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A group of world leaders says populist politics are eroding women’s rights

Reuters/Zoubeir Souissi
The fight never ends.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Gender equality is at the core of what the world needs, according to the United Nations’ development goals for 2030. But the rise of populism around the world, along with its conservative and xenophobic attitudes, is chipping away at women’s rights, according to a group of female global leaders.

More than 30 current and former government and international officials published an open letter online on Thursday (Feb. 28) to launch the Group of Women Leaders for Change and Inclusion, ahead of Women’s History Month, celebrated in the US in March.

The initiative is spearheaded by Helen Clark, Irina Bokova, and Susana Malcorra, three female candidates who ran for the UN Secretary-General position in 2016 (a man ultimately got the job). About thirty other prominent women have joined the group, including former World Health Organization director Margaret Chan, Nigerian diplomat Aïchatou Mindaoudou and Pakistani economist Shamshad Akhtar.

According to Malcorra, a number of new political movements around the world are promoting a “strongman mentality,” which is inherently antagonistic to female empowerment. These populist leaders see women as a force threatening their hold on power, just as immigrants and globalization. Hence, their policies are not just slowing down gender equality, but eroding the gains already made.

For instance, the Trump administration’s decision to reduce access to funds for reproductive health has been felt rather significantly around much of the developing world. In Italy, the xenophobic, authoritarian Lega has launched an anti-abortion campaign (link in Italian). Meanwhile, in the UK, Brexit is expected to hit women the hardest, as the European protection of women’s rights—including those guaranteeing workplace equality—won’t automatically be applicable in the UK.

“The signs we see are very worrisome in this regard,” said Malcorra.

The group plans to campaign by speaking and publishing articles to push governments, as well as the private sector and civil society, to take action so that the remarkable progress in women’s rights made in past decades isn’t lost, or walked back.

Read their letter:

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