I know that there is a great deal of cynicism to be borne when looking at the work of the UN, especially considering gender equality — for instance, the Millennium Development Goals can hardly be called successful yet. Gender parity within education has been achieved (questionably) in only 2 out of 130 participating countries. Women hold 40 out of 100 non-agricultural, wage-earning jobs on a statistical basis alone, and inequality in terms of entry into the labour market is still a huge issue. By 2013, the increase of women in parliamentarian positions rose to 21.8%, from 10.1% in 1997: at such a pace we can potentially hope for gender parity in politics within the next 40 years. Aside from these, the goals themselves exclude significant issues regarding gender equality, including violence against women, sexual health rights and inequalities in unpaid care work.
In light of all of this, it is easy to lose hope in the possibility of global gender equality, at least through the MDGs and their oh-so-slow instigation.
Whilst I hope that I will never be heard to say that women’s emancipation is impossible, and that I will never say enough is enough — until equality is (if ever) absolute — the new year is a time for hope. Rather than spending my time analysing the ins and outs of the Millennium Development Goals and their flaws, I would like to spend a moment going through some causes for celebration in terms of gender equality that have occurred in the years since the turn of the millennium.
2000: The UN Security Council adopts Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the first resolution to recognise the disproportionate and unique effect that conflict can have on women.
2001: Irene Zubaida Khan becomes Secretary General for Amnesty International, the first woman, the first Asian and the first Muslim to guide the human rights organisation.
2002: The 26th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women releases a statement in support and solidarity for Afghan women, declaring that “The participation of Afghan women as full and equal partners with men is essential for the reconstruction and development of their country.” The Committee calls for the recognition and respect of women’s human rights.
2003: The Female Genital Mutilation Act is brought in in the UK, making it an offence for any UK national or permanent UK resident to carry out, help with, advise or pay for FGM abroad, even in countries where FGM is not yet illegal.
2004: The March for Women’s Lives is held in Washington DC, a demonstration for reproductive rights and women’s rights, including 800,000 participants.
2005: The foundation of the Feministiskt Initiativ (Fi), a Swedish political party focused on gender equality, human rights and social justice, with the tagline “Replace the racists with feminists!”. In 2014, Fi won 5.3% of the Swedish vote in the EU election and, despite not meeting the 4% threshold in the country’s general election, became Sweden’s most popular political party outside of parliament.
2006: A criminal law amendment occurs in Pakistan, resulting in the Protection of Women Act which, among other things, inverted the law that women who reported being raped were prosecuted for adultery.
2007: The Domestic Violence Act is adopted in Sierra Leone, with strong focus on the protection of victims in domestic violence cases.
2008: Quentin Brice becomes the first female Governor-General of Australia.
2009: President Obama signs the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, allowing for victims of pay discrimination (often, but not exclusively, women) to file complaints against their employees with the government.
2010: The UN General Assembly voted unanimously to create a single UN body with the specific task of accelerating women’s empowerment and gender equality globally.
2011: The first SlutWalk takes place in Toronto.
2012: Every single country that participated in the London Olympics included women in their team — some for the very first time.
2013: 38 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean adopt the Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development: the first UN agreement to include a definition of sexual and reproductive rights “which embrace the right to a safe and full sex life, as well as the right to take free, informed, voluntary and responsible decisions on their sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity, without coercion, discrimination or violence.”
2014: Iranian woman Maryam Mirzakhani becomes the first woman to win the Fields Medal for excellence in Maths. Malala Yousafzai is the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
2015: Women in Saudi Arabia will gain suffrage along with the right to run for municipal elections.
These are just tiny pieces of success in a much bigger picture. There are so many things that have happened to further gender equality in the past fifteen years and we should be proud. Many would have us look at such facts and gains and be satisfied but none of these events are enough on their own. They are tiny steps towards a huge goal that sometimes feels unattainable. For me, such gains are evidence of just how important persistence is. There is a long way to go. There is a lot to fight for. It will take a long time and a lot of work. Every now and then, though, it is important to stop and breathe and look back at what persistence can, has and will achieve. One day the MDGs may become a reality, just like all of the above. But that will not happen overnight, and it will not happen without us, the little people, refusing to let them be forgotten. Happy New Year — let’s make it a big one.