Three New Reports Issue an Urgent ‘Wake-Up Call’ for Gender Equality

Twenty years after the U.N.’s ‘Platform for Action,’ conditions for some women around the world have gotten worse.

Jodie Rivas of Masaya, Nicaragua, suffered physical and psychological abuse by her husband, who in 2012 attempted to kill her by stabbing her seven times. (Photo: Hector Retamal/Getty Images)

Mar 9, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Twenty years ago at a U.N. conference in Beijing, Hillary Rodham Clinton framed women’s equality as a crucial human rights issue. “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all,” she told delegates from more than 189 countries. This past weekend, the British actor and U.N. Women goodwill ambassador Emma Watson used the same rhetoric to advocate for gender equality with her “He for She” initiative. And three new studies released Monday prove there’s still a long way to go before the world comes close to achieving gender equality.

U.N. Women’s The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Turns 20 dubs itself “a wake-up call” about a world that, in some ways, has gotten worse for many girls and women since 1995, when world leaders gathered in Beijing to adopt the “Platform for Action,” an ambitious series of initiatives aimed at achieving gender equality.

While school enrollment rates have generally increased for girls in the last two decades, the rate of violence against women is still “unacceptably high,” although data wasn’t available to compare it globally over time. More than one in three women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime, the U.N. report found.

Africa had the highest proportion of women—45.6 percent—reporting either physical and/or sexual violence, but the persistence of victim-blaming attitudes and social norms even in Western regions isn’t helping to end it. In one example, more than half of European men surveyed in 2010 believed that domestic violence was a result of women’s behavior, according to the U.N. report.

Closing the Gender Gap, a report from UCLA’s World Policy Analysis Center, also released Monday, shows that progress toward gender equality has been extremely slow. More than 150 countries lack protections crucial to encouraging women’s economic participation; just 64 countries constitutionally guarantee women protection from discrimination at work or guarantee equal pay for equal work; 61 countries provide girls with less legal protection from early marriage as they do boys.

The Clinton Foundation and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s No Ceilings report confirmed that advancements for women have been made in legal rights, health care, and education, but women’s voices are still underrepresented in leadership positions across the board. Just as the U.N. report found, the No Ceilings report showed that social norms hugely affect gender equality. For instance, in 61 countries representing a quarter of the global population, nearly 50 percent of men and 30 percent of women believed that women should not have the right to initiate a divorce.
Clinton is scheduled to headline the United Nations’ annual “Women Empowerment Principles” gathering in New York on Tuesday, a day after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for governments to complete the work they started in Beijing. The three new reports about the state of gender equality around the globe provide added urgency to her keynote speech.
Twenty years after the Beijing conference, world leaders will be forced to again consider the ways they can improve gender equality around the globe, and in doing so, reframe gender equality as a human rights issue.