By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK, Oct 1 (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Thursday of a recent pushback against gender equality and women’s rights and urged people to fight back as the United States slammed China and the world body for “the murder of millions of baby girls.”
World leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, took part in a virtual U.N. General Assembly meeting on Thursday on a landmark 1995 women’s conference in Beijing, where then-U.S. first lady Hillary Clinton declared that “women’s rights are human rights.”
While Guterres did not specify who was wary of women’s rights, he said: “Now is the time to push back against the pushback … Women’s full human rights and freedoms are fundamental to peace and prosperity on a healthy planet.”
At the 1995 conference in Beijing 189 countries agreed to make a priority the “full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life at the national, regional and international levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on the grounds of sex.”
“Twenty-five years after the Beijing Declaration, equality should be a given. But we still have a long way to go,” Merkel said. “Get on board. Let’s work together to really target the Beijing goals. The faster the better.”
In a video statement due to be broadcast at Thursday’s meeting, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called out Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and China for their treatment of women.
“Since 1995 the Chinese Communist Party has been responsible for the murder of millions of baby girls through brutal population controls on industrial scale. Unfortunately, with the support from U.N. agencies,” DeVos said. “We call on the UN to stop ignoring and enabling these atrocities.”
The United Nations and China’s U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the U.S. statement.
Many diplomats have lamented that the world would struggle now to agree a strong declaration on women. A main point of contention in recent years has been long-agreed international language on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“In 2020, the Beijing Declaration would have no chance of being adopted,” French President Emmanuel Macron said. “Progress achieved by great efforts is being undermined even in our democracies, starting with the freedom for women to control their own bodies, and in particular the right to abortion.”
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has led a push at the United Nations against promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights for women because it sees that as code for abortion. It has opposed such language in U.N. resolutions.
Trump told world leaders at the United Nations last week that his administration is advancing “opportunity for women” and “protecting unborn children.”
The meeting on Thursday followed the week-long annual U.N. gathering of world leaders, which finished on Tuesday and was virtual due because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some 190 countries spoke – only nine were represented by women.
Guterres said that while progress on women’s rights had been made in the past 25 years – maternal mortality has nearly halved and more girls are in school – the ambitious vision of the Beijing declaration had not been fulfilled.
“One woman in three still experiences some form of violence in her lifetime. Every year, 12 million girls marry before the age of 18. In some parts of the world, levels of femicide – the killing of women – could be likened to a war zone,” he said.
“Worldwide, on average, women have just 75 percent of the legal rights of men,” Guterres said.
China’s Xi pledged $10 million to U.N. Women, a body for gender equality and the empowerment of women.
He said that as the world seeks to recover from the coronavirus pandemic: “We need to eliminate prejudice, discrimination and violence against women and make gender equality a social norm and moral imperative observed by all.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Mary Milliken, Andrea Ricci and Grant McCool)