‘Power is not given, power is taken’, UN chief tells women activists

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UNITED NATIONS, Mar 14 (APP):UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has underscored the importance of women seizing the initiative in the struggle for gender equality at a meeting he held for civil society activists.

“The central question of gender equality is a question of power”, he stressed at the session on “Women in Power”, noting that “we continue to live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture.”

“Power is not given, power is taken”, he stressed, adding, “we have to push back” against the resistance to change “because people do not like power being taken”.

In enumerating the UN’s internal priorities, he listed the first as parity, telling the meeting that at the senior Under-Secretary-General (USG) and
Assistant-Secretary-General (ASG) levels, “we are now at 53 per cent men and 47 per cent women, which means that we are in line to the commitment I made to reach full parity in senior management in 2021”, he told the session on the sidelines of the Commission on the Status of Women.

“We will only be successful if we are able to combine the institutional approaches, like the ones the UN develops, with the approaches at the civil society (level), the grassroots movements and the public opinion in general”, he elaborated.

Turning to sexual harassment, he flagged that the victims are predominantly women and girls “because of the power relations”.

The Secretary-General said the main obstacle to introducing a zero-tolerance policy was the doubt people had over its effectiveness, pointing out that often “the victim becomes a double victim” instead of the perpetrators being punished.

To combat this, “we have done something revolutionary” he told the group, “We created a team of six women experts on sexual harassment investigations” where complaints bypass the old bureaucratic system and go straight to this team, “which might make some men think twice”. This second priority was greeted with a stirring round of applause.

Sexual exploitation perpetrated by UN staff against others, namely vulnerable populations, was the UN chief’s third priority.

While cases are reported in peacekeeping operations, they also come in from agencies working in humanitarian and development fields.

“It is important to have a prevention capacity and at the same time a solid capacity to fighting impunity”, he asserted, adding that progress is being made. Specifically he said, the overwhelming majority of troop and police contributing countries “are signing a contract with us in relation to prevention, training and punishment”, in addition to around 60 heads of State and Government who are championing the cause.

“The hatred and prejudice” against “women emerging”, is also “a question of power”, he said, lamenting that legislation, reproductive rights and “even genital mutilation” are moving backwards.

In conjunction with governments and international organizations, civil society has an important role to play in shifting this.

“We need to push back against the push back in relation to what is a difficult environment for the human rights universe related to the question of gender,” Guterres spelled out.

The human right agenda in several parts of the world is losing ground and “it is very important that we unite our efforts to reverse this trend”, the Secretary-General concluded.