Photo essay - Generation Equality: The time is now!
Date: 13 March 2020
The 64th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women took stock, assessed gaps, and charted a path forward for fulfilling the promise of gender equality enshrined in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 25 years after its adoption.
This photo essay is an adaptation of an exhibit at the United Nations Headquarters, running from 6 March – 20 April. It presents key milestones in the women’s rights movement, the progress and pushback, and voices and aspirations of women leaders from every corner of the world.
Women have always made a difference…everywhere
But they have faced many obstacles to equality
Until women started to organize and protest inequality, the vast majority could not vote or run for office. They were prohibited from getting a loan or working where they choose.Even if they did the same work as men, they were paid less. And they inherited less, if at all. At home, domestic violence took place with no legal sanction. A married woman could not even prosecute her husband for rape.
So women decided “Let's make some change!”
Indignant over women being barred from speaking at an anti-slavery convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott congregate a few hundred people at their nation’s first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Together they demand civil, social, political and religious rights for women in a Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”
32,000 people sign a “monster” 270-metre-long suffrage petition presented to New Zealand’s Parliament. Soon after, New Zealand becomes the first self-governing nation to allow women to vote and inspires suffragists across the globe.
First International Women's Day
On 8 March, the first International Women’s Day amasses more than 1 million people for women’s suffrage and labour rights. In its early years, the Day becomes a mechanism to protest World War I. Most notably, in Russia, a large women-led demonstration breaks out demanding “bread and peace!” Four days later, the Czar abdicates. Some historians believe the Day ignited the Russian Revolution.
In the first-known campaign of its kind, the Egyptian Society of Physicians goes against tradition by declaring the negative health effects of female genital mutilation. It takes until the late 20th century before the practice is explicitly classified as a form of violence. Today, the United Nations, grass-roots women’s movements, civil society and others are working together to put an end to it.
Incensed by their social standing under colonial rule, Igbo women send palm leaves — similar to today’s Facebook invite — to their fellow sisters across South-eastern Nigeria. Together they descend in the thousands to “sit on” or make “war on” undemocratically appointed chiefs by publicly shaming them through singing, dancing, banging on their walls and even tearing down roofs. This eventually forces the chiefs to resign and results in the dropping of market taxes imposed on women.
What would you do without clean clothes for weeks? In 1945, Dubliners in Ireland learn the hard way. Tired of unhealthy work conditions, low wages, overtime and limited leave, around 1,500 unionized laundresses go on strike. Commercial laundries get hit, a big business at the time. More than three months (and lots of dirty clothes) later, the strike ends in victory and gives all Irish workers a statutory second week of annual holidays.
A symbol of popular feminist resistance, the Mirabal sisters — Minerva, María Teresa, and Patria — also known as Las Mariposas (the butterflies) form an opposition movement to openly protest the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. On 25 November, the sisters are assassinated. The reaction to the brutal murders shakes the dictatorship and contributes to its eventual downfall. Since then, people around the world have marked 25 November as a day to raise awareness of ending violence against women.
25,000 women, a tenth of the nation’s population, gather in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, to protest economic inequality. The “Women’s Day Off” puts the city’s services, schools and businesses at a virtual standstill.
A protracted civil war impels thousands of Liberian women to form a movement. Driven by activist Leymah Gbowee, the movement employs various tactics, most notably: a sex strike to pressure men to partake in peace talks. The movement is so successful it ends a 14-year civil war and leads to the election of Africa’s first woman head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
In Uttar Pradesh state, a handful of bamboo-wielding women take matters into their own hands when they hear of a neighbour abusing his wife. Together, they force the husband to acknowledge the abuse and put a stop to it. A modest movement on domestic abuse snowballs into a statewide one: Today, a “gang” of tens of thousands of women dressed in pink (gulabi) collectively tackle social injustices against women in the state and are inspiring similar uprisings in the nation.
Streams of women vigorously protest for their rights as part of a broader uprising: the pan-Arab movement. The outcry thrusts women into the global limelight. In Tunisia, activism leads to gender equality being enshrined in the nation’s new constitution; in Lebanon, campaigning leads to the scrapping of a controversial law allowing rapists to avoid prison by marrying their victims.
3.5 to 5.5 million people globally attend the “women’s marches” on 21 January to show solidarity for women’s rights. They are among numerous mass movements that mark the decade, including: in India, following the gang rape of a student; across Latin America after a succession of femicides; and in Nigeria, following the kidnapping of almost 280 school girls
The movement goes global
Since the founding of the United Nations, a timeline of the landmark international agreements and conferences that pushed for women’s rights and gender equality.
The world is closer to gender equality than ever before. Still, we have much work ahead. Discriminatory laws in some places still mean that:
- Women inherit nothing or less than their brothers
- A woman’s testimony counts for half of that of a man’s
- Labour laws restrict the types of jobs women can take
- Women can be beaten with impunity
- Women cannot pass on citizenship in the same way as men
- Homosexuality is a criminal offense
The rise of digital activism
The hashtags say it all: Women, girls and people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities want a life free of violence and a gender-equal world. The digital space has amplified feminist voices, sparked transformations and brought a surge of young activists to the vanguard of movements for equality.
Generation Equality takes the stage
2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, adopted at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women. It is a time to celebrate progress, but also to recognize that change has been too slow. Forces are at work to reverse some advances that have been made.
Not a single country today has fully achieved gender equality. Women everywhere still put more hours into unpaid care work, earn less, occupy fewer leadership positions, and risk violence at home and in public spaces. Adding to their struggles are complex and escalating crises, from conflict to climate change to narrowing hopes for decent work.
The movement for gender equality must continue and grow. Around the world, UN Women is connecting a vibrant young generation of women’s rights activists with the visionaries who created the Platform for Action, and everyone in between.
Together, they are Generation Equality. Their brave and energizing cry: finish the unfinished business of achieving gender equality. End imbalances in power and resources that have brought the world to the brink of a planetary crisis. Advance the rights of women and girls as indispensable to economic, social and environmental justice for all.
Progress and pushback. What needs to be done?
Remove discriminatory laws and practices
Progress: Between 2008 and 2017, 131 countries adopted legal reforms related to gender equality. Progress was most significant in sub-Saharan Africa.
Problem: Yet over 2.5 billion women and girls still live in countries with at least one discriminatory law. And even with legal equality on paper, gaps remain in upholding laws.
We can do better: Eliminate discriminatory laws. Close disparities in women and girls realizing their legal rights.
Make economies work for women
Progress: More women are in the paid workforce than ever before.
Problem: Globally, the gender gap in labour force participation is still 31 percentage points. Women do three times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men. Those aged 25-34, many of whom have small children, are 25 per cent more likely than men to live in extreme poverty.
We can do better: Expand universal care services. Uphold labour rights and create more decent work. Extend social protection and financial services. Harness new technology sothat it empowers women and girls.
Invest real money to achieve gender equality
Progress: The Platform for Action was never costed, although a growing number of countries use tools such as gender budgets to track whether or not public spending aligns with gender advances.
Problem: Shortfalls in financing are obvious across the board, keeping girls out of school, slowing progress on maternal mortality and constraining the response to gender-based violence, among many other issues.
We can do better: Mobilize and allocate resources in ways that are progressive, sustainable and gender-responsive.
Back women leaders at the forefront of change
Progress: Strong and autonomous feminist movements drive progress on gender equality. Women leaders have made their mark across public institutions, and in business, the arts, the media and beyond.
Problem: Spaces for women to lead and participate are shrinking. Some outspoken activists put their lives on the line. Globally, men control more than three-quarters of seats in parliaments. In 2018, only a dismal 7.7 per cent of peace agreements had provisions responsive to gender.
For more voices from Generation Equality and to get involved, visit https://www.unwomen.org/en/get-involved/beijing-plus-25
Join UN Women’s Generation Equality campaign today.
This is your chance to show the world that you stand on the right side of history. So, what are you waiting for? Voice your commitment to an equal future on social media, using #GenerationEquality! You can download cool GIFs, slogans and more in our social media package. Sign up for monthly newsletters for more stories from around the world.