Perspectives from the UN Women Session: Achieving Gender Equality

By Waithera Kagira-Watson, Senior Associate Program Director, The Task Force’s Neglected Tropical Disease Support Center (NTD-SC)

I recently had the honor of participating in the 65th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women to discuss ways to ensure women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life. Two colleagues and I joined nearly 10,000 representatives from governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). I left the meeting feeling inspired and committed to strengthening our efforts to achieve gender equality. 

Topics included:

  • Enhancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in the COVID-19 recovery
  • Equal and resilient economies and societies
  • Engaging men and boys in the conversations and actions for gender equality
  • Ending violence against women and children (many participants referred to this topic as the “shadow pandemic”)
  • Increasing the number of women in leadership positions
  • Leading the charge to ensure education of all women and girls
  • The role of the United Nations in the struggle against racism: past, present and future

Many sessions focused on how the COVID-19 pandemic is deepening gender inequality, shining a light on the persistent differences between women’s and men’s rights. For example, an estimated 435 million women and girls will be living on less than $1.90 a day this year due to the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. Additionally, 11 million girls are at risk of not being able to return to school post-pandemic, risking their ability to access vital resources. It was also noted that women comprise 70% of the global health workforce but have limited representation in leadership positions, especially in the pandemic response.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, said she was alarmed that 80% of COVID-19 task force teams are predominantly made up of men and they are charged with solving problems that disproportionately affect women, such as violence against women, the massive loss of jobs by women, and the burden of unpaid care.

The added inequities that women of color face were also highlighted. Yumeka Rushing, NAACP’s Chief Strategy Officer, said “rooting out the notion of a hierarchy of human value is critically important domestically and globally, and we each have a role to play in that. Healing is a critical component of the actions that we must take to move forward. We have to continue to study and hold ourselves accountable for a track record on human and civil rights.

Gender equality is an issue about rights, and women’s rights to live their lives as they want and choose to,” said Åsa Regnér, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director for Normative Support, UN System Coordination and Programme Results, noting that it is the solution to many of the challenges that the conference and nations are struggling to address.

Bringing Home Lessons Learned to The Task Force

The UN and its partners have an important role to play in providing models, designs, and gender analyses that countries can use. Some of my key takeaways included practical experiences that several women shared on how many institutions are now implementing their work with a gender lens. These examples of the strides made when women are included and empowered economically are relevant and inspiring to the work we do here at The Task Force. 

Since then, I have shared those examples with my Task Force colleagues to help us identify areas where we can continue to improve our activities to address health issues equally across genders. As an example, in the  NTD-SC program where I work, this means altering our operational research projects to collect gender-based data so that we can evaluate operations by gender.

The gender data gap and the need for disaggregated gender data was emphasized throughout, as equality is not going to be achieved unless gender data exists to inform decisions and policies. Participants highlighted the need for optimal data collection methods, detailed data analysis, and evidence-based recommendations that will enable the design of better services and policies, both at the national and regional levels. This is an area where NTD-SC can help by collecting disaggregated gender data on its NTD elimination research. However, there is a need to examine whether disaggregated gender statistics are sufficiently precise and reliable.

One example of a success story was the Rapid Gender Assessment surveys (RGAs), a simple way to gather information on knowledge, attitudes, skills and behaviors related to a specific topic in a community. These surveys have led to COVID cash allowances and targeted cash assistance to women during the pandemic in India.

In a call to action, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, outlined five key building blocks to fully realize equality in women’s rights:

  1. Repeal discriminatory laws and enact positive measures.
  2. Ensure equal representation in forums such as company boards to parliaments, from higher education to public institutions, through special measures including quotas.
  3. Advance women’s economic inclusion to equal pay, targeted credit, job protection, and significant investments in the gig economy and social protection.
  4. Enact an emergency response plan in each country to address violence against women and girls and follow through with funding, policies and political will.
  5. Give space to the inter-generational transition that is underway. From the frontlines to online, young women are advocating for a more just and equal world and merit greater support.

Humanity will reap huge benefits when women are included and valued in every level of society from the family to the community, government, and the public and private sectors. I feel honored and very grateful for the opportunity to have participated on behalf of The Task Force and look forward to implementing these efforts in our work.

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