Equality is our right and must be our future. As the leading United Nations agency for gender equality, UN Women works to develop and uphold standards and create an environment in which every woman and girl can exercise her human rights and live up to her full potential.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened gender inequalities everywhere. UN Women led immediate responses and provided long-term solutions. We acted through 88 field offices and partners from government ministries to grass-roots groups to international financial institutions.
Building on our long tradition of creating alliances, we launched our Generation Equality Campaign. It brings together governments, civil society, youth, businesses and UN organizations among others to advance common goals and an ambitious agenda for change.
Achieving gender equality is key to restoring the world right now and building forward better. Generation Equality, a global, intergenerational feminist movement, demands no less.
In this, UN Women’s tenth year, the challenges we faced underlined both the significance of our mandate and the assets we bring to it, in solidarity and partnership across the world. Our efforts have been directed at raising the alarm on the particular ways in which COVID-19 impacts women and girls, with solid evidence, quickly marshalled response, and specific expert advice provided to governments and partners. We have used our uniquely multi-faceted mandate to suit the complex need for action simultaneously in different frames: of advocacy, operational response, policy leadership and coordination among multiple partners in public and private spheres, in situations of conflict and of stability.
legal reforms to advance equality in 69 countries
Rural women gained
technologies and tools
partner women’s groups
responses in 50 countries
survivors gained justice
and recovery services
Civil society groups
equipped to influence peace
justice personnel trained
on women’s rights
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Around the world, millions of gender equality activists demand a future where human rights prevail and gender disparities become history. Their call drives UN Women to set new agendas, mobilize movements, broker partnerships and act for gender equality in all that we do. The following stories pair portraits of a few leading members of the Generation Equality movement with profiles of people reached by UN Women’s transformative support. Together, we are taking steps to the future and demonstrating how calls for equality can become lasting improvements in the lives of women and girls.
With UN Women’s support, women are taking the lead in governance systems around the world. We are also successfully pushing those systems to adopt laws, policies and budgets fully aligned with women’s rights. Globally in 2020, UN Women promoted gender balance in elections, sponsored voter education campaigns and advocated for gender equality at the core of national plans for development as well as peace. We helped more than 6,800 women political aspirants build skills and worked with 20 countries in passing 28 measures to stop violence against women in politics. Fifteen national women’s machineries and 171 women’s organizations gained skills to make the case for gender-responsive budgets.
I am Generation Equality because: “Gender equality is not a women’s issue but a matter of human rights.” Lee Mi-kyung presides over the Korea International Cooperation Agency, but she considers herself first a lifelong women’s rights activist. It’s a perspective she brings into choices about providing assistance to developing countries. Her goal: for every country to dismantle patriarchy and end all forms of gender discrimination. That requires women’s solidarity – and men joining them as advocates for equality. “On gender equality we are all connected,” she says. “No matter how far away we are.”
She ran and lost bids for a parliamentary seat – twice. But the third time, she won, because for Bernadette Gomina, perseverance pays off. In the Central African Republic, the obstacles are many. Rebel attacks. Scant campaign funding. Ideas that women are not good leaders. But once in office, Gomina simply got to work, improving education and driving passage of a gender parity law, and working to pass gender-responsive legislation through the Forum of Women Parliamentarians, backed by UN Women. Not surprisingly, “My [constituents] continue to encourage me, giving me strength to keep campaigning.”
“We women … we have our part to play. We must get to work, together.” —Bernadette Gomina
Despite the profound pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, UN Women continued to propel improvements in women’s income, access to decent work and economic autonomy. We helped over 114,000 women in 33 countries develop skills to gain a stronger footing in the economy, including close to 70,000 rural women entrepreneurs. Ramped-up support led to the adoption of 19 policies to expand gender-responsive social protection, 25 on the care economy and 18 on decent work. Advocacy with the international financial institutions encouraged a gender lens in economic stimulus packages. In 51 countries, rapid gender assessments informed pandemic relief by documenting health, employment and poverty impacts specific to women and girls.
I am Generation Equality because: “We all deserve equal opportunity. Opportunity opens up a world of possibilities for all.” Economist Bogolo Joy Kenewendo, 33, is a former Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry in Botswana. She has seen firsthand how women still struggle to be at the table and contribute to economic development, and wants to know why. “I want us to really start challenging [the status quo],” she says. “Everyone should be a women’s rights activist because when a woman is empowered, she raises the whole society and community.”
María Tuyuc, 47, knows that indigenous women in Guatemala gain empowerment with the means to make choices. As a founder of the Global Network of Indigenous Businesses, Tuyuc partners with UN Women in hosting the Mayan School of Business, where indigenous women develop business models and entrepreneurial networks. These have kept many going during the pandemic. “I have been impressed by their ability to adapt,” Tuyuc says, citing examples of women shifting to new businesses or innovating in product design.
“Economic empowerment allows women to believe in their own knowledge and capacities.” —María Tuyuc
UN Women urged global action on the “shadow pandemic” of violence against women and girls that erupted during COVID-19. Attention was amplified by the powerful voice of the UN Secretary-General and allies such as the Unstereotype Alliance, and by issuing regular guidance on how to accelerate responses and prioritize essential services for women and girls. On the ground, with civil society and other partners, we worked around movement and other restrictions to keep prevention and response measures going. Over 150 organizations in 71 countries and territories tapped support from the UN Women-administered UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women to sustain trauma counselling, legal aid, safe accommodation and other essentials.
I am Generation Equality because: “Why are we being told that as girls, when we get cut, we bring honour? That is not the truth. Our lives are basically taken away from us.” Natalie Robi Tingo, 28, grew up angry that her community in rural Kenya still practiced female genital mutilation. Having educated parents meant she and her sister were spared. But Tingo wanted to help others, so she founded a community organization to stop the practice and empower women and girls. “Everyone should be a girl’s rights activist… and care about the most vulnerable women and girls,” she says. “That’s justice.”
More violations. Less protection during lockdowns. As President of the Center of Women’s Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a grantee of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, Meliha Sendic was on the frontlines of the response to survivors of violence against women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic. The centre sustained access to free legal aid through existing online support and new telephone and text hotlines. “Regardless of where they are, women can get answers quickly,” Sendic says. Distance learning sustained another important effort – training police on the rights of survivors seeking safety.
“Online legal support has shown its advantage more than ever.” —Meliha Sendic
UN Women is a leading global proponent of measurement reflecting women’s distinct experiences and accurately gauging progress towards gender equality. In 2020, we issued seminal data and policy briefs on the COVID-19 pandemic and issues such as women’s greater losses in labour markets. Worldwide, we supported over 4,000 data producers and users to build capacities to measure gender differences, and launched the first global database compiling comparable data on women’s representation in local government in 133 countries. The COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker came online, weighing the gender credentials of over 3,000 policy measures across 219 countries and territories.
I am Generation Equality because: “People laughed at me when I first took up science and technology subjects, saying it was inappropriate for a girl.” That did not deter Mariam Lomtadze from pursuing her passion – and it made her add one, gender equality. Now she uses skills in tech to resolve problems caused by gender discrimination. This includes visualizing data on child marriage, a persistent problem in her country, Georgia. “Talking about early and forced marriage is the starting point for resolving it,” she says. “It is also important to show the girls involved that they are not alone.”
Nepal recognizes LGBTIQ people in its Constitution, a huge step. Yet its Census has lacked specific questions to collect data on them, leaving many feeling invisible and vulnerable, with limited policies and services tailored to their needs. As a further issue, citizenship documents require fitting into the broad categories of male, female or other. To develop more complete information, UN Women backs changemakers like Noor KC, a trans woman seeking more precise gender definitions in citizenship processes. The 2021 Census already promises to be more inclusive through UN Women’s assistance with new, detailed guidelines on gender equality and social inclusion.
“We want our citizenship to do justice to our identity. We want to belong.” —Noor KC
Human rights apply equally to all, but realizing them often depends on who or where you are. Women facing multiple forms of discrimination are particularly likely to see breaches in rights, as are women caught in crises and conflicts. Across our programmes, UN Women reaches those most at risk. In 2020, we supported nearly 1,300 civil society organizations in influencing peace processes to advance gender equality, integral to continued advocay for women’s central roles in making and keeping peace. Sixty-seven of our offices helped empower women and girls with disabilities, including through setting standards and policies to uphold their rights. Thirty-five countries extended services to women living with HIV. In 2021, UN Women’s leadership in coordinating the international humanitarian system means 100 per cent of humanitarian action plans will use sex-disaggregated data to accurately define women’s specific needs.
I am Generation Equality because: “I may be young, but I strongly believe in defending those who cannot speak up for themselves.” Diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age in India, Nitya Rathi used to feel sad when teachers picked on her for being “slow” in school. Then she decided to push back. She wrote the Purple Flame book series, starring the world’s first girl superhero with dyslexia. And she launched the Rebel Girls campaign, where girls and boys interact with gender-norms-busting women leaders. “I want people to become aware of the strengths of people with disabilities,” she comments. “And that we should include them in everything.”
COVID-19 has compounded losses in women’s rights and well-being in countries caught in existing emergencies, like Libya. Knowing that women are key to recovery and peace, Leila Ben Khalifeh, a member of the UN Women-supported Libyan Women’s Network for Peacebuilding, travels the country to diffuse local tensions and assist victims of injustice. Another goal: “I show that women can work in any place and on any issue to help change gender stereotypes,” she says. Network members quickly adapted to the pandemic, shifting advocacy and information-sharing to mobile phones. Even amid a pandemic, peace cannot wait.
“We can end crises only if we intensify all our efforts and work all together, men and women.” —Leila Ben Khalifeh
As climate change advances, survival depends on adapting, especially for women in rural areas struggling with disasters and weather shifts undercutting their livelihoods. UN Women in 2020 supported 101,000 rural women across 26 countries in Africa and Asia to build resilience and improve incomes. They gained better control over productive resources, time-saving and climate-smart technologies, leadership in agricultural cooperatives and a prominent place in agricultural reforms. Effective advocacy led to 30 policies to protect women’s land rights and tenure security as well as the inclusion of gender issues in national climate plans aligned with the Paris Agreement on climate change.
I am Generation Equality because: “I really believe in climate justice, which is recognizing that the fight for social justice is not separate from the fight for environmental sustainability.” Maria Alejandra (Majandra) Rodriguez Acha co-directs FRIDA, The Young Feminist Fund, in Peru. Seeing a planet where multiple systems are in crisis, always to the detriment of the most vulnerable people, she mobilizes movements for a reset in the ways we live. As she says, “We deserve better. We can do better. There is enough for everyone, we just aren't sharing it.”
“We have been entrusted with the land. It is important we take care of it,” says Senegalese farmer Korka Diaw, echoing a perspective shared by millions of rural women around the world. Diaw leads REFAN, a 16,000-member network of women farmers fighting poverty through agriculture. With UN Women’s assistance, REFAN members have strengthened links to markets and gained climate-smart agricultural tools, like resilient seeds and drones to monitor rice fields. New understanding of how to manage water and land raises crop yields while keeping surrounding ecosystems in balance.
“A better understanding of climate change has transformed the way we work.” –Korka Diaw
Gender equality will remain out of reach without the broad support of men and boys, as well as traditional authorities and religious figures. They can bend the curve of thinking and behaviour on issues such as equitably sharing unpaid care work and ending discriminatory traditions. UN Women in 2020 collaborated with men and boys and faith-based organizations in 45 countries. Our HeForShe global solidarity movement reached a record 3.4 million champions of gender equality. Through the European Union-United Nations Spotlight Initiative, UN Women mobilized faith-based and traditional leaders as well as businesses to bolster the prevention of violence against women and girls.
I am Generation Equality because: “I was among the many who fled the war in Syria, but half of the community was diminished because of their gender, and I believe that this needs to change.” Ahmed Albalkhi works as a security guard in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp. But he is also a communicator of messages to other men and boys, urging them to abandon discriminatory mindsets and make way for women’s empowerment. “Communities must come together, women and men, girls and boys, this generation and the next generation to ensure that we all have a brighter future and guarantee that all enjoy their rights,” he says.
“If fathers are more aware of gender inequality, they are less prone to discriminate between boys and girls.” So says Hasan Deniz, Fatherhood Programmes Director for the Mother Child Education Foundation in Turkey. It partners with UN Women to shift discriminatory attitudes and behaviours among men. Programmes combining discussion, games and storytelling equip fathers as active parents and improve relationships with their children and spouses. Graduates report abandoning harsh behaviours, assuming more responsibility for household chores and even enjoying greater well-being.
“Fathers are the most accessible intervention point for engaging men in women’s empowerment.” —Hasan Deniz
UN Women’s many achievements depend on our partners’ generosity and continued commitment. Despite the competing priorities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 our funding partners provided steadfast and increased support. This reflected their ever-growing confidence in UN Women to deliver high-impact results with the funds entrusted to us.
Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Sweden and the United States generously increased their regular resources contributions. The European Commission, Sweden, the Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office, Finland and Norway were our top five funding sources. Among the top private sector contributors were the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the BHP Billiton Foundation. In an unprecedented year, UN Women continued to leverage partnerships and strengthen communication and advocacy efforts backing scale and impact.
We are grateful to all those who stand by our side to champion gender equality for women and girls, all over the world.