Demonstrators protesting during a one-day strike to defend women’s rights on International Women’s Day in Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday. Gender inequality and discrimination against women harms us all. AFP PIC

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. Women everywhere 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 are the unfinished businesses 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 international organisations, including the United Nations. Gender equality is enshrined in countless laws.

But, 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 unrecognised. Women’s representation in national parliaments stands, on average, at less than one quarter, and in boardrooms, it is even lower.

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 UN should set an example for the world. I recognise 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 our offices worldwide.

We have reached gender parity for the first time in my senior management team, and I am determined to achieve this throughout the organisation.

I am committed to zero tolerance of sexual harassment and have set out plans to improve reporting and accountability.

We are working closely with countries to prevent and address sexual exploitation and abuse by staff in peacekeeping missions, and to support victims.

We at the UN stand with women around the world as they fight to overcome the injustices they face — be they rural women dealing with wage discrimination, urban women organising for change, women refugees at risk of exploitation and abuse, or women who experience intersecting forms of discrimination.

Women’s empowerment is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals means progress for women, everywhere. The Spotlight initiative, launched with the European Union, will focus resources on eliminating violence against women and girls, a prerequisite for equality and empowerment.

This is not a favour to women.

Gender equality is a human rights issue and it is 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.

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 and economies.

I am proud to be part of this movement and I hope it continues to resonate within the UN and around the world.


Secretary-general, United Nations

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