Women's inequality ‘stupid’ and ‘global shame’ in 21st century: UN chief
UN United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the state of women's rights was dire and said that It is time to stop trying to change women, and start changing the systems that prevent them from achieving their potential.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called women's inequality "stupid" and said it should “shame us all in the 21st century” as he pledged to press governments to end discriminatory laws in the face of a "strong and relentless pushback" against women's rights.
Speaking ahead of the annual meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York next month, Guterres warned on Thursday that the state of women's rights was dire and said he would seek to end "default male thinking" across the United Nations.
While the UN Secretary-General did not name and shame, US President Donald Trump's administration has led a push at the UN against the promotion of sexual and reproductive health services for women because the administration sees that as code for abortion.
Gender inequality is fundamentally a question of power.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) February 27, 2020
I'm speaking at @thenewschool about how we can transform our world by achieving gender equality and ending discrimination against women & girls. https://t.co/iSK14y2sZz
Over the next 2 years, I intend to deepen my personal commitment to supporting gender equality in all areas of our work.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) February 28, 2020
The 21st century must be the century of women’s equality. pic.twitter.com/76JUQw3qSO
Women have equaled and outperformed men in almost every sphere.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) February 28, 2020
It is time to stop trying to change women, and start changing the systems that prevent them from achieving their potential. pic.twitter.com/8DTbovTjzN
Macho posturing will not save our planet.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) February 28, 2020
Gender equality, including men stepping up and taking responsibility, is essential if we are to beat the climate emergency. pic.twitter.com/xHlW1ZGrUi
"Just as slavery and colonialism were a stain on previous centuries, women's inequality should shame us all in the 21st. Because it is not only unacceptable; it is stupid," Guterres said in a speech to The New School in New York.
“Everywhere, women are worse off than men, simply because they are women,” he said, adding that minority, migrant, refugee and disabled women “face even greater barriers.”
He called gender inequality and discrimination against women the “one overwhelming injustice across the globe — an abuse that is crying out for attention”.
The UN chief said young women like Malala Yousafzai -- the Pakistani teen activist who campaigned for girls’ right to education after surviving being shot by Taliban militants, and Nadia Murad -- the Nobel peace laureate who survived enslavement and sexual abuse by Islamic State extremists in Iraq, “are breaking barriers and creating new models of leadership”. But despite these advances, “the state of women’s rights remains dire”, he said.
According to Guterres, women leaders “face harassment, threats and abuse, online and off” and are excluded from “the top table” in government, corporations and peace negotiations.
“From the ridiculing of women as hysterical or hormonal, to the routine judgment of women based on their looks, from the myths and taboos that surround women’s natural bodily functions, to mansplaining and victim-blaming — misogyny is everywhere,” Guterres said, adding that the digital age could make these inequalities even more entrenched”.
The UN chief said legal protections against rape and domestic violence were being diluted or rolled back and that in 34 countries rape within marriage was still legal.
"There is a strong and relentless pushback against women's rights," Guterres said. "Women's sexual and reproductive rights are under threat from different sides."
Language promoting women's sexual and reproductive health is long-agreed internationally, including in resolutions adopted by the Security Council in 2009 and 2013 and several resolutions adopted annually by the 193-member General Assembly.
However, the US under Trump has pushed to remove such language from new UN resolutions. The Trump administration also cut funding in 2017 for the UN Population Fund because it believed it was linked to an abortion program, but the UN said that was an inaccurate perception.
The US Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that women have the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion but the issue is still divisive in the US.
In 2019, Washington threatened to veto a Security Council resolution if a reference was not cut citing the need for UN bodies and donors to give timely "sexual and reproductive health" assistance to survivors of sexual violence in conflict.
Guterres said on Thursday he would urge governments to achieve gender parity in senior leadership. He said he achieved gender parity among his senior leadership team -- on January 1 -- 90 women and 90 men were in the ranks of full-time senior leadership, two years ahead of the target date he set.
"It is time to stop trying to change women, and start changing the systems that prevent them from achieving their potential."