UN chief calls for action as women's rights face backsliding, violence

"In conflict zones around the globe, women are suffering most from wars waged by men," said Antonio Guterres at the Commission on the Status of Women

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres emphasises the disproportionate impact of conflicts on women and calls for immediate action (photo: National Herald archives)
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres emphasises the disproportionate impact of conflicts on women and calls for immediate action (photo: National Herald archives)


UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has stressed the critical urgency of protecting women's rights, now endangered by regressing achievements, escalating violence, and a widening digital gender divide.

Addressing the opening of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the pivotal forum dedicated to promoting and safeguarding the rights of women and girls worldwide, the UN chief on Monday stressed the disproportionate impact of wars on women.

"In conflict zones around the globe, women and girls are suffering most from wars waged by men," he said, urging immediate ceasefires and humanitarian aid, Xinhua news agency reported.

He highlighted the dire circumstances in Gaza, where reportedly more than two-thirds of casualties and injuries during Israel's military actions involve women and girls, and pointed out alarming reports of sexual violence against Palestinian women during detentions, house raids, and checkpoints in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Guterres also voiced concern over the situation faced by women in other countries, including Afghanistan and Sudan.

The Secretary-General stressed that despite evidence that women's full participation makes peacebuilding much more effective, the number of women in decision-making roles is falling.

"The facts are clear: Women lead to peace," he said, calling for more funding and new policies to boost women's participation and investment in women peacebuilders.

The UN Chief also emphasised a growing digital gender divide, noting the dominance of men in digital technologies, particularly in artificial intelligence.

He cautioned that algorithms controlled by men might embed disparities across multiple life facets, observing that the design of systems by male leaders and technologists frequently neglects women's needs, bodies, and essential rights.

"It's time for governments, civil society and the Silicon Valleys of the world to join a massive effort to bridge the digital gender divide and ensure women have decision-making roles in digital technology at all levels," he urged.

Guterres also drew attention to the pressing need for women to hold leadership roles, particularly in financial institutions.

He highlighted the stark gender disparity in finance, with more than eight of ten Finance Ministers and more than nine out of ten central bank governors being men.

The top UN official emphasised that dismantling structural barriers is crucial for achieving gender parity in leadership roles.

"Overwhelmingly male-dominated financial institutions need to dismantle the structural barriers that are blocking women from leadership roles," he said.

Drawing parallels with the UN's successful achievement of full gender parity among senior management and leaders worldwide, he urged governments, banks and businesses to replicate these efforts, emphasising that change does not happen by accident.

In concluding his speech, the Secretary-General called on the global community to rally together for gender equality, highlighting the role of the CSW as a driving force for transformative change.

He advocated for joint actions to eradicate poverty in all its forms.

"Let's do it by investing in women and girls, betting on women and girls, and pushing for peace and dignity for women and girls everywhere," Guterres said.

The President of the General Assembly, Dennis Francis, continued the call to action, highlighting the urgency of intensifying efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With the world currently lagging attaining the goals, particularly the goal to eradicate extreme poverty, Francis revealed a stark reality: "Currently, one in every ten women lives in extreme poverty -- I repeat -- one in every 10 women."

Highlighting the necessity of a comprehensive strategy, Francis emphasised the importance of ensuring equal access to resources, implementing social protection policies sensitive to gender, and adopting measures to eliminate gender-based discrimination that restricts women's participation in leadership and decision-making positions.

The 68th session of the CSW is taking place from March 11 to 22 at the UN headquarters in New York, under the priority theme of "Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective".

Annually convened, the CSW stands as the foremost worldwide assembly of civil society members, governmental figures, policymakers, and specialists, dedicated to evaluating advancements in gender equality, deliberating on critical concerns, and forging consensus on initiatives aimed at enhancing the well-being of women and girls globally.

The program includes a diverse lineup of activities such as meetings, panel discussions, interactive dialogues, ministerial roundtables, and intergovernmental negotiations, among others.

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Published: 12 Mar 2024, 1:50 PM