Impossible to meet UN’s gender equality goal by 2023, deep biases globally

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The United Nations goal of achieving gender equality by 2030 is impossible to attain because of deeply rooted biases against women around the world in heath, education, employment and the halls of power, the United Nations said in a report Thursday.

“The world is failing women and girls,” UN Women, the agency promoting gender equality, and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs said in “The Gender Snapshot 2023” report.

According to the UN’s findings, “active resistance to gender equality and chronic underinvestment are key factors in slow progress and, in some cases, reversals of gains already made”. It said “unequal access to sexual and reproductive health, unequal political representation, economic disparities and a lack of legal protection, among other issues, prevent tangible progress”.

Women in Seoul protest South Korean abortion laws in July 2018. Photo: AFP

Assistant Secretary General Maria-Francesca Spatolisano told a news conference at the launch of the report, that gender equality was becoming “an ever increasingly distant goal”.

She pointed to recent setbacks for women and girls living in fragile and conflict-affected countries, the impact of climate change, and “active resistance to gender equality and chronic underinvestment” that are slowing and in some cases reversing progress.

The report, which assesses women’s progress in achieving the 17 UN goals for 2030 on issues ranging from poverty and education to climate change and human rights, paints a grim picture of the gender gap, and the “lacklustre commitment” globally to equality for women.

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On a key goal of eradicating extreme poverty, the report said, one in every 10 women today, or 10.3 per cent, lives on less than US$2.15 a day – the extreme poverty level. If current trends continue, it said, 8 per cent of the world’s female population, 342.4 women and girls, will still be living in extreme poverty in 2030, most in sub-Saharan Africa.

While overall access to education is rising for girls and boys, the UN report said millions of girls never enter a classroom or complete their education, especially in conflict areas. The goal calls for every child to receive quality secondary school education, yet in Afghanistan, it said, the Taliban rulers have banned education for girls beyond elementary school.

“In 2023, up to 129 million girls and young women may be out of school globally,” the report said. “At current rates of progress, an estimated 110 million will remain out of school in 2030.”

Afghan burka-clad women protest for their right to education. Photo: AFP

As for the goal of decent work, the report said less than two-thirds of women aged 25 to 54 – 61.4 per cent – were in the labour force in 2022 compared to 90.6 per cent of men, and the women were paid far less.

“In 2019, for each dollar men earned in labour income, women earned only 51 US cents,” it said.

In jobs critical to the future in science, technology and innovation, the report said, “ongoing gender barriers limit women’s roles”, which is evident as the field of artificial intelligence takes off.

“In 2022, inventors listed on international patent applications were five times less likely to be female than male,” it said. “In 2020, women held only one in three research positions worldwide and only one in five science, technology, engineering and maths jobs.”

People attend against sexual violence and gender inequality in Melbourne on March 15, 2021. Photo: AFP

And in getting seats at decision-making tables, the report said, globally women hold only 26.7 per cent of parliamentary seats, 35.5 per cent of local government seats, and only 28.2 per cent of management positions at work.

As for the goal of promoting peace, the report said, conflicts are escalating around the world and “a shocking 614 million women and girls lived in conflict-affected contexts in 2022, 50 per cent higher than in 2017”.

The report by UN Women and ECOSOC warned that the continuing failure to make the achievement of gender equality a priority will put the achievement of all 17 goals “in peril”.


Dozens call for end to violence against women and girls in rally ahead of International Women’s Day

Dozens call for end to violence against women and girls in rally ahead of International Women’s Day

It called funding for programmes promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women “inadequate, unpredictable and inconsistently distributed among countries”, saying between 2020 and 2021 this government aid amounted to “a mere 4 per cent of total bilateral aid, a notable decrease from 5 per cent in previous years”.

The report said an estimated US$6.4 trillion per year is needed across 48 developing countries – covering nearly 70 per cent of the population in developing countries – to achieve gender equality in key areas including ending poverty and hunger and supporting more equal participation of women in society by 2030.

If government expenditures stay on their current trajectory, it said, there will be an annual shortfall of US$360 billion – which the UN is appealing for.

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