The Human Impact

Who’s key to gender equality? Hint: It’s not women

When it comes to women’s rights, it turns out it’s really all about men.

A recent World Bank report underscored that strong economies and greater education for women, once thought to be silver bullets against gender inequality in the world of work, are effectively trumped by persistent social norms.

Entrenched social attitudes and traditions remain among the greatest obstacles to realising women’s rights globally – and most of those attitudes and traditions are held or enforced by men, according to experts.

An emerging theme at this year’s United Nations Commission on the Status of Women  (CSW58), is an increasing acknowledgment of the importance of addressing and changing the attitudes of men and boys to achieve the stubbornly elusive goal of gender equality.

“We can empower women more and more, but if men remain the same, what’s the point?” Waruna Sri Dhanapala, minister counselor at Sri Lanka’s permanent mission to the United Nations, told a panel discussion on Monday.

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), agreed that equality can’t happen without boys and men being on board.

Male breadwinner and (unpaid) female bread maker? Outdated

Unrecognised, undervalued and under the radar of most economic measures, the unpaid care work done by the world’s women is finally getting some long-overdue attention at the U.N.’s 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

In the world of work, the global unpaid daily labour of women caring for families – including children, the disabled and the elderly – across the life cycle is one of the most valuable and costly resources routinely discounted by those assessing economic strength in economies, according to experts.

As a result, some women’s rights activists are lobbying for unpaid work to be included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will replace the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015.

Helped by quotas, more women enter Latin American politics

When Michelle Bachelet takes office as president of Chile for the second time on Tuesday, the person who places the blue, white and red striped presidential sash round her neck will be  Isabel Allende – the first woman in Chilean history to be leader of the senate.

One in four lawmakers in Latin America are women, a proportion second only to Europe, and a continent better known as the home of machismo is now leading the way in drawing more women into politics – enabling them gradually to push women’s, social and educational issues to the fore.

A key reason for the growth in the number of congresswomen and female senators in Latin America is the adoption of quotas for women in parliament by 16 of the region’s countries in recent years.

Celebrating women’s rights around the world

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD), we have gathered contributions from the likes of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) who writes that “there is still not one country in which women and girls are equal to men in political or economic power,” and that ” for far too many women and girls, the ability to live a healthy and productive life free from violence remains an aspiration.”

In another post, journalists at the Milan-based newspaper Corriere della Sera reflect on the status of women’s rights in Italy, three years after creating  “La 27ora”, a popular blog about women’s issues. It’s “time to smash female stereotypes in Italy,” they say, pointing to the long way Italians still have to go to achieve gender equality in a country where patriarchal attitudes are still deeply entrenched in society.

For more contributions, photo blogs and articles on women’s rights, visit our special International Women’s Day coverage page here.

Forbes lists record number of women billionaires

There are more women billionaires now than ever before – 172 of them according to Forbes magazine’s 2014 Billionaire’s List, up from 138 last year.  And a sixth of all newcomers on the list are women.

Famous names include Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, U.S. TV celebrity Oprah Winfrey, fashion designer Tory Burch, British betting queen Denise Coates and the first female Nigerian billionaire Folorunsho Alakija.

However, women still only account for around a tenth of the 1,645 billionaires identified by Forbes on Tuesday as it published its 28thannual list of the richest people on the planet.

Italian men seek help to stop battering wives and partners


Alberto, a metalworker in his mid-thirties from a town in northern Italy, would sometimes get so furious arguing with his wife in the car that he would drive into a tree “just to shut her up”.

“When we argued I felt cornered, like I was about to lose everything,” he said in emailed comments to Thomson Reuters Foundation.

From the beginning of his 13-year-old relationship with his wife, Alberto, who did not want to give his full name, struggled to contain feelings of rage, usually ignited by a cross word or critical tone.

Saudi Arabia launches first campaign to stop violence against women

 Saudi Arabia has launched its first visual campaign against the abuse of women, designed to encourage female victims to come out of hiding and to have a global impact at a time of change in the kingdom.

The advertisement shows a woman wearing a full veil or niqab, her made-up eyes staring out from the heavy cloth with one of them blackened and bruised.

Underneath, a caption reads: “Some things can’t be covered – fighting women’s abuse together.”

Monique Villa: Being a woman in a schizophrenic male world

This past week, chatting away at the dinner table, I was asked about one of my favorite books. My answer was swift: ‘Il Gattopardo’ -”The Leopard”- the masterpiece of Sicilian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

The novel narrates the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Italian Risorgimento, the revolution which led to the abolition of the monarchy and the creation of a unified Italian State in 1861. Central to the story is the idea of change, feared and opposed by the dominant class, but also opportunistically embraced by those willing to re-invent themselves in exchange for a slice of new power. It is Tancredi, the aristocrat joining the revolution to safeguard his family interests, who speaks the novel’s most famous line: “If we want things to stay as they are” – he says – “things will have to change.”

Tancredi’s view is extremely fitting to describe the social status of a generation of women who – from India to Egypt – have enthusiastically embraced change, taking huge risks in the name of education, equal opportunities and progress. But unlike Tancredi, these women have welcomed change in their hearts, and have voluntarily positioned themselves outside traditional schemes. A choice that has given them a different status. These women are a novelty. The mainstream social-context around them hasn’t changed as rapidly as they have.

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