Women’s participation in public life has stalled and gender-based violence has increased as a result of the pandemic
By María Victoria Espada – Although women have been increasingly participating in public life, they remain significantlyunder-represented in every aspect of the decision-making process. According to UN Women, women serve as Heads of State or Government in only 22 countries while 75 per cent of parliamentary positions globally are held by men.
Women’s Voices Excluded
Women make up 70 per cent of the health workforce, however despite numerous global and national commitments to gender-inclusive global health governance, COVID-19 followed the usual modus operandi – excluding women’s voices. A mere 3.5% of 115 identified COVID-19 decision-making and expert task forces have gender parity in their membership.
“Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”
This was the priority theme of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65), that took place from 15 to 26 March in a hybrid format with mostly virtual meetings. This session was particularly important since the previous one had been reduced to a single two-hour meeting due to the crisis, while the celebration marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action had had to be cancelled.
Parity, a Challenge still Elusive
The opening session of the Commission highlighted that gender parity remains an elusive challenge. Factors such as gender role stereotypes and prejudices; discriminatory norms, laws and policies; and remaining structural barriers are obstacles that limit women’s leadership and participation in public life.
While gender quota regulations can help to remedy gender inequality and increase women’s participation in national and local decision-making processes, only 36 States globally apply such quotas according to UN Women. As aptly put by António Guterres, United Nations Secretary General: “we still leave in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture; this must change”.
Disproportionate Levels of Violence
Alongside limitations on participation in public life, women suffer disproportionate levels of violence. Women in politics and public life and women human rights defenders are targets of increasing misogynistic attacks, sexual harassment, and cyberbullying.
A 2016 study on women parliamentarians revealed than more than 80% of survey participants had experienced some form of psychological violence at work. Among them, 25 per cent had reported physical violence, and 20 per cent sexual violence.
Pandemic Increased Women’s Vulnerability
Gender-based violence is pervasive across the board. According to UN Women, globally 35 per cent of women report having experienced physical or sexual violence perpetrated by an intimate partner or by someone other than a partner.
Pandemic-related restrictions of free movement, social isolation, and financial hardship have further increased women’s vulnerability. Consequently, the number of calls to hotlines has increased fivefold in some countries due to rising rates of intimate partner violence
Too Few Women Seek Help
Globally, however, few women turn to institutions for help. Less than 40 per cent of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort, and less than 10 per cent of those seeking help appeal to the police. As emphasized by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women “this is the most discriminatory crisis [against women] we have ever experienced; the gains made in the past [on women´s empowerment and gender equality] are at risk”.
Civil Society Engagement
Civil society organizations also expressed concerns virtually about about women’s limited participation in public life and the increase in gender-based violence. More than 25,000 people worldwide participated in the more than 700 parallel events organized by the CSW65 NGO Virtual Forum outside the formal programme of the Commission.
For the tenth year in a row, Dianova participated in the Forum with the joint organization of two parallel events, that addressed the links between substance use disorders and gender-based violence, stigma and discrimination, and emphasized the need for gender-sensitive addiction treatment programmes.