We are at a pivotal moment for women’s rights. The historical and structural inequalities that have allowed oppression and discrimination to flourish are being exposed like never before. From Latin America to Europe to Asia, on social media, on film sets, on the factory floor and in the streets, women are calling for lasting change and zero tolerance for sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination of all kinds.
Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.
The activism and advocacy of generations of women has borne fruit. There are more girls in school than ever before; more women are doing paid work and in senior roles in the private sector, academia, politics and in international organizations, including the United Nations. Gender equality is enshrined in countless laws, and harmful practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage have been outlawed in many countries.
But serious obstacles remain if we are to address the historic power imbalances that underpin discrimination and exploitation.
More than a billion women around the world lack legal protection against domestic sexual violence. The global gender pay gap is 23 per cent, rising to 40 per cent in rural areas, and the unpaid work done by many women goes unrecognized. Women’s representation in national parliaments stands, on average, at less than one quarter, and in boardrooms it is even lower. Without concerted action, millions more girls will be subjected to genital mutilation over the next decade.
Where laws exist, they are often ignored, and women who pursue legal redress are doubted, denigrated and dismissed. We now know that sexual harassment and abuse have been thriving in workplaces, public spaces and private homes, in countries that pride themselves on their record of gender equality.
The United Nations should set an example for the world.
I recognize that this has not always been the case. Since the start of my tenure last year, I have set change in motion at UN headquarters, in our peacekeeping missions and in all our offices worldwide.
We have now reached gender parity for the first time in my senior management team, and I am determined to achieve this throughout the organization. I am totally committed to zero tolerance of sexual harassment and have set out plans to improve reporting and accountability. We are working closely with countries around the world to prevent and address sexual exploitation and abuse by staff in peacekeeping missions, and to support victims.
We at the United Nations stand with women around the world as they fight to overcome the injustices they face – whether they are rural women dealing with wage discrimination, urban women organizing for change, women refugees at risk of exploitation and abuse, or women who experience intersecting forms of discrimination: widows, indigenous women, women with disabilities and women who do not conform to gender norms.
Women’s empowerment is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals means progress for all women, everywhere. The Spotlight initiative launched jointly with the European Union will focus resources on eliminating violence against women and girls, a prerequisite for equality and empowerment.
Let me be clear: this is not a favour to women. Gender equality is a human rights issue, but it is also in all our interests: men and boys, women and girls. Gender inequality and discrimination against women harms us all.
There is ample evidence that investing in women is the most effective way to lift communities, companies, and even countries. Women’s participation makes peace agreements stronger, societies more resilient and economies more vigorous. Where women face discrimination, we often find practices and beliefs that are detrimental to all. Paternity leave, laws against domestic violence and equal pay legislation benefit everyone.
At this crucial moment for women’s rights, it is time for men to stand with women, listen to them and learn from them. Transparency and accountability are essential if women are to reach their full potential and lift all of us, in our communities, societies and economies.
I am proud to be part of this movement, and I hope it continues to resonate within the United Nations and around the world.
Five things to make your city liveable
By Robert Glasser*
Do you want to make your city the most liveable place in the world, or as good as?
It can be done but it requires hard work and an understanding of how to prevent disasters and avoid planning mistakes which will only bring misery in the future.
If we are to leave no one behind in the race for sustainable development, we need to get ready for an uncertain future as the numbers of people living in urban centres surge towards 6.4 billion by 2050 when climate change is likely to have an even more significant impact on urban life.
Over the last twenty years, extreme weather events have doubled and now account for 90% of all major recorded disasters. Earthquakes and tsunamis kill more people but extreme weather events displace over 20 million people each year. Disasters cost the global economy over $500 billion and push 26 million people into poverty every year.
No country, city or town will be spared the impacts of climate change and there are some fundamentals to be aware of when you consider how well your town or city is doing when it comes to managing disaster risk. As the World Urban Forum opens in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this week here are five things to think about:
No. 1. Access to a good early warning system. We need to reduce the likelihood of people dying in urban disasters by ensuring that basic early warning systems are in place and that these warnings reach people, and are understood and acted on. People need to have a safe place to go until the storm passes or the flood eases.
No. 2. No one should be living in harm’s way. We need to reduce the numbers of people affected by disasters by ensuring that land use regulations and building codes are implemented. This helps to ensure that people live, work and study in safe areas and in buildings constructed to the standards required by the risk profile of the location. If the risk is too high, don’t build.
No. 3. Don’t throw good money after bad. The most expensive school, hospital, road, public utility …is the one that has to be re-built after it has collapsed in a storm or an earthquake. Building back better is an opportunity but building better in the first place avoids unnecessary reconstruction costs that take resources away from areas such as education and health which would benefit society as a whole. Make sure the private sector and government agencies do not embark on critical infrastructure projects without factoring in present and future disaster risk.
No. 4. Don’t leave anyone behind. Everyone needs to be involved in preparing for a disaster, whether it’s having an emergency kit ready, knowing an evacuation route or looking out for a vulnerable neighbour. Preparedness and response planning must include women and girls, youth, people living with disabilities and older persons. People who may be vulnerable often have an acute understanding of disaster risk and how to manage it. When
developing strategies for disaster risk management, involve the whole community. This is essential to building resilience.
No. 5. Invest today for a safer tomorrow. Often an investment in disaster risk reduction requires little effort but a big insight. For example, leaving mangrove forests or coastal wetlands in place, ensures greater protection against floods and storms. Leaving the car at home reduces your carbon footprint. When it comes to major investments in reducing disaster risk, the benefit to cost ratio can be as high as 15:1 in terms of avoided economic losses and reconstruction costs.
The world itself is turning into an urban forum, building resilience to disasters not only saves lives but improves them.
*Robert Glasser is the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and the head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction www.unisdr.org