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planet 50-50: step it up for gender equality

Madeleine Brecher & Fran Butensky, ICJW representatives at the UN in New York, report on a new campaign called Planet 50-50, launched on International Women's Day 2016.


On the first International Women’s Day of the new Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, the moderator, Pamela Falk from CBS News introduced the five distinguished panelists. They reflected on what a gender equality planet meant to them and how to achieve it by 2030 through combining the work of the United Nations, governments, civil society and the private sector.

Although all were in agreement that more progress was needed and quickly, the panelists and the program were generally upbeat and positive about the future. Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, told us that we should celebrate women who gave us this day and celebrate women left behind, women of color who live in poverty, sexually abused women, and women with disabilities. in recognition of this Women’s Day event, the Empire State Building was to be lit up in Purple and renowned opera diva, Renee Fleming performed. IN addition, an original song, “I Am A Girl, I Am A Queen, I Can Be Anything I Want to Be” set the tone and enthusiasm for the large assembled audience.

Looking toward the CSW agenda, everyone must work together to achieve the goals. All of the 17 goals demonstrate a complexity of issues and if we are fragmented, we will never achieve them. Fully addressing gender inequality is something everyone (including men) must take on as a responsibility. Visibility of CSW and the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind and ensuring women’s empowerment adds credibility to the issues. UN standards and frameworks actually become the example all over the world. No government should be left behind in ensuring women’s empowerment and gender equality. Today’s theme is 50-50. 50 minus 50 equals zero. We need zero tolerance in multi-dimensional intolerance.

Tara Nathan, Executive Vice President of Master Card, spoke of the significance of public/private partnerships to help realize the 2030 Agenda. She also spoke of the need to change the paradigm between the public/private sector working at cross interests and how to implement partnerships. Master Card has made great strides in educating girls in science and technology and to enable them to become future family providers. The company has just formed an exciting partnership with UN Women.

Part l of the program ended with very stirring personal accounts by two exceptional young women:

Fatima Ptacek, a 13 year old actor and activist best known as the voice of Dora The Explorer, has a passion for making positive change and working with UN Women to fight for global gender equality. In addition to her mother, her family consists of her father and three brothers. She holds nothing against the men in her family. She was taught that she could do anything. She said proudly “I am a woman, a girl, an advocate and I can accomplish anything”. She thinks education is not only a right but also a solution. With a wisdom and commitment beyond her 13 years, she told us that HE For SHE helped her to realize that you can’t champion things with the same old solutions.

Monica Singh is a violence against women activist, and victim of a vicious acid attack by a man she refused to marry. Her screams for help after buckets of acid were thrown at her went unheard. Her battle to survive after 65% of her body was burned is what defines her. She became an outcast and questioned why she was still alive. She decided to fight and stand up for young women and that became her purpose and the reason she believes that she survived. Her courage is remarkable. On this special day of the UN observance of women, she is reminded that we must never stop taking action.


Led by the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the panelists held a transparent and enlightening discussion on the progress made in achieving gender equality within the UN system and examining the conceptual and practical challenges remaining to reach Planet 50/50 by 2030. This panel was followed by a Q&A with an audience that filled the Trusteeship Council.

What is the UN-SWAP? 

The UN System-wide Action Plan (UN-SWAP) on gender equality and women’s empowerment is an accountability framework to accelerate mainstreaming of gender equality and the empowerment of women in all institutional functions of the entities of the UN system. With its 15 performance Indicators (PIs), the UN-SWAP constitutes the first unified framework to systematically revitalize, capture, monitor and measure performance and accountability for the work of the UN system on gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

Spearheaded by UN Women, it has created a clearer picture of areas of strength and weakness and has helped identify the human, financial and knowledge resources needed to propel progress across all entities of the UN system. The UN-SWAP requires annual reporting by each participating entity, department and office. Ninety per cent of UN entities, offices and departments regularly submit reports.

Since UN-SWAP was initiated, there has been a great deal of gender data collected in all departments of the UN system. Currently, women account for 43% of the UN personnel but only 31% of UN leadership. Four of the panelists were in leadership positions of UN agencies, three were women, and they all spoke quite candidly on the difficulty of achieving parity and their struggle with gender mainstreaming.

While people are impressed with the reports, they are not pleased with the achievement. In ten years, there has only been an increase of 10% in women at the UN. To reach the goal by 2030, radical catch-up must happen quickly. A professor of Political Science at Stockholm University suggested that affirmative action programs will have to be put in place to change the picture and the environment must be transformed for women to thrive. Today, only 30% of the job applications come from women. Women sense the inequality within the UN organizational culture. Women and girls must make it clear that they are NOT victims; they must roll up their sleeves and work with men and boys to change the culture.