In-depth: United Nations’ Observance of International Women’s Day

The 2021 United Nations Observance of International Women’s Day was hosted online and featured high-level dignitaries alongside gender equality advocates and champions. Brought into existence by the hard work of feminists who had been advocating for years, UN Women was established in 2011, meaning the organisation is only ten years old. This year’s theme is ‘women in leadership: achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world on the way to the Generation Equality Forum’.

In an opening speech from António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, the key message of the day was put forward: “services are delivered by women and decisions are made by men”. Intended as a call for change in allowing women to be involved in the decision-making process, Guterres highlighted the role of women in society, saying “we need to work together with vision and determination” in order to achieve gender equality.

Following on from Guterres’ opening speech, the President of the UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir spoke on the status of gender equality within the UN member states, saying “no member state has reached gender equality”. He also spoke on the progression of the digital divide, noting that it threatens to leave even more women behind. In regard to the role of women in public life, he says only 25% of parliamentarians are women, meaning they are being left out of the decision-making process.

Member of the Afghan Girls Robotic Team Somaya Faruqi highlighted 132 million girls remain out of school and that girls are less likely than boys to return to education. As a student herself, she said “we need freedom, to learn, to experiment, and be creative”, asking every woman watching to “have faith in our abilities”.

The first panel was centred around the theme of women’s leadership in a Covid-19 world. Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir introduced the concept of the ‘shadow pandemic’ or the ‘parallel pandemic’. In effect, this encompasses the disproportionate disadvantage to women as a result of coronavirus. It is estimated women now take on an average of 15 more hours of unpaid labour than men. Speaking on the role of women on the frontline, she says: “one of the major things we can take from this pandemic is the importance of women working in the healthcare system”. She insists on gender equality in the decision-making process both within this sector and in the wider world: “If the pandemic shows us anything, it is the importance of having both men and women around the table to make decisions”.

Aya Chebbi of the African Union Youth Envoy and Chair of Africa Young Women Manifesto Group takes an intersectional approach to feminism, focussing upon the experiences of young people. She says, “as long as you’re young and female, it’s like a crime you have to navigate every single day”. The main outcomes of her work have been the ten concrete recommendations of the Africa Young Women Beijing+25 Manifesto, which carries the motto: “Fem. Foster. Enable. Mobilize”. Graduating from the discourse of base ability, she says “I don’t think the issue is whether young women are motivated… what matters now is our spaces”.

As part of the Generation Equality Forum segment, Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, Minister of Women, Gender, and Diversity of Argentina, identified the importance of the circulation of information. She argues traditionally male-dominated leaderships “concentrate information to concentrate power”. She calls for a move from male ethics to care ethics, saying issues such as gender violence have traditionally been seen as “women’s issues that only women talked about”.

The upcoming Generation Equality Forum places Mexico at the front and centre of international gender equality. Marcelo Ebrard, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Mexico states “the Mexican foreign policy is a Feminist policy”. He hopes the establishment of the Generation Equality Forum will help to “organise a new, more just and equal society”, describing Covid-19 as a major setback for equality.

Following Ebrard’s speech, a short video was shown explaining the 2021 Generation Equality Action Coalitions to accelerate gender equality. Themes include: gender-based violence, economic justice and rights, bodily autonomy and SRHR, Feminist action for climate justice, technology and innovation for gender equality, and feminist movements and leadership. In addition to this, a compact on women, peace, security, and humanitarian action will work to drive action and resources to women and girls in crisis and conflict areas.

UN High Commissioner for refugees Filippo Grande is a board member of the aforementioned compact. In his speech, he argued for refugee and forcibly displaced women to be involved in “decision making, community managing, and leadership positions”. He acknowledges the involvement of forcibly displaced women in providing support to both their refugee and host positions and believes “women can and will shape our future”.

Finally, the observance closed on a message from Actress, Activist, Producer, and Philanthropist Eva Longoria. She reflected on Covid-19’s impact on women, saying “the pandemic didn’t create gender inequality, it exacerbated it”. She also called for systemic change which comes from both the top-down and the bottom-up, closing on the message: “we can build on the work that came before us and still leave stepping stones for the women who will follow us”.


About Author

Dolly Carter

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/wp_35pmrq/ on line 11

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/wp_35pmrq/ on line 26
May 2022
Latest Comments
About Us

The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

If you would like to get in touch, email the Editor on Follow us at @ConcreteUEA.