300 years. That is how long it is predicted to take before we achieve gender equality if progress remains as slow as it has been. This stark warning was shared by the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, at the opening session of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women. Estimates say it will take up to 286 years to close legal gaps and remove discriminatory laws, 140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership at work, and at least 40 years to achieve equal representation in national parliaments. As of the end of 2022, it’s estimated that around 383 million women and girls live in extreme poverty. And every 11 minutes, a woman or girl is killed by someone in her own family*. These are frightening, but very real statistics for the world we are living in.
I felt so privileged to have been selected as a UK delegate for the 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) — CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. The Commission applies a thematic approach to its work and considers one priority theme each year — this year, the priority theme considered was “innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”.
Throughout the two-week Commission hundreds of events took place focused on advancing the cause of gender equality. There were the ‘official meetings’ where representatives of UN Member States, civil society organizations and UN entities gathered together for official negotiations on the agreed conclusions of the Commission. There were also ‘side events’ hosted by Permanent Missions, intergovernmental organizations, and United Nations entities, and finally ‘parallel events’ organized by NGOs. For the first time ever, the UN established a youth segment and invited youth delegates to input their considerations on this topic, understanding the importance of empowering young people to speak up about their views and experiences to help influence change.
My key takeaway from the Commission was that the power of collective action is formidable. Thousands of individuals came together in person and virtually to learn, inspire and ultimately create change — each one bringing their own diverse lived experiences, culture, and background, but all focused on the same important aims: to close gender gaps in digital access, shape inclusive innovation ecosystems, embed gender perspectives across design, development and deployment of tech and innovation, and eliminate technology-facilitated gender-based violence. The U.N. opened up spaces for multilateral dialogue to build common ground between different views. At a time when the world remains so acutely divided, facing intersecting global crises including the COVID-19 pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, heightened armed conflict and climate change, UN Women’s Executive Director, Sima Sami Bahous, shared a simple but poignant message: “we must find what unites us rather than what divides us.”
In the digital age, systems continue to perpetuate bias, inequality and violence in the lives of women and girls and we are seeing technological progress outpacing the progress towards gender equality. Ultimately, this is not progress. This is also not just a women’s issue — governments have a huge responsibility and so does the private sector in activating change.
The Commission on the Status of Women adopted agreed conclusions as its outcome which were negotiated by all Member States — I won’t try to summarize these as they span 26 pages! I’d encourage you to review these at your leisure, here. At a macro level, the progress will be seen as these conclusions are established and put into action across the world. And closer to home, we each play a role on a day-to-day basis in building a more inclusive and sustainable world. As Nelson Mandela so eloquently said, “you can start changing our world for the better daily, no matter how small the action”.
* Data from UN Women UK.
Fari Rome is a Vice President in the Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion team.