Seventy-five years after its founding, and faced with a new round of unprecedented challenges, the United Nations remains a global force for advancing human rights, defending the world’s most marginalized, and forging collective action to address our most difficult problems.
The challenges of 2020, including COVID-19, rising nationalism and authoritarianism, and increased conservative pushback to human rights has made the UN’s efforts to advance gender justice more important than ever.
Prioritizing Gender Equality in COVID Response
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Member States have mobilized to learn lessons from each other about how to effectively address the new and unprecedented pandemic while ensuring the crisis and recovery efforts are inclusive and responsive to the needs of those often left behind. Most recently, IWHC worked with other feminist and human rights organizations to advocate with Member States on an omnibus resolution that addresses the impacts of COVID-19 and charts a way forward for countries, communities, and people.
COVID-19 has exacerbated existing gender inequalities, increased gender-based violence and child, early, and forced marriage, and reduced access to education. The resolution recognizes these impacts and addresses the multiple and intersecting forms of violence, discrimination, stigmatization, exclusion, and inequalities that are disproportionately experienced by women and girls. Specifically, the resolution calls on governments to:
- Ensure sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and universal access to health and social services, without discrimination.
- Implement measures to recognize, reduce, and redistribute women’s and girls’ disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work, including through poverty eradication measures, labor policies, public services, and gender-responsive social protection programs.
- Maintain and designate protection shelters, hotlines and help desks, health and support services, and legal protection and support as essential services for all women and girls to counter sexual and gender-based violence.
- Ensure full, equal, and meaningful participation in decision-making and equal access to leadership and representation in all spheres of society for women in COVID-19 response.
The advocacy of IWHC and allied organizations on the omnibus resolution guaranteed that it incorporated some of the actions prioritized by feminist movements and articulated in the principles of the transformative Feminist Response to COVID-19.
Forging a Feminist Future
2020 marked another key UN anniversary: 25 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the watershed document that declared “women’s rights are human rights.” IWHC played a critical role in Beijing 25 years ago and continues to work with a diverse coalition of feminist activists to secure its promise and advance a new, bolder agenda, which is outlined in the Feminist Declaration.
While commemoration plans were disrupted by COVID-19, the United Nations and the global feminist movement continued to press forward activities to both celebrate Beijing and push for a more progressive and inclusive agenda. At the 64th Commission on the Status of Women in March, Member States adopted a political declaration reaffirming the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and recommitting to its full, effective, and accelerated implementation. Despite pushback from regressive governments, the declaration is a strong commitment to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights free of coercion, discrimination, and violence. At a high-level meeting in October, Member States expressed their support for sexual and reproductive rights and urgent action to advance gender equality. In one of the event’s strongest moments, H.E. Mr. Mogens Jensen of Denmark delivered a statement on behalf of 82 countries urging governments to invest in sexual and reproductive health and ensure access to services, while recognizing the critical role feminist movements and civil society play in securing progress for women and girls worldwide.
The celebrations will stretch into 2021 with the Generation Equality Forums—gatherings convened by UN Women and co-hosted by Mexico and France—engaging governments, civil society, and the private sector to set goals and mobilize resources to achieve transformative change. IWHC is honored to be a lead of the Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Rights (SRHR) Action Coalition, one of six coalitions created to galvanize feminists and women’s rights activists to push much-needed progress with governments and other critical stakeholders.
Celebrating 75 Years of the United Nations
Throughout its 75-year history, the United Nations has been a leader on women’s rights. From the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Commission on the Status of Women to the International Conference on Population and Development, the Human Rights Council, and groundbreaking resolutions like 1325 on women, peace, and security, the UN has long been a space to push against the status quo to advance gender equality.
The declaration commemorating the UN’s anniversary continues this legacy by centering the needs and perspectives of women and girls and recognizing that equal and active participation of women, at all levels, is crucial for peace and sustainable development. Critically, the declaration acknowledges that our struggles—climate change, human rights, justice—are interrelated and, as a result, the UN calls for international cooperation, coordination, and solidarity to achieve a healthier, more prosperous, and just world as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals.
The COVID-19 pandemic has once again demonstrated the need for multilateralism and a global commitment to leave no one behind. Throughout its 75-year history, the UN has championed multilateral engagement to advance human rights and has been an invaluable partner in fighting for women’s rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and gender justice worldwide. The achievements of this year prove not only the power of collective action at the United Nations, but also the centrality of feminist movements in building a more peaceful, just, and equal world for us all.
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown