In 1995, global leaders came together at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. There, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was introduced as a vision for women and girls to have equal rights and opportunities and to live free from want, fear and violence.
On the 20th anniversary of that meeting in 2015, the People’s Republic of China and UN Women co-hosted the Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Commitment to Action. The purpose of which was to build support and commitment from governments around the world, as well as to implement one of the 17 goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: “Goal 5 – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”
On the last International Women’s Day, on March 8, 2016, another initiative was announced by the UN Women to further their quest towards gender equality, called “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.” This movement asked political leaders at the highest level to make commitments to address gaps and to “step it up” on their work towards full gender equality by 2030, particularly in key areas like political participation, education, health and safety, and media.
Since the beginning of this campaign, 93 countries have made commitments and pledges for measurable actions towards equality. In addition, 65 media organizations have committed to the Step It Up for Gender Equality Media Compact to play an active role in advancing gender issues by scaling up the focus on women’s rights and gender equality issues.
Why does this matter?
All over the world, women and girls are deprived of their basic rights and opportunities.
Only 52% of women between 15 and 49 years old who are married or in a union make their own decisions in regards to consensual sex and the use of contraceptives and health services. In a recent study, 19% of women in this age group reported that they had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within just 12 months of when they were surveyed. This kind of violence can often lead to death; almost half of the women murdered in 2012 were killed by an intimate partner. In addition, while occurrence of other harmful practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation have been declining, they are still prevalent at rates as high as 1 in 4 and 1 in 3, respectively.
Women are also still performing substantially more unpaid work than men and are less represented in positions of power. In the U.S., women spend 2.8 hours each day doing domestic and care work, while men spend only 1.7 hours. At work, women on average make just 80 cents for every dollar men make, though women of color make just 60 cents. Additionally, in the U.S. women account for only 19% of congress, 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs, and 25% of school superintendents.
What needs to be done?
As this kind of deep-rooted gender discrimination is often a result of patriarchal views and societal norms, the most effective way to make a change and pursue gender equality and empowerment is through legal frameworks. In their 2015 “Step It Up” book, the UN Women put together some examples of where some governments have begun making changes as a roadmap for others.
Some of these include:
- Ending violence against women by enhancing laws and increasing services for survivors
- Increasing women’s leadership and participation in decision-making by setting numerical goals for women in leadership or political positions and creating mentoring programs
- Strengthening women’s economic empowerment by tackling the gender pay gap and redistributing unpaid care work
- Improving access to education by ending early marriages and preventing pregnancy
How can you support Planet 50-50?
Working towards gender equality is something that each of us can and should do. There are numerous ways in which you can help, from supporting political candidates and laws that will empower girls and women, to volunteering or donating to organizations that serve women, to exposing girls to a wide variety of careers and encouraging them to pursue non-traditional roles and leadership positions.
As Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, said in the UN Women’s 2015 “Step It Up” book:
We still have a long way to go in achieving gender equality. We must work tirelessly to broaden the prospect for women’s cause… Let us work hand in hand to move faster to build a better world for women and for all of us.
Ashleen Knutsen is a science writer and editor in Los Angeles. After a decade of experience in engineering and research, she decided to pursue a career in science communications to not only spark women and girls’ interest in STEM, but to let them know that they too can change the world.