The Time is Now: The Generation Equality Forum Reinforces the Need for Bold Action to Reach Gender Equality

Last week’s Generation Equality Forum (GEF) in Paris brought together world leaders, business executives, members of civil society, and activists with the single-minded goal of advancing gender equality. The event reflected on progress over the last quarter century, recognized how far we have to go, and provided a forum for tangible, actionable commitments—particularly financial commitments—towards advancing the rights of women and girls worldwide.

Gender inequality is pervasive and systemic across virtually all countries and societies. Twenty-six years after most of the world adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which made clear that  “women’s rights are human rights,” women and girls still face remarkable discrimination, persecution, and outright violence. Displaced women and girls are especially affected. An essential part of advancing gender equality is to meet the needs of displaced women and girls, of which there are at least 40 million. Yet even feminist forums often overlook this population.

Together with partners, Refugees International called on the leaders of this event to ensure that the commitments made at the forum include women and girls in humanitarian contexts, taking into account their unique needs and risks to their protection. Given that the United States government remains the largest donor to humanitarian emergencies worldwide, it is absolutely critical for U.S. political leadership to be fully behind the goals of the forum. The U.S. government must be dedicated to the actions required to achieve gender equality, particularly for displaced women and girls.

These actions include but are not limited to, ensuring that women and girls have equal access to education, political participation, and labor markets; have bodily autonomy and access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health rights; and are free from violence and harassment.    

Vice President Kamala Harris led the U.S. delegation for the forum. This is symbolic of the current administration’s dedication to gender equality. VP Harris’ opening remarks were inspiring and represent a new chapter in American engagement on gender equality. She demonstrated that the United States is committed to advancing the rights and well-being of women and girls around the world. In line with this, the White House announced that it will request $1.2 billion in the FY2022 President’s Budget for gender programming abroad, and it will update the 2016 U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. It also just signed on to the Compact on Women, Peace, and Security and Humanitarian Action, which “calls for the redesign of peace and security and humanitarian processes to systematically and meaningfully include women and girls – including peacebuilders, refugees, other forcibly displaced and stateless women and girls – in the decisions that impact their lives.”

These commitments are important steps in the right direction. Other significant commitments include that the United States will:

  • Strengthen its leadership role in the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies and ensuring that GBV is prioritized and resourced from the outset of emergencies.
  • Co-sponsor a resolution on “Ending violence against children through health systems strengthening an multisectoral approaches” which will prioritize preventing and addressing early, child, and forced marriage, and child trafficking.
  • Establish the Gender Equity and Equality Action (GEEA) Fund with $100 million in FY 2021 and twice as much in FY 2022. This fund will advance economic security for women and girls globally, prevent and respond to GBV and will address the impact that COVID-19, climate change, and conflict and crisis have on women and girls.
  • Commit $33 million in FY 2020 to advance gender equality in the Northern Triangle and provide an additional $2.2 million to 15 local organizations.
  • Resume funding for the UN Population Fund at $56 million in FY 2022. U.S. government officials will also publicly state support for expanding essential sexual and reproductive health service delivery in multilateral forums.

These are indeed important actions which explicitly include displaced women and girls. Organizations such as ours must hold the U.S. administration accountable to following through on its commitments and ensuring that displaced women and girls are included as both beneficiaries and as decision-makers. But of course, it is not just an effort of the United States. States, companies, organizations, and communities worldwide need to acknowledge persistent gender inequalities and commit to eliminating them, in rhetoric and in action.

The GEF, which took place in the middle of a global pandemic that has reversed many advances in gender equality, was a crucial reckoning of where we are and where we need to be. As former UN High Commissioner for Refugees and current Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated in his remarks, “Equality is really a question about power…and no one gives up power. We have to fight for the gains we made in Beijing. We have to push back the pushback.” The commitments made at the 2021 GEF are as critical as ever. And the $40 billion announced to advance gender equality is an unprecedented dollar amount dedicated to this issue.

Let’s make sure that the women and girls who are often left behind are included in the efforts that these funds will support. Let’s make sure that displaced women and girls can access not only safety, but also the gains in gender equality that we are sure to make with the enthusiasm that was on display in Paris this year. Let’s make sure that gender equality is inclusive.

PHOTO CAPTION: Rohingya refugees sit on a Bangladesh Navy ship as they are relocated to the controversial flood-prone island Bhashan Char in the Bay of Bengal, in Chittagong on December 29, 2020. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)