A new generation on the rise: generation equality. Gender inequality is a barrier for sustainable development and the construction of a more just society.

María-Noel Vaeza, UN Women Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean

Date: Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Originally published in the Huffington Post.

Twenty-six years ago, the IV World Conference on Women was held in Beijing, where 189 countries expressed their intention to focus their efforts towards women's empowerment and gender equality.

Despite this commitment, changes in this area - although significant in some cases - have been too slow for what reality demands. Gender inequality is a barrier to sustainable development and the construction of a more just society, and the emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the situation.

 

"Gender inequality is a barrier for sustainable development and the construction of a more just society."


According to estimates by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), during 2020, the economic empowerment of women in Latin America and the Caribbean was set back at least 10 years, and unfortunately the crisis is far from over. ILO data confirms that during the COVID-19 pandemic, women were especially affected, registering a female economic participation rate of 42.8%, which is a minimum value. This figure represents a decrease of 18% compared to the same quarter of 2019.

This impact on women is explained by the retraction of highly feminized economic sectors, for example, those of hotels and restaurants, and other service activities and the household sector. But it is also due to a higher incidence of informality among women, which, according to recent ILO data, affects one out of every two women in the region. For example, with respect to domestic work, the rate of informality reaches 80% to 90% of women in this sector.

 

"This crisis has highlighted the importance of care for the sustainability of life and the invisibility of this sector in the economies."


Before the health crisis caused by COVID-19, in the countries of the region for which data are available, women spent between 22 and 42 hours a week on care work activities, three times more than the time spent by men. The need to contain the health crisis by reducing mobility and distance schooling implies an overload of time in the home, which in our region continues to fall mainly on women.

This crisis has highlighted the importance of care for the sustainability of life and the invisibility of this sector in the economies of the world's poorest countries.

For this reason, UN Women, along with other organizations, has been promoting the creation and strengthening of comprehensive care systems as a driver for recovery. Systems that contribute to recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work and lead us towards a new social pact and towards a generation that defends and exercises co-responsibility.

On the other hand, violence against women is what we have called the other shadow pandemic, which precedes and will survive the virus. This shadow pandemic, like that of COVID-19, requires a global and coordinated response with effective implementation protocols. We are concerned that quarantine measures and mobility restrictions have intensified the isolation of many women from their support networks and have created additional barriers to accessing services. We have therefore urged that prevention and victim care services be prioritized, strengthened and maintained as part of essential services and that they not be interrupted at any time.

From March 29-31 this year in Mexico City, the first meeting of the Generation Equality Forum, a global meeting co-organized by UN Women and the governments of Mexico and France, convened an intergenerational dialogue with civil society to make gender equality a reality and eradicate the discrimination against women that we experience every day. The forum will have a second meeting to be organized in Paris from June 30 to July 2, 2021.

In a world that requires more cooperation than ever before, this event attracted more than 13,000 people from the most diverse regions of the world to exchange and discuss solutions for equality. Representatives from governments, civil society, feminist and women's organizations, philanthropic organizations, international agencies and the private sector drew up a roadmap to implement the Beijing commitments and address the negative effects of the pandemic on women's rights.

The Mexico meeting established priorities to promote a recovery that puts women's rights at the center of macroeconomic decisions and incentives for changing the economic model by focusing on care, stimulating women's participation in politics, guaranteeing protection for women's organizations that demand social change, among many other proposals for feminist recoveries from this crisis.

What is fundamental is that specific measures were agreed upon and the necessary resources were provided to make these aspirations a reality. This agenda and commitments were developed by all parties with the active participation of feminist and women's organizations from all over the world.

The proposals made by the young women at the Generation Equality Forum were decisive in consolidating a transformative vision that must be translated into concrete actions, which are essential to achieve convincing results by the year 2026. By this deadline, some of the projects established are the reduction by 85 million of the number of women and girls living in poverty, a significant increase in the number of countries with comprehensive measures to recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work, as well as the creation of up to 80 million decent jobs in this sector, and a greater number of countries with national policies that include violence prevention strategies.

Intersectionality, leadership and feminist transformation are the guiding principles for addressing the themes of the coalitions for action.[1] Concrete steps to advance these goals will be presented in the second phase of the forum.

The international community has to make important decisions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, as COVID-19 has posed major challenges as well as setbacks. These require new solutions and budgetary commitments from both national and subnational governments, as well as from international cooperation that has withdrawn from many of the countries in the region due to the cycle of growth and stability of the past decade.

In this scenario, we urge international cooperation to be part of generation of equality in Latin America and the Caribbean, reconsidering its accompaniment and solidarity with the countries of the region for a way out of this crisis that advances women's rights and the socio-environmental sustainability that we have proposed for 2030.

If anything has been made clear by the COVID-19 crisis, it is the capacity for innovation of women who are at the forefront of many of the responses, the value and the fundamental need for parity and equal participation of women in all aspects of society, from the local to the global. But to do so, we must break down the historical and structural barriers that are still present today and that affect indigenous women, Afro-descendant women, rural women, migrant women and women with disabilities even more.

Despite all the difficulties we women face and this multiplying effect of inequality that we observe in our region, I have great hope in the new generations, as with a stronger but also more united voice, they demand that their rights be respected, that their voices be heard and that their opinions be taken into consideration.

The demand is as justified as it is urgent. And we hope that the whole world will join us in this transformative change, that the force of change will be greater than the resistance, and that this will be the last generation that will have to fight daily for equality as so many women and adolescents do in their daily lives.