Seven ways to change the worldConvened by UN Women, co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, together with civil society and youth, the Generation Equality Forum is taking place in Paris, from 30 June to 2 July. Here’s how it’s set to be catalytic and action-oriented, unveiling major investments, programmes, and policies that accelerate progress on women’s rights.
Equal rights and opportunities for all people, of all genders, everywhere. It’s not a new vision, but still a bold one, as no country in the world has achieved gender equality in all aspects of life.
Since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed more than 3.7 million lives globally and created and exacerbated a gender equality crisis. Even before COVID-19, almost one in three women worldwide experienced abuse; during the pandemic, calls to helplines increased five-fold in some countries. The World Economic Forum estimates that at the current rate of progress, women will not achieve pay or leadership equity with men for at least another 135.6 years.
The upcoming Generation Equality Forum in Paris, from 30 June – 2 July, is an inflection point to confront the gender equality crisis and spur major investments, policy, and programmes to advance gender equality and women’s rights.
Convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, in partnership with youth and civil society, the Forum will bring together governments, feminist leaders, youth, and change makers from every sector, to announce trailblazing gender equality investments, programmes, and policies. It will mark the beginning of a five-year action journey led by six Action Coalitions and a Compact on Women, Peace and Security, and Humanitarian Action.
Together, the Action Coalitions and the Compact have identified the most catalytic actions and targets needed to make irreversible progress by 2026. For instance, policies that recognize, reduce, and redistribute care work and create an additional 80 million decent care jobs; laws that protect 550 million more women and girls from gender-based violence; and doubling the proportion of women working in technology and innovation, while increasing investment in gender-responsive climate solutions.
As we head towards the Paris Forum, here are seven ways to change the world, and find out how you can #ActForEqual.
1. End gender-based violence
Putting an end to gender-based violence is essential for fulfilling the vision of a gender-equal world. An estimated 736 million women—almost one in three—have been subjected to intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life.
What needs to change? More governments must ratify international and regional conventions that prohibit all forms of gender-based violence, and strengthen, implement, and finance evidence-driven laws, policies, and action plans.
“Everyone agrees that women’s rights organizations need to receive better funding,” says Céline Bonnaire, Executive Director of the Kering Foundation and a member of the Action Coalition on Gender-Based Violence. “But when you have a look at where the money goes, women and girl-lead organizations are receiving just seven per cent of the global philanthropic funding.” That’s why the Action Coalition on ending gender-based violence is focused on increasing the amount of quality, flexible funding from governments, private sector, and other donors to girl-led and women’s organizations, as well as the broader need to scale-up and improve survivor-centred services.
“Everyone has a role to play in putting an end to violence against women,” says Bonnaire. “I want a future where there are no more women that have to be survivors of violence.”
2. Guarantee economic justice and rights
Women and girls are particularly disadvantaged in social protection systems. The gender gap in labour force participation has not shifted in 30 years, stagnating at 31 per cent. Young women, aged 15-29, are three times more likely to be outside the labour force and schools than young men.
Transforming the care economy is one key component of guaranteeing economic justice and rights for women and girls everywhere. Women spend, on average, triple the amount of time performing unpaid care and domestic work that men do, so it is essential that labour rights reward and represent care workers. Pay equity and decent work must become the norm.
Diane Ndarbawa, President of Manki Maroua, an association of girl-child mothers in Cameroon, and a member of the Action Coalition on Economic Justice and Rights, says, “Legal change is needed urgently because it will significantly speed up progress on gender equality and contribute to economic justice, as well as safeguard this progress in the long term.”
Supporting organizations that work with local communities, such as those offering expertise and financial backing to girls and women entrepreneurs, is another key action to drive progress, says Ndarbawa.
“We want to make our voices heard… so that [women] have access to decent work, a professional career, a business—and so they are not left behind,” she stresses.
3. Ensure bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights
Empowering women and girls to exercise their sexual and reproductive health and rights and make autonomous decisions about their own bodies free from coercion, violence, and discrimination is an urgent need and critical to achieving a gender-equal world.
Worldwide, 45 per cent of girls and women, aged 15-49, who are married or in unions cannot make decisions about their own bodies, such as deciding about contraception or saying no to sex. Further, women and girls in humanitarian emergencies face specific and exacerbated challenges—60 per cent of maternal deaths happen in countries affected by humanitarian crisis or fragile conditions.
The upcoming Generation Equality Forum in Paris is discussing key solutions, such as expanding comprehensive sexuality education and increasing the quality of and access to contraceptive services for millions more adolescent girls and women by 2026. The Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights is also focused on ensuring that, in five years’ time, 50 million more adolescent girls and women live in jurisdictions where they can access safe and legal abortion.
“For us, bodily autonomy is not just about removing individual friction in securing services, but also about shifting the broader market systems within which decisions are taken about what services to provide for whom and where,” says Kate Hampton, CEO of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and Action Coalition member. Central to this effort is placing the perspectives and needs of women and girls at the centre of decision-making, rather than treating them as an afterthought, says Hampton.
4. Feminist action for climate justice
A changing climate affects everyone, but it’s the world’s poorest and those in vulnerable situations, especially women and girls, who bear the brunt of environmental, economic, and social shocks and face greater health and safety risks.
Yet, women and girls are underrepresented in advancing climate justice across all levels and sectors, and climate interventions fail to adequately account for women’s and girls’ realities in climate crises, such as violence, healthcare needs, fraught economic resilience, and unpaid care and domestic work.
Joanita Babirye, from Uganda, is the Co-founder of Girls for Climate Action and member of the Action Coalition on Feminist Action for Climate Justice, and she knows this reality firsthand. “I grew up in a community where women and girls interact with the environment every day for food, income, and to take care of their households,” she shares. “We started having to travel longer distances to look for water. We noticed that changes to the seasons were having a negative impact on agriculture, which made us increasingly concerned.”
Babirye felt that something had to be done to further feminist action for climate justice, so she joined forces with other Action Coalition members from around the world to increase direct access to financing for gender-just climate solutions, enable women and girls to lead a just transition to a green economy, and increase the collection and use of data on gender and the environment.
“Women and girls should be able to demand climate justice, but this is only possible when they are equipped with the tools and knowledge to hold everyone accountable,” says Babirye. “The transformation needed is to make women and girls fully aware of the issues and leaders of the solutions.”
5. Foster technology and innovation for gender equality
What would the world look like if women and girls had equal opportunities to access, use, lead, and design technology and innovation? This question is central to the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality, which is set to bridge the gender digital divide across generations, double the proportion of women working in technology and innovation, and eliminate online gender-based violence.
Kyzzhibek Batyrkanova, a champion for women and girls in STEM and leader of Kyrgyzstan’s first Space Programme, believes that investing in feminist technology and innovation is a key part of building an inclusive and accountable future. “We encounter many negative comments that this programme will fail because girls and women are engaged in it. People do not even consider any other factors such as lack of funding and infrastructure,” she says.
To level the playing field for women and girls, the diverse partners that make up the Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation are proposing concrete steps to widen innovation ecosystems, embed transparency and accountability in digital technology, and expand inclusive digital economies.
“We need…to break the glass ceiling and expand opportunities for women and girls in science,” says Batyrkanova, who works to promote STEM education for young women and girls, including courses on soldering, 3D-modeling, and 3D-printing. “We want to show by our own example that girls are capable of anything, even reaching for the stars,” she shares.
6. Invest in feminist movements and leadership
Without increased action to advance feminist movements and leadership, we are far from achieving gender parity in political life. At the current rate of progress, equal gender representation will not be achieved in national legislative bodies until 2063. Feminist leaders, including trans, intersex and nonbinary people, indigenous women, young feminists, and other historically excluded people, have vital contributions to make today.
“I find it problematic that, even in 2021, we still need to justify why women can and should be leaders,” says Bogolo Joy Kenewendo, an economist from Botswana, leader, and member of the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. “A lot of work has been done since the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Why should I now, 26 years later, still have to justify my position in leadership?” she asks.
“Feminist organizations are on the front lines in their communities as we have seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They have been supporting the poorest and most vulnerable, fighting and advocating to ensure that those dependent upon on services, such as women’s shelters, can continue to have access. These are the people on the ground who are making change happen on a day-to-day basis, and we must support them,” says Karina Gould, Minister of International Development at the Government of Canada, and member of the Generation Equality Forum Action Coalition on Feminist Movements and Leadership.
“Canada signed up to co-lead the Action Coalition because it recognizes that investing in feminist movements and feminist leaders is critical for advancing gender equality”, says Minister Gould. “We see challenges and barriers to feminist movements and leadership that we want to help mitigate,” she adds. “A big challenge is funding. Less than one per cent of development assistance goes towards feminist organizations. We simply need more.”
Motivated by the same sentiments as Minister Gould, the Action Coalition on Advancing Feminist Movements and Leadership are putting forth actions to fund and support diverse feminist activists, organizations, and civic space for feminist action. By 2026, the Coalition aims to advance the leadership and decision-making power of women, girls, and nonbinary people around the world.
7. Put women in the heart and at the helm of peace, security, and humanitarian action
Two decades have passed since the landmark UN Security Council resolution 1325 was adopted, enshrining the role of women in securing and maintaining peace. Peace and equitable crisis response and disaster prevention are prerequisites for health, human security, and sustainable development.
As we convene for the Paris Forum, some two billion people are living in countries affected by conflict, another billion are caught up in protracted crises, and millions more face the ever growing threat of climate change. Even in the midst of COVID-19, guns were not silenced, and women continued their efforts to keep peace or act as first responders, often without much recognition or resources.
In conflict-affected countries, women’s representation in COVID-19 taskforces stands at a low 18 per cent. Although evidence shows that when women are at the negotiating table, peace agreements are more likely to last 15 years or longer, on average, women made up only 13 per cent of negotiators, six per cent of mediators, and six per cent of signatories in major peace processes between 1992 and 2019.
The policies and measures to change this are already in place, but implementation and investment is lacking, in women as peacebuilders, front-line humanitarian workers, and human rights defenders. At the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, a diverse coalition will announce how they plan to accelerate implementation of the agenda.
“Women and young people have a profound understanding of their countries’ peace and security situation, gender and power relations, and humanitarian needs, because they live this reality every single day,” says Mavic Cabrera Balleza, Founder and CEO of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, which is part of the Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action.
Balleza and the many diverse partners engaged in developing the Compact will leverage existing peace and security and humanitarian frameworks to dismantle discriminatory barriers and promote the protection of women's rights and the work of women peacebuilders, front-line responders, and women human rights defenders.
After more than 30 governments, United Nations entities, and global civil society organizations sign the Compat at the Forum, signatories are expected to implement these actions and report on progress over the next five years.
“When local populations are able to shape the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security and humanitarian agendas, it becomes inclusive, participatory, intersectional, and it fosters strong ownership,” says Balleza. “This is what we need to prioritize to effectively respond to the violent conflicts, the pandemic, and other humanitarian crises.”
You can #ActforEqual
2021 can be a landmark year for gender equality if we #ActForEqual and step up for gender equality. Register for the Generation Equality Forum by 27 June 2021 to join the multi-actor and inter-generational gathering and follow UN Women on social media to stay up to date with Forum news.
To learn more about each Action Coalition’s commitments, see the Forum’s microsite for commitment making.