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UN Secretary-General expresses allyship with women and girls at Town Hall

Leader touts gender parity as key to ‘a safer, more peaceful and more sustainable world’

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

António Guterres is Secretary-General of the United Nations. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

LOUISVILLE — United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres spoke strongly Wednesday about the need to topple the systems that prevent women around the world from achieving parity with men.

“Gender equality is essentially a question of power, and power has for millennia been concentrated in the hands of men, to the detriment of all,” Guterres said. “The challenges we face today, the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, the growth and spread of conflicts, are largely the result of our male-dominated world and male-dominated culture. Without these, we would not have a war with Russia in Ukraine. And that is why gender equality and gender parity are not only a matter of women’s rights, but a fundamental prerequisite for a safer, more peaceful and more sustainable world for all.”

Guterres’ remarks were made at a Town Hall held in conjunction with the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (#CSW66). The annual event is designed to give civil society organizations for women and youth a chance to engage with Guterres about the CSW66 priority theme: “Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes.”

Watch the Town Hall by clicking here.

Members of a delegation of women from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian Women were among those watching as Guterres said, “Climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss pose an enormous threat to progress on women’s rights and gender equality. … Climate action must include investing in women activists, human rights defenders and civil society organizations.”

Those words were similar to ones that he’s used to discuss Our Common Agenda, which sets forth proposals for UN member states to take steps to address problems that are interconnected and cross borders and other divides. The action agenda also is designed to speed up the implementation of existing agreements, including the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“We cannot look into climate action without looking into gender equality,” he said. “We cannot look into the reform of the financial system without looking into gender equality. We cannot look into the global public goods, health, education, social protection without looking into gender equality.”

He went on to say gender equality “permeates all the different proposals in all different sectors because we sincerely do not believe that with male-dominated structures, we’ll be effective against climate, we’ll be effective against inequality, we’ll be effective in peace promotion, we’ll be effective in mediation.”

Leah Brooks of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations was impressed with Guterres as an ally of women.

“One thing that stuck out to me that he said was ‘I’m in!’ when talking about the needs of women and girls,” the PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer said in an email. “Although short and sweet, it stuck with me, and it shows the Secretary-General is eager to fight for women and girls everywhere!”

Guterres decried pushback against women’s rights and said that “parity is essential to have good decision-making wherever, from the boards of companies to the governments to the UN.”

He also talked about the importance of hearing from young people and including them in decision-making. “The contribution of young women is more necessary than ever when my generation is showing its inability to deal with the global challenges we have in the world.”

UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous said, “This 66th session of CSW is an important opportunity to make bold decisions to advance gender equality in the context of climate change, environmental degradation and disasters. We know that climate change is a risk multiplier, exacerbating existing gender inequalities and undermining women’s and girls’ rights to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. It is only through ambitious, cross-cutting … actions that we can address the climate crises and fulfil the goals of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.”

Guterres applauded women and girls for continuing to press on in the midst of challenges, from landslides and hurricanes to unpaid caregiving to the scourge of gender-based violence.

“Despite all these challenges, women continue to advocate, to raise their voices for peace, equality, climate action, sustainable development and human rights for all,” he said. “Courageous women are in the streets of every continent, fighting for their rights and for more peaceful, inclusive sustainable economies and societies that benefit us all.”

During a Q&A session that followed his remarks, Guterres touched on the importance of LGBTQIA+ inclusion and opposed the use of religion to repress women. “To invoke religion against gender equality is something that is totally unacceptable,” he said.

He also expressed support for indigenous communities, which he said are some of the best allies for climate action but are under pressure due to a desire to clear some areas “for investment” and such.

“We will be doing our best to support indigenous communities and to put pressure on governments to understand that it is the contribution of indigenous communities that is more necessary than ever, instead of the sacrifice of indigenous communities in the name of completely outdated, sometimes criminal visions of what progress means.”

More Presbyterian News Service coverage of CSW66:

‘The promise is that we won’t be there alone’

‘We are not victims of the crisis, but resilient communities’

Setting the stage for gender equality

Presbyterians looking forward to gender equality event

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