Op-ed: Looking to the sun – Pushing forward for gender equality

Op-ed: Looking to the sun – Pushing forward for gender equality

Astonishingly, through all of this, the fight for gender equality and women’s rights has remained unflagging. Not only is it the most enduring movement for substantive equality, but feminist mobilizing is adaptive, inclusive, and intersectional, and creates alliances and coalitions with other movements involved in the safeguarding of democracy and rights. What is significant is that it challenges—on behalf of everyone—the implicit hierarchies of power for a few.

Notions of individual and collective agency, solidarity, equity, access, autonomy, and accountability are cornerstones of feminist mobilizing. The idea of gender equality interrogates entitlements and privileges that foster multiple inequalities. It also shines the light on individual, community, societal, and institutional norms, practices, and stereotypes that limit opportunities for people and marginalize them in private and public spheres.

As such, gender equality aligns with the broader goals of strengthening democracies. And in doing so, it faces ferocious pushback from populist and authoritarian forces, whose agenda is to separate people from their histories and contexts and coalesce them around simplistic, unidimensional identities. Illiberal and populist ideologies often seek support at the expense of marginalized groups and view the plural, inclusive feminist agenda as an existential threat.

The achievement of gender equality has long been hampered by sluggish political will, insufficient investment, restricted civic space, and compounding global crises. At this moment, the critical midpoint of the deadline for completing the SDGs, no goal indicators for gender equality are at “target met or almost met”. Today less than 1 per cent of women and girls live in a country with high women’s empowerment and a small gender gap, according to UN Women and UNDP’s latest joint report, “The paths to equal”. Notwithstanding, in the current climate of democratic erosion and authoritarian resurgence, the pushback against gender equality has become global, political, and institutional.

Coordinated and well-resourced state and non-state actors are normalizing traditional, patriarchal, binary constructs of men’s and women’s roles in society and polity and promoting public legitimacy of these ideas through political processes and rhetoric.

Where women are exerting their rights and voices as citizens and where that expression is against the dominant political agenda, they are targeted as anti-national. In contexts where opposition and dissent are criminalized, dissenting feminist activists and their claims of gender equality are pronounced as being against the national character.

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