A Sustainable Feminist Recovery

As the world moves ahead to mark International Women’s Day, the clock on women’s rights is moving backwards. All of us are paying the price. 

The cascading crises of recent years have highlighted how women’s leadership is more crucial than ever. 

Women have heroically confronted the COVID-19 pandemic as doctors, nurses, and public health and social care workers.  

But at the same time, women and girls have been the first to lose out on jobs or schooling, taking on more unpaid care work, and facing skyrocketing levels of domestic and cyber abuse and child marriage. 

The pandemic has highlighted even more starkly an age-old truth: the roots of patriarchy run deep. We still live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture. 

As a result, in good times or bad, women are more likely to fall into poverty. Their healthcare is sacrificed and their education and opportunities are curtailed. 

And in countries enduring conflict — as we see from Ethiopia to Afghanistan to Ukraine — women and girls are the most vulnerable but also the most compelling voices for peace.

As we look to the future, a sustainable and equal recovery for all is only possible if it is a feminist recovery — one that puts progress for girls and women at its centre.  

We need economic progress through targeted investments in women’s education, employment, training and decent work. Women should be first in line for the 400 million jobs we are called to create by 2030.

We need social progress through investments in social protection systems and the care economy. Such investments yield huge dividends, creating green, sustainable jobs, while supporting members of our societies that need assistance, including children, older people and the sick. 

We need financial progress, to reform a morally bankrupt global financial system, so all countries can invest in a woman-centred economic recovery. This includes debt relief and fairer tax systems that channel some of the massive pockets of wealth around the world to those who need it most. 

We need urgent, transformative climate action, to reverse the reckless increase in emissions and gender inequalities that have left women and girls disproportionately vulnerable. Developed countries must urgently deliver on their commitments on finance and technical support for a just transition from fossil fuels. The successful, stable economies of the future will be green, gender-inclusive and sustainable. 

We need more women in leadership in government and business, including finance ministers and CEOs, developing and implementing green and socially progressive policies that benefit all their people. 

We know, for example, that having more women in parliaments is linked with stronger climate commitments and higher levels of investment in healthcare and education.  

We need political progress through targeted measures that ensure women’s equal leadership and representation at all levels of political decision-making, through bold gender quotas. 

Gender inequality is essentially a question of power. Uprooting centuries of patriarchy demands that power is equally shared across every institution, at every level. 

At the United Nations, we have achieved — for the first time in the organization’s history — gender parity in senior management at headquarters and around the world. This has dramatically improved our ability to better reflect and represent the communities we serve.

Every step of the way, we can take inspiration from women and girls pushing for progress in every sphere and every corner of our globe.  

Young women climate campaigners are leading global efforts to pressure governments to live up to their commitments. 

Women’s rights activists are bravely demanding equality and justice, and building more peaceful societies as peacekeepers, peacemakers and humanitarians in some of the world’s trouble zones and beyond. 

In societies where women’s rights movements are vibrant, democracies are stronger.

When the world invests in expanding opportunities for women and girls, all of humanity wins.  

As a matter of justice, equality, morality and plain common sense, we need to turn the clock forward on women’s rights. 

We need a sustainable, feminist recovery centred around — and driven by — women and girls.  

The author is António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. 

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