A quarter century after the Beijing World Conference on Women, political leaders, corporate executives and activists convened again to address gender equality. This time they brought money.
“One-quarter isn’t equality. Equality is one-half,” says Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of United Nations Women.
World leaders don’t often gather with the sole purpose of investing money in women’s advancement. They don’t even typically gather for major discussions on the issue; it seems to happen only about once every quarter-century.
The last time was in 1995 for the Beijing World Conference on Women. That was when Hillary Clinton, the first lady at the time, delivered her now-iconic “women’s rights are human rights” speech, considered so audacious back then that officials at home had advised her to soften it. China even cut off airing her speech in the convention center as she was speaking.
In 1995, Hillary Clinton addressed a special session of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, declaring that “human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”
By the end of that summit, almost every country in the world had committed to the “full and equal, participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life.” It was considered groundbreaking even though activists saw the commitment as toothless.
More than two decades later and after a pandemic that reversed many advances in gender equality world leaders gathered in Paris with a heightened sense of urgency, committing to a host of new ambitious goals on gender equality. And this time, with significant financial commitments on the table.
At the Generation Equality Forum convened by U.N. Women, political leaders, corporate executives and activists unveiled a total of $40 billion to advance gender equality most likely the largest dollar amount ever dedicated to the issue. The funding will go toward instituting hundreds of new gender-focused policy proposals on issues including gender-based violence, which spiked globally during the coronavirus pandemic, economic empowerment and access to reproductive health services.
“Women are just one-quarter of those who are managers, they are one-quarter of parliamentarians around the world, they are one-quarter of those who negotiate climate change, less than one-quarter of those who negotiate peace agreements,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of U.N. Women, said at the opening ceremony. “One-quarter isn’t equality. Equality is one-half.”
Mrs. Clinton returned to the stage and urged world leaders and activists to “continue the progress that was started and spread throughout the world 26 years ago.”
“Looking back, I believe we have made progress not near enough and we have to recommit ourselves to going even further,” she said.
Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state, delivered a speech alongside Julieta Martinez, a Chilean activist, at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris.
President Emmanuel Macron of France noted that Covid-19 turned out to be “an anti-feminist virus” that pushed more women around the world into poverty, nudged more girls out of school and locked women in with their abusers.
Significant nongovernmental pledges were also announced, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said it would put $2.1 billion toward gender equality work over five years, one of the organisation’s largest-ever single commitments.
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