PARIS – World leaders, philanthropists and organizations have pledged at least $40 billion at an international conference in Paris to boost gender equality, as women and girls worldwide have been deeply affected by the consequences of the pandemic.
U.N. Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka welcomed the pledges at the three-day Generation Equality Forum that started Wednesday.
The summit "is about change. It is about moving from making promises to telling us what you are going to do for the situation of women to change,” she said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said that over the past year and half, an extra 47 million women fell into poverty amid the pandemic, and millions of others were deprived of treatment, contraception and the possibility of choosing for themselves. “While they were on the frontline of the fight against COVID, women are the first victims of this health crisis,” he said.
The conference aims at tackling and funding all issues that impede women’s rights -- forced marriage, gender-based violence, leaving school, work inequality, losing out on innovation and technology — and ensuring their sexual and reproductive rights and health.
Bill and Melinda Gates’ namesake foundation announced it will spend $2.1 billion in the next five years on health and family planning programs, economic empowerment projects and other initiatives.
The Ford Foundation announced a $420 million investment to tackle threats to women’s rights caused by COVID-19. The World Bank committed to funding programs in 12 African states.
The conference, co-organized by the U.N., France and Mexico, is mostly held virtually, but some heads of state, U.N. officials and women’s right activists were also attending in person in Paris.
Meant to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women, during which nations made major commitments to achieve gender equality, it was delayed from last year because of the coronavirus.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who famously said in Beijing that “human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights,” came to Paris to encourage younger generations to continue fighting.
“Now looking back, I believe we have made progress not near enough, and that we have to recommit ourselves to going even further. But we also need the power to claim the rights,” she said. “Rights without power adds up to very little."
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking via videoconference, highlighted threats to democracy around the world.
“Democracy is in peril. Strongmen have become stronger. Human rights abuses have multiplied,” she said. “And who gets hurt when democracies fall? When democracies falter? ... Well, women and girls are among those who suffer.”
Harris previewed US commitments to “reinforce our institutions” in ways that will create “tangible results that improve the lives of women in the United States and women around the world,” without providing details.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres denounced what he described as a current “pushback” from some world leaders, political, economic and religious movements across the world.
“We must push back against the pushback”, he said. “We must win that ideological battle against conservative forces.”