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The United Nations chief has warned the world is “300 years away” from gender equality: What are the barriers?

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UN chief warns gender equality is nearly 300 years away, as progress vanishes amid widening gaps, violence, and global issues affecting women.
The United Nations chief has warned the world is "300 years away" from gender equality: What are the barriers?

In a speech ahead of International Women’s Day, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned progress advancing gender equality is “vanishing before our eyes”.

Guterres says the pandemic widened gender gaps and recent wars have affected women and girls “first and worst”. He specifically called out

Afghanistan, where he said women and girls have been “erased from public life”.

Guterres cited UN research from last year suggesting gender equality was nearly 300 years away. 

What does that research tell us? Here’s a summary.

The background

The United Nations tracks the world’s progress on a number of Sustainable Development Goals.

Progress on gender equality is one of these goals, and other goals including health and education include specific goals for women. The goals include specific targets for progress by 2030.

Years behind

The ‘nearly 300 years’ figure refers to progress in removing laws that

discriminate against women. UN Women says at the current rate these laws will not be removed worldwide for 286 years.

Other targets are also many years away: at current rates it will take 140 years for women to occupy half of manager roles worldwide, 40 years for women to occupy half of parliamentary positions and at least 21 years for violence against women to be outlawed in every country. There has been progress against female genital mutilation and child marriage, but neither are on track to be eliminated by 2030.

Going backwards

Progress has gone backwards on several fronts in recent years, especially due to the pandemic, according to the United Nations. The gender gap in work participation is believed to be wider now in 114 countries than it was in 2019. Maternal mortality has increased in many places since the pandemic began – the worst results were in Uganda (up 62%) and Peru (up 50%).

There have also been reports of higher rates of violence. More than one in 10 women and girls worldwide were subject to intimate partner violence in the last year and one woman or girl is killed by a family member every 11 minutes.

Global issues

Women are also disproportionately affected by a number of major global issues.

For example, women are at greater risk of food insecurity during wars and pandemics. They also have a higher risk of health consequences from food insecurity and a lack of access to clean water.

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