Women Demand Global Economic Parity, Not Status Quo

March 30, 2017
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka opened the 61st UN Commission on the Status of Women.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka opened the 61st UN Commission on the Status of Women.

“This Commission on the Status of Women must not be the commission on the status quo.” These words rang out at the opening of the 61st UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) from Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women executive director.

With more than 8,700 participants from civil society organizations preregistered to attend the events, this year’s CSW was one of the largest ever. As I wrote this piece at the start of the second week, it became clear that the need is stronger than ever for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to gather, organize, network, challenge, contribute ideas, share their expertise, and raise their voices for gender equality and economic empowerment. Events tied together the CSW theme of Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work with the Sustainable Development Goals and Planet 50-50 by 2030 campaign objectives, covering many issues women face in the global struggle for equal representation in the workplace and in society.

“In a male-dominated world, the empowerment of women must be a key priority. Women already have what it takes to succeed. Empowerment is about breaking structural barriers,” said newly installed UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the opening event. Guterres renewed the call for more men to speak out on gender discrimination and join the #HeForShe campaign. “It is true, I am a man, but we need all men to stand up for women’s empowerment. Our world needs more women leaders. And our world needs more men standing up for gender equality,” he said.

Commission on the Status of Women 61 banner outside United Nations headquarters in New York City.

The two weeks of activities kicked off with the 45th annual gathering of NGOs and civil society organizations at the NGO Commission on the Status of Women Forum (NGOCSW) on March 12, where speakers noted that there is a backlash today against many of the gains women have made over recent decades and that the gaps between women and men on economic participation remain wide. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women executive director, remarked that “there aren’t enough leaders in the world who have zero tolerance for gender inequality.”

Though it was an inspiring and encouraging event, many noted and were troubled by the absence of participants hindered by travel bans. The hashtag #NoBordersonGenderJustice was established to remember the feminist activists who are unable to be at CSW61 due to travel bans of all kinds, and event organizers were asked to mark an empty chair for them with a sign asking, “Why is this chair empty?”

To remember the feminist activists who were unable to be at the 2017 CSW due to travel bans of all kinds, event organizers marked an empty chair with a sign.

To remember the feminist activists who were unable to be at the 2017 CSW due to travel bans of all kinds, event organizers marked an empty chair with a sign.

Those who were fortunate to attend delved into the business at hand, even contending with a snowstorm (which canceled AAUW’s own event). Snowstorm aside, there were many opportunities to share AAUW’s work on improving women’s economic well-being and discuss the issue with other likeminded leaders throughout the week. As Lopa Banerjee, Civil Society Section Chief at UN Women, said, “Discrimination, stereotypes, and norms constrict the way we regard women as workers.”

On multiple occasions, we heard the chilling fact revealed in the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report that the economic gender gap has reverted to where it stood in 2008. At the current rate of change the global gender gap will not close for another 170 years. It was declared during the commission (and often shouted) that women cannot wait any longer to gain full, tangible equal rights.

I was struck by the broad array of issues that experts at the events framed around economic security, including the need for women legislators who can affect economic policies, the impact of gender inequality on health, unpaid care as critical to the global economy, violence against women and girls, the importance of gender-responsive budgeting, and the need for sex-disaggregated data for policy making.

In terms of closing the pay gap, an issue close to AAUW’s heart, UN Women and the International Labour Organization launched the Global Equal Pay Platform of Champions on March 13 featuring Abby Wambach and Patricia Arquette. The event also kicked off an online campaign called #StopTheRobbery to show how women across the world are effectively “robbed” of part of their deserved salaries thanks to the pay gap. “Women regard the global pay gap as daylight robbery,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka. The campaign asked people to symbolically recognize the gender pay gap on March 15 by pausing work at 4:10 p.m., when there is 23 percent of the workday left (23 percent is the global pay gap between men and women).

When women are economically empowered they have the potential to change their own economic status as well as that of the communities and countries in which they live. At the CSW, women made it known that we are using our expertise and raising our voices to take action to achieve gender equality. The world can’t wait another 170 years.



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