Another highlight of the year marking the 25th anniversary of a breakthrough international conference in Beijing on women’s rights has fallen victim to the global march of the new coronavirus, Covid-19.
The event is the first of two global meetings of the Generation Equality Forum, which is meant to give civil society organizations a chance to further advance the place of women in society everywhere. But the first event is most likely to be postponed at a time to be announced, according to UN Women. It was to be held in Mexico City from May 7 to 8.
Over the weekend, Mexican health authorities said in news conferences that the numbers of suspected cases of the virus had begun to rise at a rate of 20 percent daily and that at least 16 people — a conservative figure by other estimates — had died. A majority of cases appeared to be centered in or around Mexico City, the country’s capital.
Oisika Chakrabarti, the chief of communications and advocacy for UN Women, which is the convener of the Forum, said in a message to PassBlue on March 29 that the Mexico City meeting had not been cancelled but was still under review.
“In light of the current global COVID-19 situation, the timelines of the convening of the Generation Equality Forum are being reviewed,” she wrote. “The health and well-being of participants is our paramount concern and we continue to follow the recommendations of national and international public health authorities concerning the coronavirus (COVID-19). More information on the revised convening will be available in the next days.”
A second session of the Forum is scheduled for Paris in July.
In a separate message to PassBlue, Lopa Banerjee, the executive coordinator of the Generation Equality Forum for UN Women, said, “There is no discussion at all of the Generation Equality Forum being canceled in Mexico.”
But it appears it will be postponed. “[R]evised timelines for the Forum in Mexico and Paris will be announced soon,” she noted in her message.
In Mexico, where President Andrés Manuel López Obrador only days ago downplayed the danger of the pandemic and mingled with crowds in the street, has begun making more alarming messages on social media.
As the number of confirmed cases rose in Mexico on March 27 from 585 to 717, López Obrador said in a video that if people followed the instruction to stay at home, they would help to contain the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, the health care system and hospitals would not be overwhelmed.
“We have to be in our homes, we have to maintain a healthy distance [from each other],” he said. . . . “We can go out for essential reasons but we shouldn’t go out to the street without there being something truly necessary that compels us to go out. The best thing is to stay at home.” Government employees have been urged to work from home.
When the virus first began to spread rapidly in New York City, physically closing most of the United Nations headquarters on March 16, civil society advocates for women began to suspect that the Mexico City Forum meeting would be postponed or cancelled. The annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the major event of Beijing+25, had been cut short in early March, from almost two weeks to one day.
Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, the chief executive officer of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, said in an email on March 29 to PassBlue that the Mexico City meeting is likely to be postponed. “Although I have not heard an official announcement,” she wrote. “There should also be a decision about Paris too.”
Taina Bien-Aimé, the executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, who has followed the planning of the Mexico City event, said in an email that she understood it had been cancelled.
Travel to and from Mexico would be uncertain, apart from concern about the spread of the virus. The virus has claimed its first known celebrity in Mexico. In Acapulco, it was announced on March 28 that the opera star Plácido Domingo had been hospitalized with complications from Covid-19, indicating that the virus may have spread beyond Mexico City to resorts.
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.