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Women's rights are faltering, United Nations says

United Nations — The U.N. on Thursday commemorated 25 years since a world declaration was agreed to in Beijing to advance women's rights. But progress is faltering, the U.N. says.

"Due to the pandemic, it is estimated that in 2021, 47 million women and girls will be pushed into extreme poverty, bringing the total to 435 million," the U.N. said in a report adding, "By 2021, for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty, there will be 118 women — a gap that is expected to increase to 121 women per 100 men by 2030."

So, what went wrong? Why are women's rights not where they were committed to a quarter of a century ago?

France U.N. Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere told reporters on Wednesday: "On women's rights, the concern is backsliding. When you stop moving forward, you go backward. There is no standstill."

"Women do two thirds of the work in the world, and get a tiny proportion of the reward," journalist and women's rights activist Gloria Steinem tells CBS News in a one-on-one interview Thursday, reflecting on the global summit.

Steinem said that the social justice movements — for women's rights, for racial justice, for LGBTQ rights — are all now "majority concerns" and there is a pushback in the U.S.: "So, it is a time in a way, a dangerous time, that we forget to honor, after a victory. You know, we relax, instead of understanding that there is a backlash and we're now in it."

"In some parts of the world, levels of femicide — the killing of women — could be likened to a war zone": U.N. chief says

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres has made gender equality a flagship issue, underscoring the "relentless pushback against womens rights."

Opening the summit, he said: "In some parts of the world, levels of femicide — the killing of women — could be likened to a war zone."  

On Thursday, the picture Guterres presented was particularly stark: "Women are still frequently excluded from peace negotiations, climate talks, and decision-making roles of all kinds. Worldwide, women have just 75% of the legal rights of men." 

"The World Bank estimates that it could take 150 years to achieve gender parity in lifetime earned income," Guterres said.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka seen May 29, 2019. ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images

The Summit included more than 172 speakers, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and French President Emmanuel Macron, in addition to the U.N. speakers, led by the executive director of U.N. Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.  

Of the 149 high-level speakers, 58% were women, according to the spokesman for the president of the General Assembly Brenden Varma said.

At the meeting, Macron announced a forum called Generation Equality to take place in Paris in summer of June 2021.

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The U.N. report says more men between the ages of 25 to 54 are in the labor force than woman and the global gender pay gap is stuck at 16%. United Nations

"There can be no equal future without the full and equal participation of all women and girls everywhere" 

In one of the most riveting talks in the U.N.'s virtual leader-level women's summit at its 75th anniversary General Assembly meeting, Nomzamo Nxumalo Mbatha, a South African actress, human rights activist and U.N. refugee agency's Goodwill Ambassador said, "The world still has a far long way to go to achieve gender inequality." She cited fiindings from The Malala Fund that say because of COVID-19, half of all refugee girls in secondary schools will not return when classrooms reopen.

In terms of where to go next, Elizabeth Broderick, chair of a Working Group of the Human Rights Council, said the need is now "to avert rollback."

The U.S. chose to focus on the education of women with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos this year. And U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft, in an interview with CBS News, said efforts are being made around the world for women, such as in talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan "to make certain that we maintain the strides that Afghan women have made," such as participation in government.  

U.N. Women, the agency that coordinates most of the world body's efforts on gender equality, gave a stark overview in its report for the event: 750 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday; 400 million women live in extreme poverty; and 243 million women are victims of violence from an intimate partner each year.

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The U.N. says women aged 25-34 globally are 25% more likely than men to live in extreme poverty. United Nations

It said that "hard-won advances are being reversed," that women currently hold just 25% at the tables of power across the board: Men are still 75% of parliamentarians, hold 73% of managerial positions, are 70% of climate negotiators and almost all of the peacemakers. 

"This is the generation" that can make the change 

But with all the steps back, several women leaders are positive about what needs to be done. Steinem said she does remember when it was worse.

"At the arc of history, as Martin Luther King said, it does move toward justice. But it's up to us to make that happen. So I just hope that we that we don't get a case of the 'shoulds,' you know, 'what should I do,' but rather we do whatever we can every day."

"It does depend on what we do and all of our small acts matter," she said. "I think if we have faith that those small acts are important — and we don't despair, looking at the large outrages, but just keep doing everything we can every day, then we'll get there." 

And, in a passionate call for progress, the Mbatha said: "We have a collective responsibility to accelerate global action to realize women's rights and equal future as there can be no equal future without the full and equal participation of all women and girls everywhere."

"And this, this is the generation to accomplish that," she added.

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