Backlash against women's rights threatening progress, says UN chief

Ten per cent of women globally are experiencing severe poverty, UN reports

A woman holds a placard during a march marking International Women's Day in Belgrade, Serbia. AFP
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned on Friday that a “backlash” against women's rights was threatening progress around the world.

“The global crises we face are hitting women and girls hardest – from poverty and hunger to climate disasters, war and terror,” Mr Guterres said in remarks marking International Women's Day.

“Over the past year, we have heard horrific reports of the impact of conflict on women and girls around the world.”

The UN chief pointed to sexual violence carried out by Hamas during the October 7 attack, Israeli forces' actions against Palestinian detainees, and rape and trafficking in Sudan.

“We have also witnessed maternity services crumbling in Gaza, where women and children make up the majority of the tens of thousands killed and injured,” he stated.

Thousands of pregnant women face the prospect of giving birth in tents or in the street, amid international warnings of famine, disease and the collapse of Gaza’s health system.

Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, said Thursday that displaced women in camps he visited in southern Gaza reported sexual harassment and gender-based violence there.

He called Afghanistan the “most egregious example” of state-sanctioned repression of women, as women and girls there have been barred from much of the education system, employment outside the home and most public spaces.

International Women's Day – in pictures

To mark International Women's Day in Afghanistan, small groups of women staged rare demonstrations in private spaces after a crackdown by Taliban authorities forced activists off the streets.

According to the UN, the number of women and girls living in conflict-affected areas has doubled since 2017. Now, more than 614 million women and girls live in conflict-affected areas.

Mr Guterres warned that at the current rate of progress, full equality for women is more than 300 years away.

“And by 2030, over 340 million women and girls will still be living in extreme poverty – some 18 million more than men and boys. That is an insult to women and girls,” added Mr Guterres.

The UN reports that 10 per cent of women globally are experiencing severe poverty, and if present trends continue, by 2030, about 8 per cent worldwide will be surviving on less than $2 daily.

The Secretary General also urged member states to look at what they can do to increase the number of women in delegations to the US and at intergovernmental meetings.

“Such investments and policies are not a favour to women; they are good for us all.”

Updated: March 08, 2024, 7:51 PM