Gender Equity in Context

23 Jul

Editor’s Note:   This is the first post from Marine Ragueneau who has come to us from France via Seattle  For the past six weeks, Marine has covered extensive UN discussions on security and sustainable development goals in the Security Council, ECOSOC and the Open Working Group on SDGs. Marine’s policy interests include gender justice and here she makes several important points — specifically on the need for full participation by women in sustainable development, as well as on the need to provide space for a much more diverse range of voices and contexts than is normally the case at UN headquarters. 

Coming to Global Action (GAPW) and having studied international relations with a focus on human rights and gender, I was thrilled to see how theory was applied to practice in the UN, a center of global governance. In the last month, I have gotten the chance to attend various meetings and side panel discussions dealing with issues ranging from evaluating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to increasing women’s participation in peace processes and other leadership positions, as well as Security Council meetings dealing with urgent matters from Ukraine to Gaza. The following are personal observations I have made concerning matters of gender, inclusion of marginalized voices in genuinely participatory processes, and the possible implications these realities have on the effectiveness of UN security and development policy.

It is widely agreed upon amongst governments and civil society alike that gender equality remains an urgent and imperative step in furthering the human rights agenda. Last month, a particularly engaging discussion occurred – Maintaining Human Rights Momentum for a People-centered Post-2015 Agenda – at which three panelists assessed improvements of the Sustainable Development Goals compared to the unevenly fulfilled Millennium Development Goals of 2000. The conversation remained on the critical side, however, with Alexandra Garita, the gender specialist on the panel, making noteworthy remarks on the difficulties women continue to face, emphasizing the importance of incorporating context-specific, gender realities into the SDG agenda. More specifically, Garita stated that as women make half of the world’s population and give birth to the other half, greater emphasis on achieving universal, holistic, and accessible health care services is crucial. This would include women having access to information on their sexual and reproductive health, as well as control— access to contraceptives, safe abortion services, maternity care, and resources preventing STIs, HIV/AIDS as well as non-communicable diseases such as breast and cervical cancers.

It became clear throughout the conversation that for a comprehensive, integrated health care approach to be effective, the SDGs need to maintain and further reinforce amendments pertaining to climate change and corporate accountability. Such factors are critical to our current social and political context, and those most vulnerable to the degradation of the environment and economic exploitation continue to be women and children. It is in the interest of the UN, therefore, to work on deconstructing the existing power paradigm in order to create systemic, sustainable, and meaningful progress for women’s rights and human rights as a whole. If the SDGs are to help create a future we want, continued mainstreaming of gender issues is vital to its success.

The mainstreaming of gender issues proves to be useful regarding SDG policy development, but through attending other discussions, I found that mainstreaming gender issues can also be problematic. When discussing issues pertaining to women, it is essential to the legitimacy of the conversation to address and assess the differing experiences of women based on geographical and socio-political situations as well as differences experienced due to race, class, sexual orientation, and disability. In the discussion on Gender Equality in Public Administration organized by UNDP, facts and statistics were provided on the current involvement of women in administrative positions, which was helpful in that it contextualized this particular gender issue. During the Q&A, it was briefly mentioned that diversity is still an issue for women seeking administrative positions, but the topic was not elaborated on. I believe this to be a serious weakness in the gender discourse, as it creates division among women who feel not only excluded by the patriarchal structures of our societies, but within the feminist movement as well.

Specifically, the lack of participatory involvement of rural and indigenous women in UN processes and decision making is a setback in what seems to be an otherwise promising step towards achieving greater gender quality. Giving traditionally marginalized women more direct consultative power within the UN and other international organizations is imperative to making sustainable advancements in women’s rights. In the Economic and Social Council during the panel discussion on Effective Humanitarian Assistance, for example, we were able to see a live webcast from the Philippines where people who had direct encounters with UN assistance were able to openly discuss their experiences. This created a balanced discussion; had they not been present, the conversation would have been largely biased in representation and lacking in necessary, context-specific content. Unfortunately these kinds of appearances by civil society, especially from the Global South, remain scarce. In order to create a more just and representative, as well as ethical and progressive human rights agenda, the UN should consider ways to increase such involvement. It is particularly imperative that this develops in the women’s rights sphere, as it is a great injustice to women worldwide to simplify the female narrative based on just a few experiences, too often from women in ‘western’ contexts.

As a place of convergence for governments, UN agencies, and civil societies alike, the UN is a promising platform for advancing the human rights agenda. But with promise comes responsibility, and the UN should be held accountable to the people it seeks to represent. If policies regarding the health of women are to be effectively implemented, then the institutions responsible for addressing these sometimes dire circumstances must be held accountable. Moreover, if the UN is to effectively address women’s rights issues, voices of women in all contexts and realities have to guide the discussion. It is imperative to the advancement of our international community to ensure that this happens.

Marine Ragueneau, Junior Associate

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