Secretary-General Warns of ‘Baked-in’ Gender Discrimination in Technology, Decries Rights Roll-Backs, Opening Commission on Status of Women
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Commission on the Status of Women, in New York today:
The session of the Commission on the Status of Women is one of the most important annual events at the United Nations. It takes on even greater significance at a time when women’s rights are being abused, threatened and violated around the world.
Progress won over decades is vanishing before our eyes.
In Afghanistan, women and girls have been erased from public life. In many places, women’s sexual and reproductive rights are being rolled back.
In some countries, girls going to school risk kidnapping and assault. In others, police prey on vulnerable women they have sworn to protect.
Gender equality is growing more distant. On the current track, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) puts it 300 years away.
Maternal mortality is increasing. One woman dies every two minutes during pregnancy or childbirth; most of those deaths are preventable.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues for millions of girls forced out of school, mothers and caregivers forced out of paid employment and children forced into early marriage.
From Ukraine to the Sahel, crisis and conflict affect women and girls first and worst. And at the international level, some countries now even oppose the inclusion of a gender perspective in multilateral negotiations.
The patriarchy is fighting back. But so are we. I am here to say loud and clear: The United Nations stands with women and girls everywhere.
The Deputy Secretary-General and the Executive Director of UN-Women recently visited Afghanistan with a clear message for the authorities: Women and girls have fundamental human rights, and we will never give up fighting for them.
United Nations Country Teams and humanitarian agencies around the world are helping to provide practical support and care for women in crisis situations. Gender equality and investment in girls and women are central to all our humanitarian and development work.
Our political and peacekeeping missions continue to promote women’s participation in all peace processes, despite many obstacles, and to ensure women’s priorities are integral to our political work. This is the only route to sustainable, enduring peace.
Let’s be clear — global frameworks are not working for the world’s women and girls. They need to change.
My initiatives for a stimulus to get the Sustainable Development Goals on track, and to reform the global financial system, aim to increase resources for investment in women and girls at the country level.
My report on Our Common Agenda highlights gender equality in all we do.
I have instructed the United Nations system that all our support to Member States in preparing for the Summit of the Future must reflect our commitment to gender equality and women’s rights.
As part of Our Common Agenda, I commissioned an independent review of our capacity around gender equality across all pillars of our work. The conclusions and recommendations will address structures, funding and leadership, so we can better deliver for the women of the world.
Gender parity in our personnel is a vital step towards gender equality in our work. Five years into the System-Wide Strategy on Gender Parity, we have come a long way. We reached gender parity among our 190 senior leadership and our Resident Coordinators around the world.
The Secretariat as a whole is forecast to be close to parity in professional staff in 2025 — three years before the deadline — but, we must be clear, the obstacles are more difficult to surmount in the field missions.
And this is why our efforts will now prioritize areas where progress has been slow. I hope Member States will understand the need for change and support us in adapting our rules to facilitate our movement towards gender parity.
Your focus this year on closing gender gaps in technology and innovation could not be more timely. Because as technology races ahead, women and girls are being left behind.
The math is simple: Without the insights and creativity of half the world, science and technology will fulfil just half their potential.
Three billion people are still unconnected to the Internet, the majority of them women and girls in developing countries. In Least Developed Countries, just 19 per cent of women are online.
Globally, girls and women make up just one third of students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
In the technology industry, men outnumber women two to one. But in the field of artificial intelligence, only about one out of five workers is a woman. And artificial intelligence is shaping our future world. Let’s hope it will not be shaped in a totally gender-biased way.
The COVID-19 pandemic magnified inequalities in access to the Internet and intensified the dangers women and girls face online. Misogynistic disinformation and misinformation flourish on social media platforms.
So-called “gender-trolling” is specifically aimed at silencing women and forcing them out of public life. The stories may be fake, but the damage done is very real.
Centuries of patriarchy, discrimination and harmful stereotypes have created a huge gender gap in science and technology.
Women account for just 3 per cent of Nobel Prize winners in science categories.
Three years ago, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna made history as the first all-women team to win a Nobel Prize in science. Ever.
Teams of men have shared the prize 172 times.
Big data is the “new gold”, and the foundation of today’s political and business decisions. But it often ignores gender differences — or turns a blind eye to women all together — resulting in products and services that bake in gender inequality from the start. We see gender bias algorithms proliferate everywhere.
We cannot let the Silicon Valleys of our world become Death Valleys for women’s rights.
We need the full contributions of all, for a future in which humanity controls technology, rather than the other way around.
Gender inequality is a question of power. Today, I call for urgent action to equalize power in three ways.
First, increasing education, income and employment for women and girls, particularly in the Global South. Connecting women in the Global South to the online world requires us to address rising levels of poverty and inequality.
Second, leaders must promote women’s and girls’ full participation and leadership in science and technology, from Governments to board rooms and classrooms.
The United Nations’ first-ever report on technology, innovation, education and gender equality provides many recommendations. They must be followed.
It calls for gender-responsive education and skills training, algorithms that align with human rights and gender equality and investment in bridging the digital gender divide. More than ever, we need collective action by Governments, civil society, the private sector and the technology community.
Third, we must create a safe digital environment for women and girls.
The United Nations is working with other stakeholders to advance a Code of Conduct for information integrity on digital platforms. The goal is to reduce harm and increase accountability while defending the right to freedom of expression.
Promoting women’s full contributions to science, technology and innovation is not an act of charity or a favour to women. It is a must, and it benefits everyone.
When women get medical services online, their families and communities are healthier.
When women access online banking and resources, without bias, they start businesses that benefit their societies and economies.
When women have access to safe digital platforms, they build communities that can change the world. Look at the #MeToo movement.
And when women scientists and technologists tackle global problems, they multiply the chance of finding solutions.
Many technology leaders, especially women, know that inequality and exclusion are a moral and commercial dead end. Women and girls are leading efforts to make science and technology accessible, inclusive and safe.
And in many countries, girls are studying science, technology and math in record numbers. This must be followed everywhere.
Women and girls will not be silenced. Their demands for their rights and freedoms echo around the globe.
The Commission on the Status of Women is a dynamo and catalyst for the transformation we need. Together, let us push back against the push back on women's rights, against misogyny and forward for women, girls, and our world.