Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 489, 9 March 2022

International Women’s Day: Gap between policies and realities on gender equality
Mallika Joseph

In the news
On 8 March, the world celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD). The UN’s theme for International Women’s Day 2022 was “gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow,” with a special emphasis on climate change. It was aligned with the priority theme of the 66th meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) held in March every year. This year’s priority theme is “achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes.” In his statement on IWD, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointed out that women primarily bear the brunt of climate change and environmental degradation. Further, he acknowledged that the clock on women’s rights was moving backwards in many areas, particularly due to the pandemic, and called for bold action and massive investment to address gender inequality.

Various UN agencies partnered with key stakeholders to showcase women’s footprints across disciplines and sectors. For instance, in partnership with Photoville in New York, the UN organized a photo exhibit profiling 14 women peacebuilders captured through the lens of local young women. In Thailand, UN Women offices showcased women climate activists from Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Similarly, governments, intergovernmental organizations, media houses, the corporate sector, and universities, found opportunities to highlight the accomplishments of local women peacebuilders and women leaders and their achievements. For instance, The Economist invited Nobel Laureate Malala Yusufzai to guest edit a special edition carrying compelling stories relating to girls’ education, be it conflict, climate change, digital inclusion or discrimination.

Issues at large
First, the significance of International Women’s Day. For over a century, IWD has been observed to acknowledge and recognize women’s socio-economic, political, and cultural achievements despite the various structural, cultural and institutional hurdles women face. The IWD also serves as a grim reminder of persisting bias and barriers that prevent the fulfilment of women’s full potential.

Second, the gap between policies and reality. There is a persistent gap between global frameworks and local realities. The lived experiences of women in conflict areas tell a different story than the multilateral instruments in place to protect the marginalized and vulnerable groups. And nationally, the gap between national policies and local implementation is steep due to varied opportunities pre-existing ethnic and cultural narratives in vogue in different parts of the same country.

Third, hurdles to gender justice and equality. Studies after studies have clearly shown that an inclusive economic model alone is sustainable. Regardless, the gender gap in labour, in wages, in corporate leadership, and in political representation is ever-persistent and in some instances, continues to increase. Segregation in professional sectors, for instance, a higher percentage of women in health care, in tourism and hospitality industry, in addition to the disproportionate burden of unpaid care are the biggest hurdles towards gender justice and equality.

Fourth, climate change and the vulnerability of women. Of those displaced due to climate change, about 80 per cent are women. Statistics show that more women, particularly more women of younger age, get killed due to climate-induced weather incidents. Between 2030 and 2050, the effects of climate change are expected to kill an additional 250,000 people, a majority of whom will be women. The impact of climate change will also be acutely felt by women from low-income and marginalized communities and, in many instances, migrants.

In perspective
At the centre of gender inequality is the need to challenge the power dynamics. As the UN Secretary-General rightly said, “gender inequality is essentially a question of power, in a male-dominated world and a male-dominated culture. Power relations must be reversed… Starting now, on International Women’s Day, it’s time to turn the clock forward for every woman and girl.”

Be it a peacebuilder at the forefront of a conflict, a mediator, a political leader, an accomplished sportswoman, or a migrant worker, women in all walks of life are re-negotiating the contours of their engagement and bringing down patriarchal frameworks. We are still a long way to go from breaking the victim narrative engulfing women. But days such as the IWD help in shifting the focus on women from victims to victors and champions charting a new pathway for a sustainable tomorrow.

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