UNESCO Director-General joins world leaders’ call for highest political commitment to achieve gender equality

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay has cautioned that much remained to be done for gender equality as world leaders gathered at a High-Level Meeting during the UN General Assembly to mark the 25th anniversary of the visionary Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) that set a global agenda for the empowerment of women and girls and called for the recognition of women’s rights as human rights,

Evidence suggests that women and girls are hit hardest by economic down-turns, violence, conflict and climate change, and the COVID-19 crisis has proved no different. The pandemic and its associated school closures and lockdowns have had a disproportionate impact on the life and wellbeing of millions of women, putting many of the Beijing Declaration’s objectives at risk.

The exacerbated burden of unpaid care has further limited the time women and girls are able to dedicate to learning; more than 767 million girls were out of school due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, 11 million of whom are unlikely to return to school. According to UN-Women, the pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line.

Gender-based violence increased dramatically during lock downs around the world. Women scientists, journalists, artists and creators found and continue to find themselves at increased risks of different forms of harassment, censorship and abuse, both online and offline.

We also learned how wide the gender digital divide really was with only 54% of women connected to mobile internet. This limits the access of millions of women to information and to a diversity of information sources that is necessary to sift out disinformation.

Recognizing the vision of the women who made history in Beijing in 1995, UNESCO’s Director-General declared that “The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action are the most powerful examples of how the global agenda can be written for women and by women. Twenty-five years after their launch we still owe a lot to those visionary women leaders, and we remain accountable to the new generations in ensuring that the multilateral system amplifies their voices and strives towards full equality in all societies.”

With signs of an impending recession likely to have a devastating impact on the poorest and as social spending appears likely to shrink, decision makers worldwide have a collective responsibility to prioritize work on gender equality.

Ambitious legislation, measures and policies to ensure gender equality are needed to avoid detrimental economic, social, cultural, political and environmental consequences that will jeopardize the achievement of the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UNESCO is determined to work with its partners to make gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls a central driving force in optimizing recovery from the socio-economic and cultural impact of COVID-19.

Now is the time to defend and advance women and girl’s human rights.

Now is the time for the Beijing Declaration and its legacy to be fully delivered.

Now is the time to work toward a new Generation Equality.