With the mission of the Me Too movement and other gender equality crusades gathering momentum, Sri Lanka joins the United Nations in celebrating International Women’s Day tomorrow with the aim of achieving gender equality within ten years.
In a statement, the UN says it is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.
Fifty years ago, we landed on the moon; in the last decade, we discovered new human ancestors and photographed a black hole for the first time. In the meantime, legal restrictions have kept 2.7 billion women from accessing the same choice of jobs as men. Less than 25 per cent of parliamentarians were women last year. One in three women experiences gender-based violence, still.
The UN says we need to make 2020 count for women and girls everywhere. Change is not just about big headline moments, legal victories and international agreements: the way we talk, think and act every day can create a ripple effect that benefits others.
The 2020 theme is I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights. The theme is aligned with UN Women’s new multi-generational campaign, Generation Equality, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most progressive roadmap for the empowerment of women and girls everywhere.
According to the UN, this year we will also be celebrating other major UN anniversaries, such as the 10th anniversary of the establishment of UN Women, among others. The emerging global consensus is that despite some progress, real change has been agonisingly slow for the majority of women and girls in the world. Today, not a single country can claim to have achieved gender equality. Multiple obstacles remain unchanged in law and in culture. Women and girls continue to be undervalued; they work more and earn less, have fewer choices and experience multiple forms of violence at home and in public spaces. Furthermore, there is a significant threat of rollback of hard-won feminist gains.
The UN says, 2020 represents an unmissable opportunity to mobilise global action to achieve gender equality and human rights of women and girls. The Generation Equality campaign is bringing together people of every gender, age, ethnicity, race, religion and country, to drive actions that will create the gender-equal world we deserve.
According to the UN Women website, Women’s rights and gender equality are taking centre stage this year. Twenty-five years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action—a progressive roadmap for gender equality—it is time to take stock of progress and bridge the gaps that remain through bold, decisive actions. The UN Women Movement says together it wants to mobilise to end gender-based violence; it is calling for economic justice and rights for all; bodily autonomy, sexual and reproductive health and rights; and feminist action for climate justice. The movement says it wants technology and innovation for gender equality and feminist leadership. Small actions can have big impacts in making this vision a reality. The movement calls on the people to become part of the mission.
In Sri Lanka, the most progressive step towards giving women a greater say in high level decision- making was the law to give them 25 per cent representation in nominations to parliamentary and other elections. How well this has worked has many question marks but we need to continue until women have a bigger say in making important political decisions because without the feminine contribution the process could often be flawed. However, in higher education, major professions like medicine, engineering and chartered accountancy women have still not got equal status. Even in business, women Chairpersons and Chief Executive Officers are few and the government needs to take practical steps to bridge this gap.
As the Canadian poet Margaret Atwood said, “We still think of a powerful man as a born leader and a powerful woman as an anomaly.” This male chauvinistic attitude needs to change, effectively and immediately.