On Thursday, UN Secretay General António Guterres said the 21st century “must be the century of women’s equality” and called for all men to support human rights. Guterres was speaking to faculty and students at New York City university The New School when he made the remarks.

“Just as slavery and colonialism were a stain on previous centuries, women’s inequality should shame us all in the 21st,” he said.

“Because it is not only unacceptable; it is stupid.”

Guterres called discrimination against women an “overwhelming” global injustice.

“From the ridiculing of women as hysterical or hormonal, to the routine judgement of women based on their looks; from the myths and taboos that surround women’s natural bodily functions, to mansplaining and victim-blaming – misogyny is everywhere.”

“It is time to stop trying to change women, and start changing the systems that prevent them from achieving their potential. Our power structures have evolved gradually over thousands of years. One further evolution is long overdue. The 21st century must be the century of women’s equality.”

A global approach

Guterres said the UN will take greater action toward supporting women’s rights, which he believes will help close the digital divide and increase political representation.

“Repealing laws that discriminate against women and girls; increasing protection against violence; closing the gap in girls’ education and digital technology; guaranteeing full access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights, and ending the gender pay gap are just some of the areas we are targeting,” he said.

He also made a personal commitment to better his understanding of gender inequality.

“Gender equality is a question of power; power that has been jealously guarded by men for millennia. It is about an abuse of power that is damaging our communities, our economies, our environment, our relationships, and our health,” Guterres said.

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“We must urgently transform and redistribute power if we are to safeguard our future and our planet. That is why all men should support women’s rights and gender equality. And that is why I am a proud feminist.” 

Other big names committed to fighting gender inequality

Gender inequality is becoming an increasingly important cause, with major industry players taking notice. Supporting women isn’t just the right thing to do from a moral standpoint: research shows companies that promote and retain women are rated more favourably overall.

Earlier this month, Bill and Melinda Gates pledged to focus their philanthropy efforts on fighting gender inequality.

“The data is unequivocal: No matter where in the world you are born, your life will be harder if you are born a girl,” Melinda said in a statement.

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“In developing countries, the experiences of boys and girls start dramatically diverging in adolescence. The average girl in sub-Saharan Africa ends her education with two fewer years of schooling than the average boy. One in five girls is married before her 18th birthday, trapping her on the wrong side of a power imbalance even within her own home.”

Melinda says gender relations have been slow to improve because equality isn’t a global priority. She pledged to fast-track women into leadership roles in government, technology, finance, and health sectors.

This will be achieved — at least in part — via  Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company founded by Melinda that partners with organizations and individuals to invest in social change initiative