The UK’s Recent Commitment to Global Gender Equality is a Good Start
It is fair to concede that progress is being made in the field of gender development. For example, whereas in 1911 only two countries in the world allowed women to vote, the right has now almost become universal; only a handful of countries have not yet made the advancement. Even the amount of women represented in government, although still relatively small, is continuing to grow. However, despite the many developments which have been made, women not only in certain pockets in the world but universally, are still faced with inequality and injustice. Although a simplistic concept, it is crucial for the world to continue to understand that assuring equality to women is one thing and delivering it is another.
Former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet is someone who needs to continue to be pushed into the forefront of gender development news. As the current leader of recently launched UN Women, she has given the world a stark reminder of the gender problems that were arguably beginning to slowly fade away from priority lists and public attention. She hopes that the topic of gender development, which is regarded as being under resourced and completely fragmented under the UN, will now be steered in a completely new and positive direction.
In its first flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice, UN Women has reminded the world of these problems. With a focus on making the “justice system work for women,” it highlights the need to continue working on the many political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights that women still do not have. It reminds us of the fact that women continue to be denied control of their bodies, that in many cases they struggle to be protected from violence, and that the voice of women in important decision-making processes is still lacking.
The statistics seem to get direr as the report goes on. It reminds us that in more than 40 countries women are excluded from certain jobs and that they continue to be underpaid by between 10% and 30% than men. It also demonstrates that in 57 countries, “on average 10 percent of women say they have experienced sexual assault, but of these only 11 percent reported it.” To make matters worse, 127 countries still do not criminalize rape within marriage and 50 countries have a lower legal age of marriage for women than for men.
However, despite the initial goals that UN Women has set out to help issues such as those listed – goals it claims are “proven and achievable” – change will not happen without support. Aid, as with many other agencies such as UN Women, has been crucial in determining success or failure. However, the goals that have been set out by the body are vast, costly and will certainly not happen over night. Currently, the goal is to achieve a $500m budget by 2013. When these big targets are coupled with the need for financial commitment, which is becoming increasingly difficult for governments worldwide, it is worrying. But at the same time, it makes me wonder why financial commitment to the advancement of those who make up more than half of the people on this planet should even be in question.
There was recently initial concern because even the Democratic Republic of Congo, its citizens being some of the poorest in the world, as well as and Saudi Arabia, a patriarchal society which does not yet permit women to drive, had pledged funds to UN Women and the UK had not. However, significant progress in need of praise has been made. Thankfully, despite originally limited action, the international development secretary Andrew Mitchell has announced UK funding of £10m each year for the next two years. This promising news means that the UK will now be the second most generous donor behind Spain, making it a country that has not ignored fundamental gender problems but one that has dedicated absolutely pertinent funds to the group.
Alongside the UK’s numerous involvements globally, it is fundamental not to lose sight of the fact that, until solved, tackling gender problems should always be at the top of its list of things to do. Living in a world where 603 million women live in countries that do not consider domestic violence to be a crime is a world that affects everyone. Also, the problem is much closer to home than people think. The UK also has many gender advancements, particularly in the fields of pay and political representation, which need to be made.
Therefore, it is fundamental that the UK, along with others, continues its support for UN Women in whatever ways possible: morally as well as financially. If support does not continue, when the preliminary two year aid period with the UK is up and UN Women has to demonstrate what it has achieved, it will exhibit little and will have merely become another agency that struggled to get much done. With continued support, I am confident it will be able to implement its goals, meaning it will certainly stand up as the “global champion for women and girls” that it claims to be.
Posted on July 9, 2011, in Coalition Government, Foreign Affairs, Looking Forward and tagged andrew mitchell, development, dfid, gender, international development, Michelle Bachelet, un women, united nations. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.