During a Monday interaction with women civil society leaders in the UN General Assembly Hall, Secretary-General António Guterres learned of the vital need to make the internet safer for women and girls and to guarantee that they are equal participants in global conservations, both online and in person.
The town hall with non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders was conducted as part of the annual March session of the UN Committee on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York.
The current two-week session, known as CSW67, focuses on innovation, technological development, and education in the digital age. It concludes on Friday.
The town was also used by civil society to call for stronger action on other problems vital to women and girls, such as increased UN representation, halting the war in Ukraine, and eradicating all forms of gender-based violence.
A world controlled by men
In remarks before to the conversation, the Secretary-General discussed the global reversal in women’s and girls’ rights following years of modest advancement.
“Much of the difficulties we face today, from conflicts to climate catastrophe and the cost-of-living crises, are the outcome of a male-dominated society with a male-dominated culture making the most important decisions that shape our world,” he added.
Mr. Guterres stated that digital technology, the result of a mostly male sector, constitutes a new source of discrimination and prejudice.
“Rather than providing facts and correcting bias, technology based on insufficient data and poorly-designed algorithms is digitizing and amplifying sexism, with lethal results,” he warned.
“Medical judgments based mostly on male data can harm the health of women.
Specifically, in the automobile business, safety features based on men’s bodies can put women’s lives in danger, he noted, offering instances.
The digital difference between men and women is quickly becoming the new face of gender injustice, he added. Women and girls are not secure in cyberspace, as they have been abused, targeted, and degraded online.
In addition, “although 12 men have walked on the moon, not a single woman has done so,” he stated, citing preconceptions that “drive girls away from pursuing science, engineering, and mathematics and choke the careers of women scientists.”
Continue moving ahead
Mr. Guterres stated that the situation must change, and despite the “patriarchal pushback,” the international community must advance for women, girls, and the entire planet.
“Policymakers must generate – and in some cases reinforce – revolutionary change by supporting equal rights and educational opportunities for women and girls; by removing obstacles and shattering glass ceilings,” he added.
Among other steps, he urged all world leaders to immediately adopt UN guidelines that encourage education and training in digital skills for women and girls, as well as algorithms that respect human rights and gender equality.
Cybercriminal conduct should be punished.
The Secretary-General stressed at the opening of the debate – which was mediated by Sima Bahous, Executive Director of UN Women – that participants not only ask him questions, but also make comments, and recommendations, and provide ideas.
He talked with them in groups of three, first listening to their contributions as a whole and then addressing the specific difficulties brought by each participant.
Houry Geudelekian, Head of the New York chapter of the non-governmental organization CSW, was the first to speak. She emphasized that governments must develop a mechanism to punish perpetrators of cyber abuse against women and girls accountable.
She stated that cybercrime should be punished similarly to other crimes. Member States and the business sector are capable of reversing the decline in gender equality and elevating women and girls in all their variety.
In her individual position, she also urged the international community to decrease military spending by five percent and redirect the funds to sustainable development initiatives.
Young women demand change
Executive Director of YP, the Youth Foundation, Prabhleen Tuteja, posed a question to the Secretary-General on a larger presence of young women at the United Nations, specifically to guarantee “feminist, intersectional, and intergenerational leadership”.
Rania Harrara of Morocco said that young leaders were “quite disgruntled” because the town hall was concurrent with a forum for youth leaders.
She said that many young people from the Global South were unable to participate in the discussion owing to obstacles such as a lack of financing and visa restrictions.
“Digital access, digital literacy, and digital safety are essential to equality and meaningful youth involvement for all adolescent girls in all their variety,” she stated. “Adolescent females are weary of being used as props, and we demand a voice in policymaking.”
The Secretary-General was astonished to learn of these restrictions, as the directive was to enable all attendees access to the United Nations facilities.
Regarding visas, he clarified that the host country, not the UN, issues them. But, he requested examples of particular circumstances so that the issue may be brought up with U.S. authorities to prevent a repetition of the problem in the future.
In addressing the broader problem of young involvement, Mr. Guterres stated that while the United Nations has a gender parity policy, it has yet to develop a “rejuvenation” strategy.
“We need a younger United Nations,” he urged. Younger generations are better equipped than I am to investigate, for instance, the effects of digital technology on the global government.
The Secretary-General concurred with Ms. Geudelekian’s request for more responsibility for cyber assaults against women and girls, which he said is a subject that UN Member States ought to investigate thoroughly.
A case for Ukraine
One woman, claiming to represent Ukrainian women, provided an emotive account of how the conflict has devastated families in her nation.
In an October letter to the Secretary-General, an independent delegation of Ukrainian women requested that he “immediately reform the status of the United Nations.”
She emphasized support for creating a new global institution to safeguard all nations from attack, which was met with cheers.
Mr. Guterres remembered that the war had caused the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, with the majority of people fleeing Ukraine being women and children.
“Women are suffering in a manner that is completely disproportionate to this catastrophe,” he stated.
The Secretary-General reaffirmed that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a breach of international law and the UN Charter, stating, “We have made this very clear.”
In addition, he emphasized the UN’s continuous humanitarian action and support, including attempts to renew the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which will expire in a few days.