Citizens around the world demand gender equality, survey shows

People take part in the 'Women's Strike' protest against the tightening of the abortion law in Warsaw, Poland, 28 January 2021. Credit: Keystone

A new report finds that the global public “overwhelmingly” supports gender equality, with respondents asking governments and private sector leaders to act to bridge the gender divide. 

The results of the Citizens Call for a Gender-Equal World survey reveal that, on average, 80 per cent of respondents said gender equality is a priority to them personally and 65 per cent would like for their governments to do more to promote gender equality in their country.

The poll, conducted across 17 countries, was released in a report last week co-authored by gender equality organisation Women Deliver, and research and development agency Focus 2030

Last year in the eyes of Women Deliver and other gender equality advocates, highlighted the struggle for gender equality as “girls around the world are suffering the worst impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, which has disproportionately affected their mental and physical health, as well as their economic prospects.”

Women Deliver and Focus 2030 published the results in the run up to the Generation Equality Forum, an event convened by UN Women, which was postponed last year due to the pandemic. Hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, the forum aims to “launch a set of concrete, ambitious, and transformative actions to achieve immediate and irreversible progress towards gender equality,” which will mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, born out of the Fourth World Conference on Women.

According to UN Women the declaration acts as “a visionary agenda that set out how to remove the systemic barriers that hold women back from equal participation in all areas of life, whether in public or private.”

Speaking in the webinar that launched the survey, UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said “2021 promises to be a milestone year for accelerating global progress on gender equality. The Generation Equality Forum will call on governments, corporations, civil society and people of all ages and backgrounds around the world “to step up with bold commitments to make gender equality a reality.”

Mlambo-Ngcuka said the forum will act as a civil society-centered multi-stakeholder gathering, with representatives from across the globe and will be rooted in the ideals of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, which marked a significant turning point for the global agenda for gender equality.

Advancing gender equality in Switzerland. The survey also interviewed some 1000 respondents in Switzerland, where some 77 per cent said that gender equality is “important” to them personally, with only six per cent considering it “unimportant.”

Sixty-six percent think gender equality in Switzerland is “better” now than it was 25 years ago, while most respondents (60 per cent) think that the Swiss government “should do more” to promote gender equality.

Susanne Rohner, an advocacy officer at Santé Sexuelle Suisse and a spokesperson for the report in Switzerland, said she hopes to see a stronger commitment from the Swiss government for gender equality in view of the upcoming Forum, including “both stronger political and financial engagement, monitoring mechanisms and the involvement of civil society organisations.”

Rohner added: “I think that the Covid-19 pandemic has made visible already existing inequalities and also has reinforced many of them.”

Supporting marginalised groups. Respondents of the survey were asked for their opinions on six major gender equality issues with sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) being one of them. As Rohner’s area of expertise, she would like to see more support for marginalised groups in Switzerland. In a high-income country like Switzerland, she said people tend to forget that there is not equitable access to sexual and reproductive health, which can be very costly at this time as people face economic hardships.

According to Rohner, the pandemic has further marginalised women at the intersection such as persons with disabilities or refugees were the worst hit by the pandemic when it comes to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The results of the survey highlighted several shortcomings of the world’s responses to gender inequality. Speaking at the launch of the report last week, Divya Mathew, policy and advocacy senior manager at Women Deliver, said the “world has fallen short,” although “we’ve made a lot of progress on gender equality over the last 25 years, but there’s so much work left to do.”

The survey also brought to light a high degree of support for increasing access to “accurate information that would include comprehensive sexual, education and schools” said Mathew. From their governments, the respondents “felt that the government should prioritise the needs of women from marginalised groups. So those would include women living with disabilities, ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA as individuals and refugees, these individuals encounter additional barriers to accessing SRHR related services and information,” added Mathew.

Based on the perception of the respondents overall, the top priority for gender equality is ending gender-based violence, including online harassment, sexual assault, forced and child marriage and female genital mutilation. Gender-based violence was selected as first choice by 32 per cent of respondents on average across the 17 countries.

Nonetheless, 2021 is looking up to be a milestone year to promote gender equality, said Mlambo-Ngcuka. One promising sign at this early point can be attributed to the celebrations of health groups around the world just last week after US President Joe Biden scrapped the policy known as the “global gag rule”, which bans funding for overseas aid organisations that facilitate abortion.

Previous president Donald Trump was the first president to expand the global gag rule to apply to more than family planning organisations, including all global health programmes. This further marginalised groups such as those living with HIV and AIDS, and sex workers.

Repealing this policy, Biden said it will add to the efforts to “protect women’s health at home and abroad.”

As the Biden administration takes action to support sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world, this reflects the respondents’ shared concerns in having greater “access for sexual health information, services, those would include those related to sexually transmitted infection and HIV AIDS,” said Mathew.

“At such a critical moment it is invigorating to see that global public opinion is not only behind us but pushing us to do more. The world is affirming that gender equality cannot wait. We can and we must achieve it in our generation, and it must be intersectional and intergenerational,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Citizens are demanding gender equality around the world and respondents, as well as Rohner, believe that even in countries like Switzerland “it is really important to make sure to leave no one behind – which is also the principle of the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development.”