Women’s rights and gender equality are being discussed and dissected more than ever before, with an increasing number of female leaders, working mothers and wives, international social movements and the everlasting feminist trends on social media in many countries.
One would assume that the world is on a steady and promising path to gender equality. Yet, UN Chief Antonio Guterres warned ahead of International Women’s Day, "Progress won over decades is vanishing before our eyes”.
The main issue that was discussed is the grim conditions in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, where women have been completely excluded from public office and the judiciary. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) was disbanded by the Taliban and was replaced with the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, this is an entity that inflicts strict dress code and travel restrictions of 75km without a mahram.
Women’s rights to return to work have been prohibited. The policy effectively prevents women from receiving an education since women are only allowed to be taught by a female teacher, despite most of them being prohibited from returning to work. Guterres called this a “crime against humanity”.
The policies introduced by the Taliban have very quickly pilfered the women’s rights that Afghanistan had steadily worked towards, and instead conveniently welcomed acts of violence against women and their family members. According to UN experts, the regime has erased 20 years of progress for women and girls’ rights and has “reverted to that of the pre-2002 era when the Taliban last controlled the country”.
It is now being reported that many women struggle to meet their basic needs without access to employment, psychological support, and healthcare. It is the victims of violence in particular who are truly suffering. “Women’s rights are being abused, threatened, and violated around the world,” explained Guterres in his General Assembly speech. While he did not name specific countries exactly, he discussed that “women’s sexual reproductive rights are being rolled back”.
This can be seen in the US, where the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, removing reproductive rights and causing 66 US abortion providers to close their doors, according to research by Guttmacher. Completely out of step from the rest of the world, the overturn is yet another political change that has caused major regression within a country that has made significant progress in women’s rights over the past few decades. This was also seen in Poland a year before, where a ban on abortions due to fetal defects was implemented, ending almost all abortions in the country.
Outside of the current circumstances in Afghanistan, Guterres continued to explain the maternal mortality to girls ousted from school, children forced into early marriage and caregivers losing their opportunities to work and support themselves.
Last year, the UN called for an investigation into reports of rape and sexual violence against Ukrainian women and children following Russia’s invasion. Another major disruption to gender equality includes the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, heavily impacting women’s health services that were already financially struggling.
With such a loss in progression, how should nations move up from here and prevent such damaging regression from occurring again? “Let’s be clear: global frameworks are not working for the world’s women and girls. They need to change” explained Guterres, stating the importance of “collective action” worldwide by governments, the private sector, and civil society.
The UN Women shared on Twitter “The pace of digital change demands that we contribute a global normative framework that ensures we harness technology towards the achievement of gender equality.”
Guterres stated that we must increase education, income and employment for women and girls in science and technology. The UN advises that the promotion of laws, policies, budgets and institutions that advance gender equality need to be pushed forcefully in order to accelerate progress towards a gender-equal world.
Edited By: Yasmin Hailes
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