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Stereotypes, resource crunch among the biggest obstacles to fighting women’s abuse

Amrita Nair Ghaswalla Mumbai | Updated on January 16, 2018 Published on December 06, 2016

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under Secretary General of the United Nations and the Executive Director of UN Women

UN Under Secretary-General and the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, focuses on creating partnerships and mobilising world leaders on Agenda 2030, for sustainable development. In between, she carves out time to visit initiatives supported by UN Women through its two trust funds: Fund for Gender Equality and Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women.

Mlambo-Ngcuka was in Mumbai, to address a conference and to mark UN Women’s partnership with IMC Chamber of Commerce and Industry. BusinessLine caught up with her to ask how far gender equality has come and what still needs to be done. Excerpts:

How far has gender equality progressed since the Beijing Conference in 1995?

To give it a global context and time-frame, 20 years ago when we signed the declaration in Beijing, 189 countries committed to specific action that would lead us to gender equality. And 20 years later, we have achieved a level of 23 per cent women representation in Parliaments around the world. Not a spectacular achievement, but we moved from 11 per cent.

We are now pushing for countries to accelerate that process, so that by the time we reach 2030 (Agenda 2030), and even before, we can talk about gender parity in global Parliaments, and include it in other decision making policies. The past 20 years represent a mixed bag. The legal landscape has changed fundamentally. Twenty years ago we did not have adequate legislation to address issues of violence against women and gender equality. And that is one area where we have made significant progress, including in India. Implementation of these laws is a big issue though.

What are the main obstacles to achieving gender equality worldwide?

A big issue for both developed and developing countries is stereotypes related to women and girls. There is a perception that discriminatory or violent treatment of women is not a crime, and that you can therefore discriminate against them with impunity.

In many of the countries where the law has been passed, the challenge has been that the sterotypes and norms that have discriminated against women have not been addressed effectively. So there are instances of good law living side-by-side with bad norms and stereotypes. The issue cannot be fought just by women. We have to ensure there is collaboration between law enforcers, social workers, and governments.

How important is it to get corproates on board ?

It is very important cause they are trend-setters. Lack of economic empowerment for women is probably one of the biggest reasons why women would stay in an abusive relationship, even risk death. In many cases, the perpetrator is a provider, and when there are children involved, women feel vulnerable.

We are asking corporates and employers to read the signs, to see when a women comes to work with bruises, and to ensure there is someone at the workplace whom they can go and talk to. We are urging corporates to have sexual harassment policies at the workplace, because in some cases, we have known women tend to continue to work in offices and stay for many years with an abuser who actually holds the key for their progress.

What kind of investments are you looking at?

Investment is about money, but money can be invested either in research, or in relief programmes, or in helping to build shelters, or supporting governments to change law enforcers. We need to see a kind of private-public sector partnership that can make resources available, so that where governments are struggling to get resources, these resources can be augmented.

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Published on December 06, 2016
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