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UN: 25 years after Beijing declaration, ‘womens rights are under attack’

One by one, leaders and ministers from over 100 nations admitted Thursday that 25 years after the adoption of a road map to achieve equality for women not a single country has reached that goal — and many warned that instead of progress there is now push back.

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French President Emmanuel Macron put it bluntly, “womens rights are under attack.”

Addressing a high-level meeting to commemorate the landmark 1995 U.N. womens conference in Beijing, Macron said its no secret that the 150-page blueprint to realise gender equality approved by 189 nations in the Chinese capital “would have no chance of being adopted” in 2020.

So “this is no time for commemoration or self-congratulation,” he warned, because progress achieved by women “is being undermined, even in our democracies.”

The Beijing declaration and platform called for bold action in 12 areas for women and girls, including combating poverty and gender-based violence, ensuring all girls get an education and putting women at top levels of business and government, as well as at peacemaking tables. It also said, for the first time in a U.N. document, that womens human rights include the right to control and decide “on matters relating to their sexuality, including their sexual and reproductive health, free of discrimination, coercion and violence.”

Macron said in his prerecorded speech that progress is being undercut “starting with the freedom for women to control their own bodies, and in particular the right to abortion.” And he cited continuing inequalities in schooling, pay, domestic work, and political representation.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has attributed gender inequality to “centuries of discrimination, deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny.”

In todays more divided, conservative and still very male-dominated societies, he said, “we have seen around the world a pushback against gender equality and womens rights.”

“Now is the time to push back against the pushback,” he declared.

Fijis Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama called it “a sad testament to the human condition” that the world is still struggling to achieve the right of women and girls to live free from violence, go to school, participate fully in decision-making affecting their lives and earn equal pay for work of equal value.

“The second-class status of women is deeply engrained in many societies, and it takes time and effort to root it out,” he said.

The head of the U.N. agency charged with promoting gender equality said there has been progress, but not enough and too slow.

U.N. Womens Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka pointed to 131 countries that enacted legislation to advance gender equality in the last 10 years, the prosecution of gender-related crimes during conflicts, increased school enrollment of girls, and advances in maternal health.

But she also stressed significant “push back” on reproductive rights and other issues in developed countries, including the United States, and in the European Union. In Africa and Asia, she said, there are governments “that have not felt any pressure” to move forward on gender equality.

When the United Nations was founded in 1945 on the ashes of World War II, Mlambo-Ngcuka said, not a single woman was a head of state or government. At the time of the Beijing conference in 1995, there were 12 female leaders, and today there are 22 women leaders among the 193 U.N. member nations.

“Women are now calling for a leapfrog to 50 percent representation, or parity in all spheres, including Cabinets, corporate boards, and throughout the economy, including women as beneficiaries of COVID-19 fiscal stimulus packages, engagement in all peace processes, and closing the digital divide,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

Secretary-General Guterres said the coronavirus pandemic has hit women and girls the hardest and warned: “Unless we act now, COVID-19 could wipe out a generation of fragile progress towards gender equality.”

Sigrid Kaag, the Netherlands overseas trade minister, said the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women and girls “adds on to an already growing push back against womens rights and girls rights, and gender equality around the world.”

“There is more gender-based violence,” she said. “More women and girls losing their livelihoods, and more girls are sadly not returning to school.”

In her prerecorded speech, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke about being in that small group of women world leaders today and recalled Britain's first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, saying 26 years ago when she was a minister of education and science that “No woman in my time will be prime minister.”

Looking back at the Beijing conference, Merkel said its platform and declaration remain “an important cornerstone for the implementation of womens rights around the world” — and 25 years after their adoption “equality should be a given.”

“But we still have a long way to go,” she said, stressing that equality is a question that women and men can only resolve together, and only “if society, business and governments pull in the same direction.”

“Get on board!” Merkel urged. “Lets work together to really target the Beijing goals! The faster the better.”

The landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing was the largest-ever formal gathering of women, though hundreds of men were among the 17,000 participants at the official meeting that adopted the roadmap to gender equality. Some 30,000 people, the vast majority women, attended a parallel NGO forum outside the capital.Read More – Source