4 World Leaders Pledging Action On Gender Inequality (That We'll Have To See To Believe)
Over the weekend, while world leaders assembled in New York City for a United Nations summit on achieving long-term goals, the focus on Sunday turned to gender equality. U.N. Women and China co-hosted the "Global Leaders' Meeting on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: A Commitment To Action." In an effort to reach the U.N.'s overarching goals on gender equality, world leaders pledged action in their home countries — but it remains to be seen if those words will actually turn into change.
Sunday's event recognized the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Women's Conference in Beijing, where a long-term plan for achieving gender equality worldwide was adopted. About 80 countries participated in Sunday's event, including China, Germany, and Afghanistan. Notably, President Barack Obama did not attend the women's conference, although he did issue a written statement in reference to the gender equality discussion, in which he called for increased education for women around the world and greater pay equality.
Despite Obama's absence, the U.S. still managed to have a voice in the day's event. The American ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, led a campaign called #FreeThe20, which highlights 20 imprisoned female activists from around the world. The campaign caused a bit of controversy around Sunday's gender equality conference because three of the 20 activists are Chinese. The campaign took place outside the conference because the American delegation lobbed the Chinese delegation unsuccessfully to have it incorporated into the official event.
Inside the event, leaders offered different levels of support for the 20-year-old plan's goals. There was some money pledged, there were some programs announced, but mostly, there were a lot of words spoken, which will need to be acted upon down the road. Here's a recap:
As organizer of the conference, Chinese President Xi Jinping had the most concrete action to offer. (If you're surprised, you're not alone.) Xi announced a $10 million donation to the U.N. for the purpose of implementing the 1995 resolution. He also laid out what his country will do to contribute to the cause. Over the next five years, China will work in 100 developing countries to establish health projects for women and children.
China will also finance 100 projects to send girls to school, train 30,000 women from developing countries in China, and provide training opportunities to 100,000 women in other developing countries, according to Yahoo News. This sort of support for gender equality seems uncharacteristic for China, but it will certainly be welcome effort if China follows through with it.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel connected the event to the ongoing violence in the Middle East, using the danger that women face in war-torn areas like Syria and Iraq as a plea for change in the world. She offered up no donation or program, but she noted that action must take place as a result of her words, saying, "Signals are good, actions are better."
French President Francois Hollande also stressed the violence that is threatening women in Syria and Iraq. In fact, he called rape, forced marriage, and prostitution are "everyday events" in those areas, in part because of ISIS. These statements tied in well with Hollande's other major announcement of the day — that France has launched air strikes in Syria. "Stopping the war is bringing an end to the suffering of women," he said.
Another somewhat unexpected participant, Cuban President Raul Castro commented on the state of women in his country and spoke to the larger issues that plague nearly every country. He said, "It's necessary above all to have an equitable and just international order that eradicates poverty and hunger and puts an end to conflict, prioritizes human beings over capital and preserves the environment." Like others, his speech also fell short in terms of outlining specific action items.
Ultimately, the U.N.'s conference on gender equality got leaders to have a conversation about gender roles around the world — even if it fell short of laying out specific plans in most cases.