The United Nations is not a finished product. And perhaps it never will be. UN Women as the youngest entity of the United Nations is a good example for the continuing renewal of the UN. It was ‘born’ in 2010, bringing together resources and mandates of four previously distinct parts of the UN system. By creating this institution, the UN General Assembly established one entity to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. Considering that not one single country on this planet has yet achieved gender equality, the task of UN Women is tremendous. Worldwide, women suffer violence and discrimination, face occupational segregation and gender wage gaps and are under-represented in political and economic decision-making processes. In fact, gender inequality is one of the most persistent human rights violations of our time.
UN Women takes on this challenge and is a strong champion for women and girls, basing its work on landmark agreements such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Most recently, UN Women has launched its HeForShe campaign with the prominent support of the English actress Emma Watson. In the heart of the campaign lies the idea that gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue that affects all of us – women and girls, men and boys. We all benefit socially, politically and economically from gender equality in our everyday lives. When women are empowered, the whole of humanity benefits. Gender equality liberates not only women but also men, from prescribed social roles and gender stereotypes. As Emma Watson put it in her speech that went viral: Men and boys should ‘have permission to be vulnerable and human too—reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.´ Gender equality is not a question about men or women nor a fight between the sexes. Gender equality is a shared vision of human progress for all.
A country example shows how far we are still from a gender equal world: The Dominican Republic, a middle-sized state in the Caribbean, exemplifies the long, rocky road ahead. One in five Dominican adolescents has been pregnant at least once, the maternity mortality rate is almost double the projected Millennium Development Goals, the rate of intimate feminicides is one of the highest in the region, and every-day sexism is part of the social reality. UN Women has established a National Programme in this country which aims to change public policies, i.e. the structural framework, in order to accelerate the progress towards gender equality. However, the underlying challenge is to change mentalities and perceptions. Men who are socially pressured to ´be a man´, own as many women as possible, be the strong part in a relationship, the provider in a family, the ‘macho’ and ‘tigre’. Women who perceive their societal role as limited to birth-givers, care-takers and accessories of men. Public policies are an important starting point for accelerating the social transformation to a more equal society in which everyone can live a life free of stereotypes and prescribed gender roles. UN Women is working towards this change – unfortunately, like many UN entities, with very limited resources. Transforming politics and minds – as long as it might take – will eventually lead to a full realisation of human rights for everyone. This is worth all the efforts.