Last week we asked our readers on Facebook what they wanted to know about gender equality from Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.
1. Paul Amofa from Facebook asks: Many women in developing countries do not have a job and instead depend on their husbands. What measures are you taking with governments to reduce this kind of dependency and make women less vulnerable?
Answer: We are promoting gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment, especially for the poorest women. This includes education and training, and policies and laws to ensure fair and equal treatment and to end discrimination and violence against women and girls. Overall, we find that education and equal opportunity are essential but not enough to end women’s dependency and vulnerability, especially for the rural poor. We also need to promote social and cultural norms that perpetuate the view that women and men are equal in worth, dignity and rights and should enjoy mutual trust and respect and shared responsibilities. We also look at the flip side of the coin, on men’s dependency on women for all the work women do in the household – work that is unpaid but needs to be done and shared more equitably, especially if women are working outside the house.
2. Aslam Levy from Facebook asks: My question on gender relates to teenage pregnancies and female education. What can we do for young girls who get pregnant and are forced to leave school, particularly when the young boys involved are able to continue their schooling? How can we either prevent these situations from happening or at least help young women in such positions catch up with the young men who enter the job market earlier and gain valuable experience?
Answer: Thanks for this question. First of all, we need to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Every girl and boy has a right to the information and services they need for sexual and reproductive health to make informed decisions and protect their health and their futures. Secondly, we need to find ways to prevent girls from leaving school. This can be as simple as providing basic facilities such as separate toilets for girls in rural schools. If girls do get pregnant, they should be allowed to stay in school and finish their education. We need to end the double standards so that boys and girls enjoy equal access to education, equal rights and equal opportunities.
3. Cathleen Tin from Facebook asks: Violence against women is a serious issue. Much work is being done to educate women about their rights, enhance their economic power in the household, etc. However, very little work is being done to educate men and change their mindsets. Is UN Women looking to enhance its work in this area?
Answer: Yes! One of my priorities at UN Women is ramping up efforts to end violence against women and girls. And you are absolutely right, we need to engage men and boys and reach out to all parts of society to end this massive human rights violation. We have several programmes to end violence against women with men and boys, including the UNiTE Campaign and the work of our UN Trust Fund grantees. It is totally unacceptable that one in three women today will be subjected to violence. Whether it is domestic violence, rape, acid throwing or femicide, we need a response that is proportionate to the crimes being committed. We must mount a stronger response to prevent and end this violence by promoting gender equality, by ending impunity and prosecuting perpetrators, and by providing essential services to survivors. UN Women is totally committed and we are guided by the agreement reached last year in the UN Commission on the Status of Women that provides good roadmap for the way forward. Our website contains lots of examples of the work we are doing to end violence against women.
4. Gila Benmayor from Facebook asks: Early and forced marriages are a big problem in developing countries. What kind of measures could reduce the number of child brides in the world?
Answer: Girls need education, health, social and livelihood skills to become fully empowered citizens. Child marriage is a violation of human rights because it denies girls the right to decide when and with whom to marry. According to the UN Population Fund, if nothing changes, developing countries will witness an increase in child marriage: 142 million child marriages in 2011-2020 and 151 million in the subsequent decade. A recent UN Women report on the plight of Syrian women refugees found alarming rates of early marriage and other human rights violations.
Policies are needed across sectors to delay marriage, including raising the legal minimum age at marriage to 18, ensuring that girls go to school and attend beyond primary level, addressing underlying factors perpetuating the practice, identifying alternatives and creating opportunities for girls, and reaching out to communities to support these moves.
5. Guy Dresser from Facebook asks: When will we see the UN instigate more concerted global action to stamp out the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM)?
Answer: The United Nations is taking global action against FGM and is committed to eliminating the practice. Over the last several decades, efforts to address FGM have intensified and an increasing number of communities are abandoning the practice. However, as many as 30 million girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade if current trends persist. The United Nations is engaging with governments and civil society, together with other partners, to eliminate FGM worldwide. If, in the next decade, we work together to apply the wealth of evidence at our disposal, we will see major progress. That means a better life and more hopeful prospects for millions of girls and women, their families and communities. UN Women supports programmes designed to reduce the risk of FGM for girls, as well as to change social attitudes towards FGM.
6. Thomas Dunmore Rodriguez from Facebook asks: It seems that the issue of inequality has gained traction in discussions at the Forum, but does UN Women think it is important to focus on inequality in all its forms, rather than just focusing on economic inequality? Related to this, there is a growing consensus that income inequality hinders economic growth – how can we make people understand that gender inequality also hinders economic growth?
Answer: Of course, we need to be talking about all forms of inequality, including inequality between men and women. Today women earn less than men for the same work. And more than 100 countries still have laws in place that prevent women from doing certain jobs, accessing finance, owning businesses or conducting legal affairs. This must change. We need equitable and inclusive laws and policies that promote equal opportunity and equal pay. By removing barriers and promoting gender equality, economies will be more inclusive and only grow stronger. UN Women has a range of programmes around the world to support women’s full and equal participation in the economy.
7. Md Rafsan Ahmed from Facebook asks: In developing countries women have to carry out household chores; as a result, they get little time to focus on other wage-earning activities. Do you think doing something to alleviate their efforts – by teaching them efficient ways to perform those activities, or through other initiatives – will help empower women?
Answer: Thanks for this question, as it is really important. Yes, we definitely need to reduce women’s and girls’ unpaid care work and this is a priority for UN Women. As you rightly say, women carry out household chores and this leaves them with little time to earn an income. This so-called time poverty leads to income poverty. So efforts are needed to provide women with electricity, clean water, roads and other infrastructure and services to reduce the time they spend on household chores. UN Women promotes shared responsibility so that household chores do not fall only on the shoulders of women and girls. We are also working with governments and other partners on policies and programmes, such as childcare and parental leave, to address this issue and to promote equality. It is no coincidence that Scandinavian countries with good work-life policies and childcare have higher levels of women in the workforce.
We recently held an e-discussion on rural women’s unpaid care work on our Knowledge Gateway and discussed numerous solutions to this issue. I invite you to read the summary and input from our members here.
8. Venkatesh Ramanujamfrom Facebook asks: There are laws in place to protect women, but many of these laws are not being implemented. What can we do to rectify this?
Answer: The gap between laws and implementation, between words and action, is one of the biggest challenges in our quest to empower women and achieve gender equality. It is a top priority for UN Women. Together we need to hold governments accountable, to keep pushing for implementation. The United Nations and civil society have a strong role to play. UN Women is working with governments to implement laws and to put the budgets in place so that there is adequate funding. One example is our COMMIT initiative, which urges governments to take steps to implement their commitments. We are currently holding an e-discussion on this issue on our Knowledge Gateway and I welcome you to join us.
9. Venkatesh Ramanujamfrom Facebook asks: Changes must start from an early age. Let’s take a fairy tale as an example. In the story of Cinderella, she falls in love with and marries a prince. We should change this so that instead, Cinderella works hard, finishes her education, gets a job, etc. This would not only help young girls be more confident, but it would also change other people’s attitudes. The same concept could be applied to computer games and cartoons.
Answer: You are so right! We need to work with the media so that the stories people hear and the images they see show intelligent and confident women who are in charge of their lives and their futures. Equally important are modern men and boys who treat women and girls as equals and have no tolerance for gender-based violence and discrimination. Changing social and cultural norms and attitudes (like those seen in the “Women Should” adverts, based on real-life Google searches) is vital for progress and success for gender equality. The key is universal education that promotes equality between girls and boys and men and women, and human rights and dignity for all.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is Executive Director of UN Women. She is participating in the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters.