International Women’s Day: “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” ​​​​​​​

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8 Mar 2021

International Women’s Day: “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” ​​​​​​​

A very happy International Women’s Day to all.

I am proud to join you in commemoration of this important day.

Women's empowerment and gender equality are not new issues. Women have been fighting for their rights for centuries. The women’s rights movement came of age in the 20th century. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserted the equal rights of men and women; and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women outlined a vision of gender equality.

But despite the advances made in last several decades, the state of women’s rights remains dire. Inequality and discrimination are the norm, everywhere. Everywhere, women are worse off than men, simply because they are women. And now, regretfully, because of the COVID-19 pandemic in several places, progress towards gender equality and women's inclusion have slowed to a standstill – and in some cases, have even been reversed.

Gender equality is the prerequisite for a better world. Only through the equal participation of women can we benefit from the intelligence, experience and insights of all of humanity. Women’s equal participation is vital to stability, helps prevent conflict, and promotes sustainable, inclusive development.

One of the key aspects of women empowerment is ensuring inclusion of women in leadership roles and their participation in decision-making processes. However, from governments to corporate boards to awards ceremonies, women are still excluded from the top table. Peace negotiations still exclude women, twenty years after all countries pledged to include them. Many countries still have policies that penalize women. Male-dominated power structures underpin our economies, our political systems and our corporations.

A hidden layer of inequality is built into the institutions and structures that govern all our lives – but are based on the needs of just half the population. The writer Caroline Criado Perez, a British feminist author, journalist and activist, calls this “default man” thinking: the unquestioned assumption that men are standard, and women the exception. This has led to the biggest data gap in the world. Very often, women are not counted, and their experiences don’t count.

I reiterate Secretary-General’s call earlier today, to “countries, companies and institutions to adopt special measures and quotas to advance women’s equal participation and achieve rapid change. As we recover from the pandemic, support and stimulus packages must target women and girls specifically, including through investments in women-owned businesses and the care economy. Pandemic recovery is our chance to leave behind generations of exclusion and inequalities.”

Gender equality is a question of power. We must urgently transform and redistribute power, if we are to safeguard our future and our planet. That is why all men should support women’s rights and gender equality. Women have equaled and outperformed men in almost every sphere. It is time to change the systems that prevent women from achieving their potential. Our power structures have evolved gradually over thousands of years. One further evolution is long overdue. The 21st century must be the century of women’s equality.

As the Secretary-General said, it is time to and build an equal future. This is the job for everyone – and for the benefit of everyone.

Let us all play our part in making it so.

Thank you.

Remarks by: UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Stefano Del Col