‘Need to end discriminatory laws’: Indian-origin UN-Women’s deputy executive director

UNITED NATIONS: The pace to achieve gender equality and parity must be accelerated, newly appointed Indian-origin UN-Women’s deputy executive director has stressed, underlining the need to end discriminatory laws that hamper progress for women around the world.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last month appointed Anita Bhatia as Assistant Secretary-General for Resource Management, Sustainability and Partnerships and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women.

“For me, the driving force is looking at the state of the world today and seeing what it is that we can do as UN Women, working in partnership with others, to really accelerate the pace of change and to make sure that hopefully in our lifetimes we will be able to say that many countries, if not all,” have been able to achieve gender equality and parity,” Bhatia told in an interview here.

Bhatia, who assumed her duties on August 1, is the senior-most Indian woman in the UN system in New York, home to the world body’s headquarters.

Bhatia had a distinguished career at The World Bank Group, serving in various senior leadership and management positions.

She brings extensive experience in the area of strategic partnerships, resource mobilisation and management.

Bhatia, who holds a BA in History from Calcutta University, an MA in Political Science from Yale University and a Juris Doctor in Law from Georgetown University, emphasised that among the very specific actions that need to be taken with urgency is “ending discriminatory laws” and UN Women supports any legislation that moves women’s rights forward.

“If you look at how many countries actually still have laws on the books that prohibit women from either having access to collateral, being able to inherit property, to marry when they want, having the freedom to pursue somebody in court if they are victims of rape or domestic violence, is staggering. We need to end that,” she said.

She added that it is astonishing how people have become so “inured to rape”. One hears about rape all the time “and yet, why isn’t there greater outrage at how much rape exists in the world. Why is it that so many perpetrators of rape get away with it. It is absolutely unacceptable.” She said it is concerning also that domestic violence is very common and is tolerated.

“This is a gross and inhuman violation of human rights,” she said.

In 2020, it will be 25 years since the Beijing Platform for Action, a visionary agenda for the empowerment of all women and girls, set out how to remove systemic barriers that hold women back from equal participation in all areas of life.

On the occasion, UN Women will spearhead the ‘Generation Equality: Realising women’s rights for an equal future’ campaign that demands equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to sexual harassment and violence against women and girls, health care services and equal participation in politics and in decision-making in all areas of life, the UN agency has said.

“One of my key priorities is to help UN Women deliver on this acceleration and this mobilisation movement,” Bhatia said, adding that she will also focus at expanding partnerships as collaboration is the “modus operandi” of the future.

“We need to deepen the already strong partnerships with Member States. We have innovative partnerships with the private sector… and we want to work more” with them on the gender equality and empowerment agenda,” Bhatia said.

She further stressed that concerted global efforts towards women empowerment should continue unhindered as there is still lots to achieve despite progress made over the years.

“We want to see more cabinets that are 50 per cent women, more participation of women in leadership positions, in business, corporate boards, more representation of women in Parliaments.

We want to see more representation of women in decision-making roles and authority where important decisions and outcomes can be influenced by the voice of women.” Referring to the landmark decision by the Supreme Court of India that decriminalised gay sex among consenting adults as “fantastic”, Bhatia said such developments make her “hopeful” that change can happen.

She also called for broadening alliances that care about gender equality.

“It is not just a women’s issue. Gender equality is an issue for men and boys as well.” On the slow pace of achieving gender parity in pay, Bhatia said it is estimated that at the current rates, it will take 202 years for women to be paid at par with men.

“It is not happening fast enough. (At 202 years, we are not talking about my grandkids and my great-grandkids.We are talking about many generations before you see this change.”

“What is the barrier to paying women more. There is no physical barrier that you have to overcome, it’s not a question of women’s strength. Why would you not pay women the same. I find this baffling.” Bhatia underscored that this is a vicious circle that needs to be stopped.

This “really is a stroke-of-a-pen change” that requires nothing but leadership that says across the board that women in any sector will not be paid less than the men “because they bring the same or even more value.”