By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Mar 8 2019 (IPS-Partners)
On the occasion of the observance of the 2019 International Women’s Day, the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue reiterated the urgent need to intensify efforts towards achieving gender equality in all spheres of society, eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, and promoting women’s political and economic empowerment.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change1 , aligned with the 63rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), bound to start next week in New York and dedicated this year to access to social protection systems and public services, and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality.
These themes highlight the importance of changing mind-sets and attitudes, and put innovation, by women and girls and for women and girls, at the heart of efforts towards reaching gender equality. According to Ambassador Jazairy, Executive Director of the Geneva Centre, “This year’s focus of International Women’s Day enhances the importance of using new technologies to empower women worldwide, to increase their access to the labour market and to high education, but also promotes respect and recognition of women as an incredible well of innovation themselves, in science, education, politics and all fields of societies.”
In this regard, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre reiterated the importance of recognizing the capacities and the potential of women worldwide, particularly in the labor market, and the important positive impact that achieving gender equality could have on the world economy. In her latest book Fifty Million Rising, Saadia Zahidi, a Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum (WEF), described how, in the last 10 years alone, nearly 50 million Muslim women entered the workforce gaining greater autonomy. Furthermore, Zahidi calculated that if female labor participation rose to Western levels, the GDP of many Middle East regions would spike dramatically. 2
Nevertheless, the numbers showed by WEF in their latest Global Gender Gap Report show that progress is very slow: a 32 % average gender gap remains to be closed worldwide, affecting countries irrespective of their culture, religion or location. Moreover, despite important efforts towards empowering women, the Arab region continues to rank poorly on the overall Global Gender Index with an overall gender gap of almost 40%. Ambassador Jazairy deplored the important gender wage gap that remained pervasive worldwide. The EU recently released a Eurostat study which shows gaps of up to 24 % in some of its Member States, and concluded that the average in the EU is of 11,5%.
He reiterated that these findings are showcasing the persistence of important invisible barriers, particularly in the labor market worldwide that prevent women from breaking the famous glass ceiling completely. As noted by LinkedIn co-founder Allen Blue during a debate entitled “A quantum leap for gender equality: for a better future of work for all”, organized by the International Labor Organization on 8 March 2019, in the private sector and public sector alike, networking is crucial for advancing and obtaining managerial positions. Nevertheless, as these networks remain for the most part male-dominated, women are at a disadvantage, which is just one explanation to having merely 34% women managers worldwide.
Ambassador Jazairy underlined the importance of men leaders acknowledging issues of unconscious bias and subtle discrimination occurring in the workforce, and taking a strong stand to condemn any form of discrimination, by championing equal treatment of women and men, by mentoring women and by ensuring equal opportunities for advancement.
Furthermore, the Director of the Geneva Centre underscored the importance of changing mind-sets in order to fully achieve gender equality. Whilst numerous countries around the world have adopted exemplary legal frameworks for equality and women’s rights, concrete results show a level of progress that is, according to a report released by UN Women3 , unacceptably low measured against the objective of SDG 5 on gender equality. Ambassador Jazairy emphasized that without grappling with the gender roles and stereotypical norms that still dictate the world of work today worldwide, no real progress will be achieved, despite the adoption of legislation and policies towards equality. Laws are only successful if they bring real change in the life of people, and it is necessary to shift hearts and minds in order to increase their efficiency.”
Finally, as the UN and other international organizations are celebrating this year 100 years of multilateralism in Geneva, Ambassador Jazairy remarked today, 19 years after the adoption of the famous UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, the participation of women in peace and multilateralism remains too low and the goal of equality in this field is still remote. From the UN Charter to the First UN Conference on Women held in Mexico in 1975, to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted in 1995, as well as the UN Security Council Resolutions adopted to promote the women, peace and security agenda, a long road has been travelled and there has been progress in this regard rhetorically, if not always in a commensurate manner, in practice.
However, Ambassador Jazairy remarked, gender equality is not a nicety or a favor made to women, it is a smart move for everyone, including in multilateralism. In times of conflict, women play a crucial role in sustaining livelihoods and ensuring the cohesiveness of communities. When they are given a seat at the table, they increase the legitimacy of peace processes. Furthermore, a recent report on nuclear security negotiations showed that women’s presence in decision-making had improved the process, by adding more emphasis on collaboration and on increased innovation.4
Ambassador Jazairy thus reiterated the importance of increasing women’s participation in peace processes, peacekeeping operations, negotiations and all multilateral processes.
The Geneva Centre marked International Women’s Day by organizing a debate and book presentation as a side-event to the 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, entitled Muslim women between stereotypes and reality: an objective narrative. The two publications launched on this occasion, entitled Women’s Rights in the Arab Region: Between Myth and Reality and Veiling /Unveiling: The Headscarf in Christianity, Judaism and Islam are available for ordering.
2 Synopsis by the Financial Times published in 2018.
3 Turning Promises Into Action: Gender Equality In The 2030 Agenda For Sustainable Development, UN Women, 2018: http://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2018/2/gender-equality-in-the-2030-agenda-for-sustainable-development-2018#view
4 The “Consensual Straitjacket”: Four Decades of Women in Nuclear Security, Heather Hurlburt, Elizabeth Weingarten, Alexandra Stark, & Elena Souris, 2019: https://d1y8sb8igg2f8e.cloudfront.net/documents/The_Consensual_Straitjacket_Four_Decades_of_Women_in_Nuclear_Security_2019-03-_yEtsRar.pdf