Gender equality in the 21st century: Understanding barriers and finding solutions.

Written by: Marzia Marastoni

On the 25th of October 2019, the UN day took place. The slogan of the conference was “Gender equality in the 21st century: Understanding barriers and finding solutions”.

Gender equality has been a concern for the UN from the very beginning. Hence, the UN’s support for the rights of women began with the Organization's founding Charter, whose anniversary we were celebrating on the 25th of October. Among the purposes of the UN declared in Article 1 of its Charter is “To achieve international co-operation in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”

Yet, as pointed by Oliver Hohene – the representative of the Swiss Foreign Affairs – the question today is whether gender equality will be achieved at all. According to him, it is striking that – whenever we buy a gift – we are asked if the gift is for a boy or a girl.

Indeed, as claimed by Cindy Bischofberger – GIMUN vice president – progress is occurring in many aspects of gender equality. 143 out of 195 countries guarantee equality between women and men in their constitution as of 2014. Yet, discrimination against women persists in many areas, directly and indirectly through laws and politics, gender-based stereotypes, social norms, and practices.

Even though gender equality before the law does not necessarily mean that women “in practice” have equal opportunities, Mr Hohene believes that the feminist strike held all over Switzerland on the 14th of June was a great achievement. At least as far as the national level is concerned. As a result, we can see an increase of 10% of women in parliament.

Yet, Mrs Bischofberger noticed that the perception of this strike was different in rural areas. A group of her female friends from primary school, she said, were questioning it and saying that they do not see the reason for such a movement as we are doing well, they do not want to go against men.

As Fernandino Miranda – Gender and LGBT Project Officer – pointed out, demonstrate on the street means that there is still a long way to go. In Switzerland, inequalities are far from being over. Women are still victims of many unequal treatments, from job’s seeking to retirement. They were demonstrating, Mr Miranda said, for an equal job and an equal salary. There are no quick and easy solutions, he stated. Especially if the most important change is also the hardest one: change peoples’ mind.

Christine Löw – Director of UN Women Liaison Office in Geneva – pointed out different areas where these changes should occur. First of all, there is the need to address the issue of women in the workforce. In 155 economies, she pointed out, there is at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities. Importantly, 103 countries do not have laws that prohibit discrimination in hiring. Secondly, we must tackle the issue of parental leave and government support. Women perform over 76% of unpaid caregiving (three times as much as men). Thirdly, we should focus on the urban-rural divide. Mrs Löw recalled that women and girls are responsible for water collection in 80% of households. Fourthly, we should bear in mind that gender equality and politics is an essential issue. Worldwide, women hold 1 in 4 parliamentary seats. Furthermore, as of June 2019, only 11 women are serving as Head of the State and 12 as Head of Government.

Taking reference to the fifth of the more recent 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, we should not forget that: “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.”

Hopefully, this is what the future has in store for us.

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