Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury :
In the next seven days two of the biggest events that drive the women's equality agenda will energize all well-meaning people of the world. The first on 8 March the International Women's Day will assert renewed energy for women's activism for peace, rights and development.
The second will be the commencement of the biggest gathering of activists on women's issues from all parts of the world converging at the United Nations ending March 23 after its two-week meeting.
That gathering is the 62nd annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York. Many of the participants at these sessions have direct grassroots connections with their feet on the ground and understand the challenges and obstacles - physical, economic, political, societal, cultural and attitudinal - which women face on a daily basis.
Many of us do not know that the Charter of the United Nations, when signed in 1945, was the first international agreement to affirm the principle of equality between women and men. Since then, the UN has helped create a historic legacy of internationally-agreed strategies, global legal frameworks, standards, programmes and goals to advance the status of women worldwide.
A specific part of the preamble of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) continues to inspire me every time I read it. It says that "… Convinced that the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields…"
Another milestone UN resolution adopted by consensus in 1999 - Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace - accords a place of prominence for "equality between women and men" among its eight action areas.
In another resolution in 2011 on political participation UN General Assembly asserted that "Women in every part of the world continue to be largely marginalized from the political sphere, often as a result of discriminatory laws, practices, attitudes and gender stereotypes, low levels of education, lack of access to health care and the disproportionate effect of poverty on women."
That global reality is dramatically evidenced in the fact that only one in five Parliamentarians is a woman, and there are nearly 40 countries in which women account for less than ten percent of Parliamentarians. This marginalization of women from the political sphere is unfortunate and unacceptable.
As I always strongly emphasize, empowering women's political leadership will have ripple effects on every level of society and the global condition. When politically empowered, women bring important and different skills and perspectives to the policy making table in comparison to their male counterparts. When women join politics, they want to do something, when men join politics, they want to be something.
Let me at this point say "Bravo, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres!" for achieving full gender parity in his Senior Management Group, highest policy coordination body of the UN chaired by the Secretary-General with 23 women and 21 men. This is first time it has happened in 72 years of the organisation's existence.
We need to recognize that women's equality and their rights are not only women's issues, those are relevant for humanity as a whole - for all of us. This is most crucial point that needs to be internalized by every one of us. We also find the challenges to women's rights and their equality not only continue, but those also mutate and reappear, undermining any hard-earned progress.
Progress for women in the last two decades has been unacceptably slow. World leaders have not done nearly enough to act on commitments made in the visionary Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted at the fourth women's conference in 1995. UN Women very rightly underscored that "The disappointing gap between the norms and implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action points to a collective failure of leadership on progress for women."
To speed up the pace of progress with regard to women's equality and empowerment, one very forward-looking initiative should be the five-year old joint proposal made by the President of the 66th session of the UN General Assembly and the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 8 March 2012 for the convening of a Fifth Global Conference on Women by the United Nations in 2015, twenty years after the last women's summit in Beijing.
I believe that the proposal should be revived, revised and receive the urgent attention of the Member States to agree on a fifth world conference in the coming years. Unfortunately and curiously, that joint proposal was cold-shouldered by those very countries which claim to champion women's rights and equality. No more foot-dragging please
My own experience particularly during last quarter century has made it clear to me that the participation of women in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace building assures that their experiences, priorities, and solutions contribute to longer-term stability and inclusive governance. In their inclusion in peace negotiations, women invariably ensure that peace accords address the validity of gender equality in new constitutional, judicial and electoral structures.
That brings me to the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on women and peace and security adopted in October 2000 opening a much-awaited door of opportunity for women as they are the real agents of change in refashioning peace structures ensuring greater sustainability.
The main inspiration behind 1325 is not to make war safe for women but to structure the peace in a way that there is no recurrence of war and conflict. We would not have to be worrying about countering extremism if women have equality in decision-making enabling them to take measures which would prevent such extremism. Ensuring equality and inclusion, mutual respect and fairness in international relations is essential to weed out roots of extremism.
I recall Eleanor Roosevelt's words saying "Too often the great decisions are originated and given shape in bodies made up wholly of men, or so completely dominated by them that whatever of special value women have to offer is shunted aside without expression." It is a reality that politics, more so security, is a man's world.
Reiterating this assertion, UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his message on the last International Women's Day said very succinctly that "The truth is that north and south, east and west - and I'm not speaking about any society, culture or country in particular - everywhere, we still have a male-dominated culture."
At a UN high level event a couple of years ago, President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf - first woman head of state in the continent of Africa - pointed out that "… some of us have broken the glass ceiling" at the same time regretting that "at the current pace; it will take 81 years to achieve gender equality."
Patriarchy and misogyny are scourges pulling back the humanity away from our aspiration for a better world to live in freedom, equality and justice.
Gender inequality is an established, proven and undisputed reality - it is all pervasive. It is a real threat to human progress! It is a shame that in the second decade of the 21st century widespread discriminatory norms against women remain deeply rooted. Structural barriers and social and economic inequities hinder gender parity in national governments around the world. A huge inequality persists in areas of women's political participation, legal discrimination including land rights and inheritance, business ownership, sexual and reproductive rights. Also, eradication of poverty is the first and foremost concern of women since the majority of the poor in the world are women, and the feminization of poverty is a reality in poor and rich countries alike. The increasing militarism and militarization have made these even worse.
Unless we confront these vicious and obstinate negative forces with all our energy, determination and persistence, our planet will never be a desired abode for one and all. I will emphasize in that connection that none of the 17 SDGs will make headway in any real sense, until we make progress in realizing the objective of women's equality and empowerment.
Notwithstanding some progress of sorts, we are experiencing around the globe an organized, determined rollback of these gains as well as new attacks on women equality and empowerment - yes, in all parts of the world and in all countries without exception.
As underscored by the architect of feminist foreign policy, Foreign Minster Margot Wallström of Sweden, "No society is immune from backlashes, especially not in relation to gender. There is a continuous need for vigilance and for continuously pushing for women's and girls' full enjoyment of human rights." Empowering women's political leadership will have ripple effects on every level of society and the global condition. When politically empowered, women bring important and different skills and perspectives to the policy making table in comparison to their male counterparts.
I will emphasize that it is not about women against men, but it is reality that when you have more women in public decision-making, you get policies that benefit women, children and families in general.
While women are often the first victims of armed conflict, they must also and always be recognized as key to the resolution of the conflict. It is my strong belief that unless women are engaged in advancing the culture of peace at equal levels with men, sustainable peace would continue to elude us.
It is now recognized that achieving gender equality requires "transformative change." In this conceptual reorientation, the politics of gender relations and restructuring of institutions, rather than simply equality in access to resources and options, have become the focus of development architecture. We need to realize that equality is no longer only a technical and statistical perception.
It is also an understanding that the views, values and experiences of women and men are different in many ways and, therefore, it is essential that both male and female views are equally heard and recognized in society as a whole, and, of course, in social, economic and political planning and decision making.
Only then can women and men equally and democratically influence progress in society, which shapes the conditions and prerequisites of their lives. Thus, the equal participation and impact of women in society becomes not only their legitimate right, but also a social and political necessity for achieving more balanced and sustainable peace and development.
Women's equality and empowerment are not only issues concerning women; those are relevant for humanity as a whole - for all of us. This is most crucial point that needs to be internalized by every one of us. At the same time, we should be watchful against the increasing attempts by governments to undermine the critical and unequivocal role of women's organizations, feminist activists and women human rights defenders.
Before concluding, let me present four concrete proposals which would enhance UN efficacy in making progress in realizing women's agenda as a whole.
First, UN Secretary-General needs to get involved more pro-actively in getting the Member-States to prepare their respective National Action Plans (NAPs) for UNSCR 1325. A NAP has the potential of a national level commitment of a country to implement women's equality agenda. His letter addressed to a Head of State/Government requesting action in that regard and instructing the UN Resident Coordinators at the country level to follow up vigorously will bring results.
Second, CSW should embrace implementation of 1325 and provide support for NAPs. CEDAW has done that through its General Recommendation 30. CSW should recognize the enthusiasm of particularly civil society for 1325 implementation. 1325 is an important part of the United Nations global agenda for change for equality. Segregation of women's agenda is not acceptable on the basis of UN system's organizational entities.
Third, Member States need to get engaged in convening the Fifth World Conference on Women
Fourth, UN Women should work closely with SRSG for violence against women, SRSG for violence against children as it involves violence against girls and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women.
Through my life's experience and inspiration, I believe intensely that we should never forget that when women - half of world's seven point two billion people - are marginalized, there is no chance for our world to get distributive development and sustainable peace in the real sense.
I join in Foreign Minister Wallstrom's assertion on last year's International Women's Day that "Feminism is a component of a modern view on global politics, not an idealistic departure from it. It is about smart policy which includes whole populations, uses all potential and leaves no one behind. Change is possible, necessary and long overdue."
I am proud to be a feminist … all of us need to be. That is how we make our planet a better place to live for all. We should always remember that without peace, development is impossible, and without development, peace is not achievable, but without women, neither peace nor development is conceivable.
(Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is former UN Under-Secretary-General & High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. Courtesy: IPS)