Now is the time for gender equality: why the Generation Equality Forum is a milestone we should not miss?
By Delphine O
In 2020, we are at a critical point for gender equality. The current pandemic has provoked unprecedented damage to gender equality worldwide. Reports from UN agencies, governments, NGOs all concur: the crisis has deepened, not reduced, inequalities between men and women, and in some places, it has become a threat against women’s fundamental rights. At the same time, there is a unique opportunity to build a post-Covid world where gender equality finally becomes a reality. The Generation Equality Forum in 2021 should and will be a milestone in this regard.
In 1995, the fourth UN Conference on the Rights of Women in Beijing achieved tremendous results: for the first time, women’s rights were internationally recognized as human rights and an ambitious agenda was designed to implement them. But 25 years later, the Covid-19 crisis bears the risk of dramatically widening the gender gap. Not only women have experienced hardest gender-based violence during the lockdowns (+30% of cases in France as in many countries around the world), but the economic crisis can considerably expose women to economic precariousness, especially for the 740 million women who are estimated to work in the informal economy. The crisis has put additional barriers to women’s access to public services, to sexual and reproductive health and rights — we expect 7 million more unintended pregnancies this year without access to family planning — and from girls’ access to education — 11 million girls may not go back to school after the interruption of their studies.
At the same time, women have been the forefront fighters in this war against the virus. I have particularly in mind the health, retail and care sectors, where women are over-represented and have been at the frontline to help societies face the severe damages of the pandemics. The crisis has also revealed the urgency to shift towards more equal unpaid care and domestic works and their better social and economic recognition. From my experience as a Gender equality Ambassador, I have seen grassroots communities and feminist CSOs propose innovative, local-based and concrete solutions to improve women’s rights and demonstrate commitment. The international community cannot let them down.
In the light of the critical challenges we face for Gender Equality, key events will pave the way to design a gender responsive recovery, to ensure the crisis does not swipe away two decades of progress for women’s rights and to place women at the center of the decision process. The Paris Peace Forum in November will be an additional and decisive step forward, as it will be an occasion of political mobilization towards the Generation Equality Forum, and a driver for identification of systemic levies to make progress for women’s rights. Over the last year, I have seen a growing number of international actors determined to take part in this historical change.
As France is implementing its feminist foreign policy led by President Macron, we took decisive measures to support women and girls in this difficult period. The Support Fund for Feminist Organizations, a 120 million euros commitment to provide direct funding to feminist civil society organizations working in development countries, was launched in July 2020.
In 2021, the Generation Equality Forum, organized by UN Women and co-hosted by France and Mexico, will be a turning point to achieve concrete and irreversible progress for women’s rights on a five-year scale. States, international organizations, CSOs and private sector committed stake holders will launch transformative action coalitions that will implement key initiatives on six topics: gender-based violence, access to sexual and reproductive health and rights and bodily autonomy, economic justice and rights, women’s role in climate and environmental action, technology and innovation for gender equality, and feminist movements and leadership. The Forum will also gather momentum for the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, and will make sure to promote solutions for promoting women’s role in the health crisis. Together, let us be the Generation Equality.
Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.
Delphine O is ambassador-at-large and Secretary General for the Generation Equality Forum (Beijing+25). She leads the organization of the largest international summit for women’s rights since 1995, convened by UN Women and co-chaired by France and Mexico.
She was previously a Member of Parliament for La République en Marche, elected in Paris. A member of the Foreign Relations Committee and chairwoman of the France-Iran friendship group at the French National Assembly, she authored a report on the strategic stakes in the South China Sea.
Delphine O graduated from the Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Harvard Kennedy School. After working at the French embassy in Seoul, the Consulate General in New York and the Stimson Center in Washington, she moved to Iran and cofounded the information website “Persian Letters”.
She is a French-American Young Leader 2019, Munich Young Leader 2019, member of the Council at the Council on Foreign Relations, member of the Strategic Orientation Board of the German Marshall Fund France and a board member of IRIS (Institut des Relations Internationales et Stratégiques).