politics

From Iceland to Malawi, UN Gender-Equality Initiative Casts a Wide Net

  • UN HeForShe program spans the gamut of global gender issues
  • Initiative combines university, corporate, political leaders
A woman cycles past the Althingi Parliament building in Reykjavik.

Photographer: Halldor Kolbeins/AFP via Getty Images

The United Nations initiative to improve global parity for women casts a wide net. At one end, Iceland is aiming for full pay equity by 2020. At the other extreme, male leaders in Malawi have agreed to end child marriage.

Both have a place in the HeForShe initiative, a program that has won promises from 30 men in politics, education and the corporate sector to be allies for women.

“We’ve got to move beyond rhetoric to actually looking at how we do create solutions, so that we can accelerate progress,” the UN’s Elizabeth Nyamayaro said at the Bloomberg Business of Equality in New York on Tuesday. “We are actually moving backwards when it comes to gender parity right now.”

Leaders from countries such as Malawi, Iceland and Uruguay -- and companies including consultant PWC International Ltd. and Unilever NV -- made specific commitments and agreed to be transparent with the progress, Nyamayaro said during a panel moderated by Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait on Tuesday.

“We’re too high level in the conversation,” said Bob Moritz, chairman of PwC. “We really got to go granular in terms of what do we really need to do for women around the world in X, Y and Z countries.”

That includes measures like Malawi’s Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act, raising the minimum age of marriage to 18. The country’s president, Arthur Peter Mutharika, is a HeForShe member and has set the ambitious goal to fully implement the new marriage law within five years. A key part of the initiative was male chiefs helping to end the marriages and get the girls back into school as well, Nyamayaro said.

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