This year’s UN Women Generation Equality Forum in Paris marks the most significant international convening for gender equality since the 1995 Women’s Conference in Beijing. According to UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the three-day Forum focused on tackling and funding all areas “where women have been ‘short-changed’ in terms of forced marriage, gender-based violence, leaving school, experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change, trying to crack glass ceilings, losing out on innovation and technology, and ensuring their sexual and reproductive rights and health.”
The primarily virtual event, co-hosted by Emmanuel Macron, President of France and Mexico’s President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, saw commitments to implement major policy reforms and programs to advance gender equity on a global scale. A total of $40 billion+ in new investments to benefit women and girls, with government commitments expected to total $17 billion, as well as a $2.1 billion commitment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance women’s leadership, reproductive health, and economic empowerment, and a $420 million investment from the Ford Foundation to tackle threats to women’s rights caused by COVID-19. The World Bank also committed to a major investment for programs in 12 African States to tackle gender inequalities. Mlambo-Ngcuka said in an interview with the Associated Press that these major contributions will transform UN Women “into a true coordinator of the women’s agenda in the world.”
The $2.1b pledge from the Gates Foundation includes $650m for economic empowerment initiatives, $1.4b for family planning and health and $100m to accelerate women’s inclusion in leadership roles, the organization said. The Gates Foundation said its commitment is meant “to advance women’s economic empowerment, strengthen women and girls’ health and family planning, and accelerate women’s leadership.”
“The world has been fighting for gender equality for decades, but progress has been slow. Now is the chance to reignite a movement and deliver real change,” Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, said in the statement. “The beauty of our fight for gender equality is that every human being will gain from it. We must seize this moment to build a better, more equal future.”
Mlambo-Ngcuka pointed out how the investments are especially needed now because of COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on women. She also explained that UN Women will maintain a critical role driving the Forum’s 5-year action journey, overseeing the implementation of commitments to ensure accountability and progress over the next five years.
“The Generation Equality Forum marks a positive, historic shift in power and perspective. Together we have mobilized across different sectors of society, from south to north, to become a formidable force, ready to open a new chapter in gender equality,” Mlambo-Ngcuka added. “The Forum’s ecosystem of partners – and the investments, commitments and energy they are bringing to confront the greatest barriers to gender equality – will ensure faster progress for the world’s women and girls than we have seen before.”
Opening a new chapter in gender equality indeed matters, and it doesn’t take billion-dollar pledges to take part and assist these world leaders in their quest. As Mlambo-Ngcuka noted, “Those with a world view of radical impatience are converging to create big, well-resourced changes.”
This is a time of radical impatience, as inequalities have persisted far too long. We have the opportunity to come together to support the changes earmarked by the global participants of the Equality Forum by creating shifts in our own homes, communities, and workplaces. We simply need to support one another and lift women up. We all win when women help women, and now is the time to recognize women’s history of creating successful movements for change, support one another through what lies ahead, and do our part to make 2021 the year that women and men from around the world come together to accelerate the advancement of gender equality.