BLOG - Humanity continues to witness human rights violations in the discrimination and violence against half of the world’s population, writes Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund and under-secretary-general of the United Nations. (The opinions expressed are his own.)

A Libyan-American woman gestures while holding a placard during a protest against Muammar Gaddafi, at the residence of the Libyan ambassador, in Washington February 25, 2011. The United States said on Friday it was imposing sanctions and cutting diplomatic ties with Libya as Gaddafi's security forces stepped up efforts to crush a widening revolt against his rule. REUTERS/Jim Young

Despite a solid evidence-base that shows the importance of women’s empowerment and gender equality to poverty reduction and development, and despite universal promises made at the highest levels of government, gender equality remains an unfinished agenda for the twenty-first century, a century that should enter history as the period that ended gender apartheid.

Across the world, gender inequality persists and millions of women and adolescent girls cannot exercise their rights, thereby undermining the important role they can play to lift their societies and nations out of poverty and propel them towards development. Despite some successes, true gender equality still remains elusive.

A major success is the extent to which gender equality has been established as a pivotal development priority. Today gender equality is a significant component of international conventions and commitments and forums, such as the 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference Platform for Action, the 1994 Cairo Population and Development Conference Programme of Action and the Millennium Development Goals.

In addition, gender issues are increasingly recognized as critical to emerging issues like climate change and migration. This is a considerable accomplishment. All these international commitments and discussions have made it possible to increase the gender responsiveness of legislative frameworks in many countries, and create a significant momentum towards the integration of women’s rights into national and international processes, including treaty bodies.

However, there is no consistent, widespread and sustainable realization of gender equality where it counts—on the ground, in the lives of women and in their communities. The development community has not committed adequate human and financial resources to the fight against gender inequality and to specific manifestations of that inequality such as violence against women and maternal death.

Finally, the younger generation should be helped, where they may need it, to carry forward the torch of gender equality to push ahead the achievements of past generations.

At UNFPA, we will continue championing human rights, including girls’ education through the secondary level, and the right of women and girls to be educated and make informed decisions about sexual and reproductive health. We will continue working to end child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting and to improve prospects for adolescent girls.

UNFPA will also continue working to end sexual violence against women and to further advance the women, peace and security mandate. We will continue engaging communities, understanding their values and beliefs and actively seeking their participation, which has proved to be an effective approach in advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality. To be lasting, change must come from within.

Written by Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund and under-secretary-general of the United Nations. The opinions expressed are his own.

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