United Nations
United Nations

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday called for a major push to prevent “years, even generations” worth of progress on women’s empowerment from being lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an address to a virtual townhall with young women from civil society organizations, the UN chief said that the global pandemic has already “reversed decades of limited and fragile progress” on gender equality and women’s rights.

“Without a concerned response, we risk losing a generation or more of gains,” he said.

Guterres underscored the vital role played by women, as healthcare workers, essential staff, teachers and carers, helping millions globally – both within and outside their homes.

“The pandemic has exposed the extent of its impact on physical and mental health, education and labor force participation,” said Guterres, amid disturbing reports from around the world of skyrocketing gender-based violence, “as many women are effectively confined with their abusers, while resources and support services are redirected.”

“In short, the pandemic is exposing and exacerbating the considerable hurdles women face in achieving their rights and fulfilling their potential,” he said.

Monday’s townhall meeting is a regular fixture on the UN calendar, but generally organized on the sidelines of the annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women. This year, however, it was postponed due to the pandemic and held virtually, with thousands of women activists and defenders of women’s rights participating remotely.

In his remarks, the UN chief recalled the UN’s policy brief issued in April, which urged governments to put women and girls – their inclusion, representation, rights, and protection – at the center of all efforts to tackle and recover from COVID-19.

“It is clear that we cannot go back to the failed policies that have resulted in the fragility we see around us – in healthcare systems, in social protection, in access to justice. This is the time to rebuild more equal, inclusive, and resilient societies. Our roadmap is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” the UN chief declared.

“We need to take the opportunity of an economic reset to ensure the rights to life, dignity, and security for everyone.”

The secretary-general noted that 2020 marks several important landmarks. It is the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration; the 20th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security; and the first year of the Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals – key achievements in gender equality and women’s empowerment.

In that vein, he reinforced his determination to advance women’s priorities and to ensure their equal rights and participation in the peace and security agenda, on climate change, on building inclusive economies, and on reducing and eliminating the digital divide so that women have an equal role in designing technologies of the future.

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