As International Women’s Day took place across the globe, the United Nations kicked off a new session to assess the challenges ahead for gender equality, with a focus on how an intergovernmental platform could improve women’s empowerment.
RightsInfo was lucky enough to attend the United Nations Observance of International Women’s Day 2018, which also included the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Here’s what we learnt.
‘A Lack of Legal Protections’
The event at the UN last year. Image Credit: UN Women / Flickr
The event kicked off with words from the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, who remarked that gender inequality is the “unfinished business of our time”. He raised the lack of legal protections for women victims of sexual abuse as an obstacle to gender parity, alongside the gender pay gap, and the fact that much of women’s work globally goes unpaid.
We need to reinvigorate focus on gender equality
Gender parity has been reached in the United Nations for the first time at senior management level, which is part of Guterres’ strategy to “set change in motion at U.N. headquarters”. After some encouraging words from the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Miroslav Lajcak (“we need to reinvigorate focus on gender equality”), an array of accomplished and inspiring women took to the stage.
‘Putting Equality at the Heart of Everything’
Julie Bishop at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. Image Credit: Austrailian Embassy Jakarta / Flickr
First up was Julie Bishop MP, Australia’s first female Foreign Minister. Bishop highlighted the economic potential of women’s participation in political affairs and industry. That is why, she said, “gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are at the heart of Australia’s foreign policy”.
She also told the room of a little-known secret – the “female foreign minister’s club”, which meets every September. Bishop received the biggest laugh of the day when she said “I can tell you it is one of the most constructive meetings I attend”, and said it now has 32 members.
Next up, Geraldine Byrne Nason, Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Chair of the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women. During March 2018, the Commission invites civil society, country representatives and United Nations entities to New York.
The time is now, we’ve had enough. It’s time to rock the system.
Geraldine Byrne Nason
Together with these parties, the Commission will review global progress towards gender equality, identify challenges, and formulate policies to promote women’s empowerment. Geraldine received resounding applause when she closed with a quote from former Irish President, Mary Robinson, who “instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.” Geraldine reiterated, “the time is now, we’ve had enough, it’s time to rock the system.”
Empowering Rural Women
Image Credit: Joshua Newton / Unsplash
Other highlights included Monica Ramirez’s keynote speech, which focused on the theme of this year’s Women’s Day – empowering rural women and girls.
Today we celebrate the sisterhood of humanity, not the brotherhood of men
Ramirez, a lawyer by trade, founded the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, an NGO supporting farmworker women across the United States. She stated how women in rural communities are rising up and taking decisive steps even without the infrastructure required to do so, and spoke of the ‘seismic shift’ currently taking place.
UN Women’s Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka echoed these sentiments, and addressed the audience as ‘sisters’. In her words, “today we celebrate the sisterhood of humanity, not the brotherhood of men.”
More Women’s Stories On Screen
Black Panther star Danai Gurira. Image Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr
A ‘fireside chat’ with actor and activist Reese Witherspoon and Black Panther star and playwright Danai Gurira was equally illuminating.
Reese talked about how she founded production company Hello Sunshine seven years ago to get more women’s stories on-screen. She also discussed how, in response to the 2017 Weinstein allegations, she and fellow Hollywood actors gathered in October and began the Time’s Up movement.
It has raised over $20 million for its legal defence fund to provide aid for victims of workplace misconduct. Danai Gurira talked about the Peace Women of Liberia, who were the inspiration behind her play Eclipsed. A woman after RightsInfo’s own heart, she urged us to reconsider what stories we choose to amplify.
An illuminating panel discussion about women in work followed, featuring women from NGOs. The UK’s very own Marai Larasi discussed her work as Executive Director of Imkaan. Imkaan is a black and minority ethnic women’s organisation which works to prevent and respond to violence. She also co-chairs the End Violence Against Women Coalition.
All in all, a great day at the United Nations and a reminder of the need to feminise our world and systems to ensure everybody is in a position to reach happiness and fulfilment. Oh, and child prodigy Drew Olivia Tillman belted out an epic rendition of Katy Perry’s Roar and got the whole of the General Assembly Hall jumping on their feet, which was a pretty amazing sight!