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The UN gender study: Women ‘far from having an equal voice to men’

Introducing the 2020 edition of The World’s Women: Trends and Statistics, Liu Zhenmin, chief of the UN’s economic and social affairs department (DESA), said that over the last two decades, “attitudes of discrimination are slowly changing” and women’s lives have improved with regard to education, early marriage, childbearing and maternal mortality, all while progress has stagnated in other areas.

  • “Women are far from having an equal voice to men”, spelled out the DESA chief. “And, in every region of the world, women are still subjected to various forms of violence and harmful practices”. 

What is the state of gender equality in the world? What do data tell us about progress towards the commitments made in the Beijing Platform for Action, which, 25 years after its adoption, remains the most comprehensive road map for advancing women's rights worldwide.

Importantly, in adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, Member States reaffirmed, in Sustainable Development Goal 5, that gender equality is central to the achievement of sustainable development for all by 2030. As has been done at five-year intervals since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action, The World’s Women 2020 takes stock of progress in advancing women’s rights, empowering women and girls and ensuring gender equality in the world community.

The World’s Women 2020 is a collection of 100 stories providing up-to-date assessments of progress towards gender equality in the following six critical areas, including, under each area, the impact of COVID-19 on women:

  • population and families;
  • health;
  • education;
  • economic empowerment and asset ownership;
  • power and decision-making; and
  • violence against women and the girl child.

United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), a division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA)

Beijing still pending 

Overall, progress continues to fall far short of what Member States committed themselves to, at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women.

“Twenty-five years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, progress towards equal power and equal rights for women remains elusive”, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres

  • “No country has achieved gender equality”

To effectively measure progress in that regard, reliable, timely and disaggregated, data are critically needed and closing data gaps requires regular collection and use of gender statistics. 

Pushing a boulder uphill

Mr. Liu pointed out that while the coronavirus pandemic is having “devastating social and economic impacts” across the world, women are fighting “on the front lines…in healthcare settings, in home care, in the family and in the public sphere”.

With less internet access, particularly in developing regions, women also face difficulties maintaining valuable personal connections and carrying on day-to-day activities during lockdowns. 

  • “Many may also have been trapped in unsafe environments…and at risk of experiencing intimate partner violence”, Mr. Liu stated.

Moreover, he pointed out that women face reduced access to sexual and reproductive health services; and need more time to care for the elderly, sick and children, including home-based education; adding that they are also at higher risk of infection than men in the workplace.

Glass ceiling intact

In terms of power and decision making, World’s Women 2020 revealed that last year, women held only 28 per cent of managerial positions globally – almost the same proportion as in 1995.

  • And only 18 per cent of enterprises surveyed had a female Chief Executive Officer in 2020. 
  • Among Fortune 500 corporate rankings, only 7.4 per cent, or 37 CEOs, were women.

In political life, while women’s representation in parliaments worldwide has more than doubled globally, it has yet to cross the 25 per cent barrier of seats and although representation among cabinet ministers has quadrupled over the last 25 years, it remains at 22 per cent, well below parity.

Call to action

Mr. Liu called on all countries to “accelerate efforts” in empowering women and girls, towards improving data gaps in covering key gender topics. 

  • “Timeliness and comparability of data over time and across countries, need to be improved, and data disaggregation and dissemination by age, sex, location and other key variables, need to become a priority in order to fully measure and address intersecting inequalities, respond to crises, and ensure gender equality by 2030”, he upheld. 

ABOUT: This is the official website of the United Nations providing information on the latest available gender data and assessment of progress towards gender equality as presented in The World’s Women 2020: Trends and Statistics portal. It is maintained by the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), a division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Source UN

Further reading from UNCCD Library

Rural women play a critical role in agriculture, food security and managing land and natural resources - yet many suffer from "discrimination, systemic racism, and structural poverty", 

Investing in rural women has never been more critical, the Organization has highlighted.

The pandemic has heightened the vulnerability of their rights to land and resources, along with discriminatory gender norms, and in most countries, practices impede women’s exercise of land and property rights. The disadvantages faced by women in the COVID-19 pandemic are aggravated in rural areas where they are less likely to have access to quality health services, essential medicines and vaccines. 

Women’s land tenure security is also threatened as unemployed migrants return to rural communities, increasing pressure on land and resources and exacerbating gender gaps in agriculture and food security.

Did you know?

  • A quarter of the world’s population are rural women farmers, wage earners and entrepreneurs. 
  • Less than 20 per cent of landholders worldwide are women. 
  • In rural areas, the gender pay gap is as high as 40 per cent.
  • Reducing the gender gap in the labour force by 25 per cent by the 2025 could raise global GDP by 3.9  per cent.
  • If rural women had equal access to agricultural assets, education and markets, the number of hungry people could be reduced by 100-150 million.