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Gender inequality 'hurts all of us'

Updated: 2012-06-20 08:19
By Chen Weihua in Rio de Janeiro ( China Daily)

Two women in top posts within the United Nations expressed dissatisfaction with progress made toward gender equality in the two decades since the organization convened its first Earth Summit.

"Twenty years ago, the Rio Declaration emphasized that women's full participation is essential to achieving sustainable development. Twenty years later, women continue to face inequality in rights, opportunities and participation," Michelle Bachelet, executive director of UN Women, said on Monday in Rio de Janeiro.

The former president of Chile was speaking at an event tied to the three-day (Wednesday to Friday) UN Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20, to mark the years elapsed since a similar 1992 conference in the same Brazilian city.

Bachelet recounted grim statistics: A woman dies every two minutes from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Violence against women remains a global epidemic. Women earn less than men for the same work, and remain underrepresented in decision-making - fewer than one in 10 heads of state or government, fewer than one in five members of a national legislature and less than 4 percent of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are female.

"We cannot afford to continue on the present path, and we especially cannot afford to leave women marginalized in leadership and decision-making, and subject to violence and discrimination," Bachelet said. "This is not sustainable. This social exclusion of women is not only hurting women, it is hurting all of us."

When women enjoy equal rights, opportunities and participation, they can make a greater contribution to sustainable development. The full and equal participation of women makes societies, economies and the environment healthier, said the political exile-turned-president (she led Chile from 2006 to 2010).

Bachelet cited an online survey of women around the world that UN Women will release this week. "These women told us directly about the future they want. They made strong recommendations for the urgent need to focus on economic development, on access to financial and technical resources for women, and on increasing women's participation and leadership in decision-making across all levels.

She said that for the sake of current and future generations, all of humanity's collective intelligence should be nurtured and its capacity expanded.

"The full and equal participation and leadership of women is no longer an option. It is an urgent necessity if we are to achieve the transformational change needed at all levels and spheres of society for sustainable development," said Bachelet, who took the helm at UN Women - its full name is the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women - upon its formation in 2010.