Still Not Equal: How to Make the Generation Equality Forum of May-July 2020 a Transformational Moment

Last year, France and Mexico agreed to host the Generation Equality Forum in 2020. This Forum, convened by UN Women and organized in close partnership with civil society, aims to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action, and give new impetus to the women’s rights initiatives born from this conference. This session took stock of the current situation, shared examples of good practices that can be replicated or scaled-up as well as put forward further commitments, in preparation for this global women’s rights milestone.

Date : 12 November 2019

Paris, France – Grande Halle de La Villette, Auditorium

Watch the full debate

Speakers

  • Moderator: Annette Young, Host, The 51 Percent, France 24
  • Marlène Schiappa, Minister of State for Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination, Ministry of Women’s Rights, France
  • Martha Delgado-Peralta, Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Mexico
  • Mildred Nzau, Youth Expert, AU-EU Youth Cooperation Hub
  • Anita Bhatia, Deputy Executive Director, Resource Management, Sustainability and Partnerships, United Nations Women
  • Alexandra Palt, Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer, L’Oréal Group; Executive Vice President, L’Oréal Foundation

Key takeaways from the discussion

  • The session started with moderator Annette Young recalling the words of Hillary Clinton in 1995, at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing: “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” She then proceeded to ask all panelists how far we had come since Beijing.
  • Minister Schiappa said that Beijing was a time of assessment, a beginning, whereas now, the gender balance goals are shared worldwide. “We are currently in a feminist transition period and there is still a long way to go for laws to be fully implemented in real life. Whatever the country, when you are born a woman, you don’t have the same opportunities in life than a man.” The situation is worse in developing or war-torn countries, but developed countries are also doing poorly with still high gender-based violence and inequalities. She reminded that all of the G7 countries, together with Chile, Australia, India, Senegal and Rwanda, pledged to implement a law grounded in the recommendations of the Gender Equality Advisory Council and that France had actively engaged a feminist diplomacy in the past months. She added that Gender Equality has been declared an important national cause by President Macron. France was the first country to support financially the Mukwege Foundation, it also supports the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA). She was positive that the Forum Generation Equality organized under the aegis of UN Women, with a first event in Mexico in April and then one in Paris in July will be the opportunity to build an involved new generation for which gender equality is the new norm. She said that in international conferences, all attendees tend to agree with such causes, so the real fight is now to involve the outside world, anti-feminist groups doing some pushback on women’s rights outside of international arenas whose opinions currently prevail.
  • Marta Delgado shared some shocking numbers to illustrate how slow the pace of change is: under the current situation, gender parity is believed to be achieved in 1408 years and equal pay for equal work in more than 200 years worldwide. The Forum will therefore be a great opportunity to accelerate things, to start a disruptive discussion to speed up measures and consciences, not just with government but also with civil society, mass media, private sector, academia, to move forward equality for men and women. She pointed that Mexico has always defended women on the international stage, but now needs to bridge the gap between these multinational aspirations and what really happens at a national level. Although there are now more women in the Congress, in the President’s cabinet or in other leading roles, there’s still rampant gender violence, impunity, lack of justice, and the need of a better law implementation. “We need cultural change so that men respect women and establish a real rule of law.” Ms. Delgado stressed that the Forum will not only reflect the needs of Western women, but will include minorities and also engage all communities of the Global South through a various range of media, and therefore the public conversation will have an even broader reach than 25 years ago. Now is the time to “strengthen the international governance and talk about the women right as legitimate and proper.”
  • Anita Bhatia reckoned that there has been progress since Beijing and will in some countries to move forward, but that is definitely not enough. All indicators clearly show that gender equality is still far: 12 million girls are still married off before turning 18, 130 million girls still do not go to school, less than 25% of Parliament representatives are women and less than 6% of heads of state and government are women. According to her, recent movements such as #Metoo and Time’s up have given us the false impression that things are changing. Although they are in some countries, in many others, women’s rights which were taken for granted are now being crushed. “White supremacists and jihadist have one thing in common: the hate of women. We have to run to stay in place, especially about sexual and reproductive rights,” she lamented. “There is a hunger in the world, social movements, for more just, equitable and inclusive society, which cannot be built with 50% being left out. We need all stake holders to catalyze this movement, we need everyone to come to the table. We want to celebrate Beijing, but we also want to create aspiration for urgent change.” She added that the Forum platform will be used to create action coalitions of countries on specific themes to accelerate ambitions and have a business plan for gender equality worldwide. These coalitions will have to be specific, inclusive, and backed by financial commitments. Their goals will also have to be specific, timebound and inspirational and all stakeholders’ efforts toward them will be monitored and reported.
  • Alexandra Palt gave the perspective of the corporate sector on the subject. Although there has been progress made, especially in big corporations where there is a lot of scrutiny, many equalities remain in everyday products and services, as a lot of them are designed by men, and are thus biased. In the digital world, only 11% of women have positions in artificial intelligence, which leads to non-inclusive societies. She added that this is why the L’Oréal Foundation focuses on the support of women in Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She also said that we still don’t have the right studies and data available to know the impact of climate change on women, although it impacts their lives dramatically and this is another field of researched that should be explored. She explained that we are in a unique transformational phase that has never occurred and to take up the challenges ahead, we will need research. Scientific decisions today are gender based, only 25% or researchers are women. If we want to have informed political, scientific, corporate decision-making, we need more female scientists. Ms. Palt stated that having 30% of women in a company’s top management is the tipping point to make that company culture change. “The lack of women is often not an issue of competence but an issue of not looking at women having the competences,” and this is why she is in favor of having positive, voluntary action and quotas for women, as unfortunately, change has not happened organically in the past 50 or 60 years. There is a need of political will to change mindsets, and this will also comes from civil society. “Civil society is better when women have better rights.” She concluded: “We did not make this clear enough to everybody: a society that is working is an inclusive society where we have gender equality.”
  • Mildred Nzau acknowledged all that has been done by the women who fought at the time of the Beijing Platform for Action. But looking forward, she said that there is so much space where young women can contribute. The #HeForShe movement had some important impact and made some structures more receptive. But more positive transformation in the culture needs to be done and new issues women are facing need to be addressed in 2020 such as cyberbullying, online harassment or feminicides. Ms. Nzau linked the digital revolution with the gender revolution and explored ways to make what happens in Mexico resonate in Africa as well. In order to bring the grand gender equality business plan to the ground, she stressed the role of role models, youth and media, because they “create a new normal and break down the stereotypes” for everybody. She insisted that solutions should come from the ground up and that young generations should have the opportunity to co-design, influence and have a say in the discussion because they have the ability to think outside the box. Leaders should also put their money where their mouth are and finance programs empowering women. “Having a system where young women can actually be listened to will make the difference.”

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