Opening funding opportunities for women’s organizations

Gender equality is a question of power. And I see two worrying trends in power relations.

First, the patriarchy is fighting a strong rearguard action. After decades of progress, women’s rights are being undermined and reversed. Populists and demagogues are attacking women’s freedoms and proclaiming so-called “traditional” values. But traditions like the oppression of women and girls should stay where they belong — in the past. The women of my generation did not win the fight for their rights, only to see their daughters and granddaughters fight the same battles.

I salute the people, governments and movements that are standing up to defend the rights of women and girls, through legal and constitutional action.

And second, new technologies — which could be used to accelerate equality — are instead making matters worse. I am particularly concerned about developments of Artificial Intelligence. The male-dominated industry has increasing power and influence, which will only grow in the coming decades. There is a mountain of evidence that when systems are designed by men, they result in biased algorithms. Women’s needs, women’s bodies, and women’s fundamental rights tend to be ignored.

There is a serious danger that discrimination is being built into the algorithms on which AI is based, which would entrench bias into activities as important as recruitment, urban planning and medical imaging for decades to come, to the detriment of the rights of women. Governments, civil society, the tech industry and others must come together to bridge the digital gender divide and ensure women make their full contribution to digital technologies at all levels. This is one of the main goals of the Global Digital Compact that will be central to the Summit of the Future in September.

Dear Friends. The patriarchy may be pushing back. But so are we. And this year is key. Half of humanity is going to the polls. And we have opportunities ahead to advance progress. Together, we must make the case for advancing gender equality, realizing women’s rights, and increasing women’s representation and participation at all political levels. And we must push governments and the private sector to put their money where their mouth is, by funding equal rights and opportunities for women and girls. We must be clear about the benefits: economic prosperity; social cohesion; greater investment in health and education; and more durable peace processes.

The evidence is clear: Women’s full participation makes peacebuilding more effective. We must call for policies, targets and investments to make that a reality. We must also drive action to end violence, combat cultural norms, secure women’s full participation and leadership in all areas of public life, and protect women’s rights and their defenders.

A strong, well-resourced women’s movement is critical. For decades, your movement has been at the forefront of change — leading efforts to eliminate discrimination, end violence, and deliver equality. I salute your extraordinary work and achievements. I deeply value the vital role you as Civil Society play in supporting the United Nations.

And I am determined to do everything I can to help you secure the resources you need.

I am pleased that the Spotlight Initiative, in partnership with the European Union, has allocated $190 million to civil society organizations to help eliminate violence against women and girls.

In 2022, the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund approved 198 new grants, funding 344 civil society organizations, to support women peacebuilders, humanitarians, and human rights defenders responding to crisis. I will continue to call for greater financial support for women’s organizations. Let’s be clear, they are essentially, at the finance, taking into account the enormous tasks that you have in front of you and the enormous importance of making sure that you are successful in your struggle. 

Last week, we launched the United Nations System-wide Gender Equality Acceleration Plan. This Plan is based on the conclusions of the Independent Review we commissioned, to report on our capacity to deliver on gender equality. It’s important that this review, that was commissioned by us and that has been made public, shows not only our achievements but also our weaknesses.

There are many things in the UN that still need to change and this was detected by this independent review. This is the reason why we are launching this Gender Equality Acceleration Plan with a system-wide perspective across the whole UN-system. We count on you to look permanently at what we are doing and to help us correct what we are still not able to do in an adequate way.

The ambition of the plan is clear: to ensure every part of the United Nations system is helping to advance rights and equality for women and girls. It includes a commitment to opening financing opportunities for grassroots women’s organizations, and a target to raise $300 million for women’s organizations in conflict and crisis settings over the next three years.

(Excerpts of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ remarks at the townhall meeting with Civil Society on the occasion of the 68th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, 13 March 2024.)