Decades of advances on women’s rights are being wound back and the world is now hundreds of years away from achieving gender equality, according to the United Nations.
He drew special attention to Afghanistan, where Guterres said women and girls “have been erased from public life” following the return to Taliban rule. The regime has barred women and girls from universities and some schools. The Taliban has also blocked many female aid workers, imperiling key aid programs, including those overseen by the U.N.
In many places, women’s sexual and reproductive rights “are being rolled back,” he said. (Guterres did not mention the United States — the largest financial contributor to the United Nations — where a nationwide right to abortion no longer exists.) Maternal mortality is on the rise, he said, and the coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of girls out of school, and mothers and caregivers out of the global workforce.
“Gender equality is growing more distant,” Guterres said. “On the current track, U.N. Women puts it 300 years away.” (He did not specify how the figure was reached.)
From Ukraine to West Africa’s Sahel region, women are “first and worst” affected by conflict, Guterres said. Only a week after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba alleged “numerous cases” of Ukrainian women being raped by Russian soldiers. Anti-trafficking groups have warned of the risk of refugees — the majority of whom are women and children — falling victim to forced labor and sexual abuse.
Guterres didn’t mention by name Iran, which was in December ejected from the commission he addressed Monday, which is tasked with protecting women’s rights and promoting equality. Iran was ousted over its brutal crackdown on protests that broke out in mid-September following the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, in police custody after she allegedly violated the country’s conservative dress code for women. Women play a central role in the protest movement, which also includes citizens frustrated with economic mismanagement and corruption, and is calling for the removal of Iran’s theocratic government.
Guterres is the ninth person to serve as U.N. secretary general, a role that no woman has held. A gender equality watchdog last year gave the Portuguese official a grade of B-minus for his work toward making the U.N. more gender equitable. It said that while he had made steps toward gender parity at senior management levels — more than half of the people in a senior executive group he chairs are women — progress “has stalled on responding to sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse in the U.N. system.”
The U.N. chief also said gender equality is at risk from a technology industry heavily skewed toward a male workforce. Men outnumber women by 2 to 1 in the tech industry, and in the growing field of artificial intelligence, that gender gap rises to 5 to 1, according to Guterres, putting the world-changing industry at risk of “shaping our future” in a gender-biased way.
Guterres also trained a spotlight on the “misogynistic disinformation and misinformation” he said was flourishing on social media, and what is known as gender trolling aimed at “silencing women and forcing them out of public life.”
“We cannot let the Silicon Valleys of our world become Death Valleys for women’s rights,” Guterres said. “We need the full contributions of all, for a future in which humanity controls technology rather than the other way around.”
He noted that women account for just 3 percent of Nobel Prizes awarded for the sciences — a gap he attributed to “centuries of patriarchy, discrimination and harmful stereotypes” that have contributed to gender gaps in the fields of science and technology.
“The math is simple: Without the insights and creativity of half the world, science and technology will fulfill just half their potential,” he said.
Susannah George contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the Taliban has invalidated thousands of divorces. The story has been updated to remove this statement.