Troubled by the rise of a number of autocratic, nationalist male politicians who have convinced voters that they aim to return their nations to a glorified past, more than two dozen female world leaders signed an open letter Thursday, calling for a global fight against what one signer calls "macho-type strongmen" and their so-called "populist" movements.
The recent successes of politicians like Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Matteo Salvini in Italy, and President Donald Trump and other Republican leaders in the U.S. has led to a dangerous erosion of women's rights, the leaders argue.
"We have to be prepared to raise our concerns, otherwise we will be like the frog put into cold water which starts to warm up, and all of a sudden you find yourself in boiling water. We need to be very prepared to fight back," said Susana Malcorra, former Argentinian foreign minister and one of the lead signers of the letter.
Very happy to launch this initiative with a group of colleagues to raise our collective voices on gender equality and multilateralism. It is time for action!!!#WomenLeadersForPositiveChange, #WomenForMultilateralism, #WomenLeadersForInclusiveChange. https://t.co/9gUA089Ce5
— Susana Malcorra (@SusanaMalcorra) February 22, 2019
Malcorra joined former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former UNESCO director Irina Bokova last year to spearhead the letter after observing what they saw as a disturbing trend at the United Nations General Assembly—a decline of multilateralism and cooperation between countries that has given rise to the kind of leader likely to fight against women's equality.
"We had a sense that there was another wave of pushback on gender equality and gender empowerment and the policies that we worked so hard to achieve," Malcorra told the Guardian.
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"As women increasingly occupy meaningful spaces in local, national, and international political structures and in socio-economic, scientific, and sustainable development debates," wrote the women, "close to a quarter century after [the Beijing Declaration on Women, Peace and Security], more movements are gaining traction which seek to halt the gains made and erode the rights won by women."
The women are raising their concerns amid efforts by right-wing leaders in the U.S., including Trump, to roll back reproductive rights; reports by global human rights groups that women's rights are under attack in Poland by the ruling Law & Justice Party; and recent outcry over openly misogynist Bolsonaro's election in Brazil last year.
Malcorra said a key goal of the women's initiative is to fight against the idea, still prevalent in many countries, that advances in women's rights equal a loss for men.
"If men get paternity leave for example, it's not that they lose anything, they gain by having responsibility for the family, they gain by a closer relationship with the children, that's not zero sum, that's a win-win. But it's clear that there are corners of power in the world that don't see it like that," Malcorra told the Guardian.
"Above all, we seek to underscore that the risk posed by policies that seek to halt and erode gender equality is a risk not only to women, but also to all of humanity because half the population is prevented from contributing to its full potential," the letter reads.