25 years after UN women's meeting, equality remains distant

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In this image made from UNTV video, Monica Zalaquett, Minister for Women and Gender Equality of Chile, speaks during a pre-recorded message which was played inside the United Nations General Assembly Hall, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, at U.N. headquarters, in New York. (UNTV Via AP)

TANZANIA – One by one, leaders and ministers from over 100 nations admitted that 25 years after the adoption of a road map to achieve equality for women not a single country has reached that goal — and many warned that instead of progress there is now push back. French President Emmanuel Macron put it bluntly, “women’s rights are under attack.”

Addressing a high-level meeting to commemorate the landmark 1995 U.N. women’s conference in Beijing on Thursday, Macron said it’s no secret that the 150-page blueprint to realize gender equality approved by 189 nations in the Chinese capital “would have no chance of being adopted” in 2020.

So “this is no time for commemoration or self-congratulation,” he warned, because progress achieved by women “is being undermined, even in our democracies.”

The Beijing declaration and platform called for bold action in 12 areas for women and girls, including combating poverty and gender-based violence, ensuring all girls get an education and putting women at top levels of business and government, as well as at peacemaking tables. It also said, for the first time in a U.N. document, that women’s human rights include the right to control and decide “on matters relating to their sexuality, including their sexual and reproductive health, free of discrimination, coercion and violence.”

Macron said in his prerecorded speech that progress is being undercut “starting with the freedom for women to control their own bodies, and in particular the right to abortion.” And he cited continuing inequalities in schooling, pay, domestic work, and political representation.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has attributed gender inequality to “centuries of discrimination, deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny.”

In today’s more divided, conservative and still very male-dominated societies, he said, “we have seen around the world a pushback against gender equality and women’s rights.”

“Now is the time to push back against the pushback,” he declared.