,” said Alicia Kirchner, Minister of Social Development for the government of Argentina.

Progress

During the last few decades, poverty rates have declined in every region of the world. Between 1990 and 2010, the proportion of people in developing regions living under the threshold of US$1.25 a day, the international benchmark for measuring extreme poverty, fell from 47 percent to 22 percent.

Progress for women is also visible: at least 50 percent of the world’s women are now in paid wage and salary employment, an increase from 40 percent since the 1990s. Gender parity in primary school enrolment has been achieved in much of the world, and tertiary enrolments now favour women. In most regions, life expectancy for men and women has consistently risen, with women on average living longer than men.

Also, women’s political participation has increased worldwide. In 1995, women comprised 11.3 percent of parliamentarians. Today, they make up 22.1 percent of parliamentarians, which is, however, still below the 30 percent target set by the UN.

Around that time, the event’s host, Argentina, passed a gender quota law. Since then, 11 other Latin American countries have also introduced gender quotas, contributing to the Latin American and Caribbean region having the highest percentage of women parliamentarians (26.4 percent) and women ministers (22.4 per cent) in the world.

Closing the gender gap

Despite the progress, too many challenges remain, participants stressed. More than 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty, and women continue to be more likely than men to be among them, according to a recent UN report on the Millennium Development Goals progress. Despite the increased number of women in paid wage and salary employment, women remain disproportionately represented in vulnerable employment, and earn 10 to 30 percent less than men do for the same work. Moreover, across countries and regions, women are less likely than men to have access to decent work, assets, and formal credit, and do not have an equal voice in decision-making.

At the event’s opening session, Helen Clark highlighted key steps to boost women’s empowerment, such as supporting legal reforms to ensure women’s equal access to land, credit and assets, guarantee equal pay for equal work, and strengthen labour protections; developing employment and entrepreneurship programs which target women; and establishing social protection measures which are of particular benefit to women, such as maternity benefits, unemployment and health insurance, and greater livelihood security.

The three-day event will also address how climate change and inequalities impact on women and how to protect women in countries in conflict or post-conflict. These are crucial topics in the new global development agenda.

Next article – Anti-Tory protests met with police violence

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