Tag Archives: full participation

Literacy Beyond Literacy: A Civil Society Engagement, Dr. Robert Zuber

25 Apr

Editor’s Note:  These remarks were given at the Leonard Tourne Gallery in New York City, run by longtime friends of our office, which recently featured the art of Christel Ibsen who graciously arranged for this discussion. 

Global Action is pleased to follow Faye Lippitt, director of the organization Literacy is for Everyone (LIFE). As noted on the LIFE website (http://www.life.org.ky/) “Literacy goes beyond an individual’s ability to read, write and communicate well – it encompasses an individual’s capacity to use these essential skills to shape the course of his or her own life.”

This sentiment was echoed by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, also quoted on the LIFE site, who I was privileged to meet on two occasions. Freire maintained that literacy involves both “reading the word and reading the world.”  Faye helps people to read the word.  Global Action encourages people to read the world, helping them connect effectively with others across lines of religion and ethnicity, protect their own rights while cherishing the rights of others, and find the most appropriate resources and other support as they face life’s emergencies, including grave illness, unemployment, drought and violent abuse.

The configuration of this “other” literacy changes from place to place. In Central America, literacy means in part learning how to petition the government for a voice in national development priorities.  In Central Africa it means in part learning how to develop civil society that can communicate effectively with funding sources and engage global policy advocates.   In Central Europe it means in part learning how to open the hearts of neighbors to the many migrants who risked their lives in the hope of saving themselves from numbing poverty and terrorist violence.

Global Action assists with these and many other “literacies.” We recognize that all of our tasks in the world have a primary vocabulary to master as well as skills to practice.  For us, the focus of literacy must remain relevant to what people are trying to accomplish for themselves, their families, their communities.  Literacy even has a special relevance as we (with others) try to get governments to open themselves to different ways of solving some very difficult and complex political and social problems, including problems related to the proliferation of illicit weapons.

The world is indeed becoming much more complex and stressful.  There is more for us to do and we seem to have less and less control over the economic, political and environmental factors that both threaten and shape our choices and actions.  In trying to cope and make meaningful change, all of us have so much more to learn, so much we need to practice, so many vocabularies of which we need to gain some working knowledge.  The burdens of literacy are ever-greater.

Sometimes we have to return to basic principles. I spent this morning, as I spend many mornings, in the Security Council.  Today the Crown Prince of Jordan joined with many Foreign Ministers to discuss how to keep young people from being recruited into extremist groups. Some of diplomats talked about how vulnerable young people need to read more about human rights to appreciate better their own advantages and responsibilities but also to understand and highlight the twisted values and priorities of the terrorists.  For others, a different kind of light went on.  Why would suchy a young person want to read about human rights if they have limited skill in reading or any real hope for having their own rights respected?

There is indeed a basic literacy, LIFE’s literacy, which forms the basis for the many other “literacies” that allow us to appreciate art and beauty, participate fully in our political systems, bring abusers and other criminals to justice, even cope with the frustrations of airlines and cell phone companies.   All of these literacies help to create a world of greater competence and trust, a world that our young people can better believe in.

As Faye helped me to understand, Global Action is also in the literacy business, a literacy pointing towards a robust engagement with social and political life based on a prior literacy of the word.

The UN Engages (and Learns From) a New Generation of Youth Leaders

7 Mar

Editor’s Note:  This piece from our Human Rights Fellow, Karin Perro, continues a GAPW commitment to the engagement of youth from diverse social and cultural contexts on matters of global policy. Participation is a core concern towards the full promotion of human rights and good governance, and Karin does well to lay out of the case for more serious engagement with an ambitious, energetic, technologically savvy, and growing segment of our global population. 

Both the first and last weeks of February found the UN inundated with exuberant youth representatives, here to engage (and be engaged) with the UN system and lend voice to the upcoming SDGs and their implementation. Braving the arctic blast of February, Youth Forum and NGO Youth Event attendees convened to share their vision of the future and demand a participatory seat at the post-2015 table. And rightly so – if any group has proprietary rights to shaping the future it is global youth who will be directly impacted by and even be tasked with meeting projected SDG targets by 2030.

Engaging youth in development policy becomes all the more imperative if we consider that more then half the current global population is under the age of 25.  In a post-2015 world, a burgeoning youth population might well be confronted by unprecedented climatic and environmental crises, human security risks, rights violations and rampant unemployment. They will also have to contend with a rise in ‘greying’ populations that will create additional burdens on national ‘safety net’ programs, with estimates indicating a tripling of the over 65 demographic in the next 50 years. Africa will be especially hard hit by rapidly shifting demographics at another edge of the age spectrum, due mostly to anticipate spikes in adolescent pregnancies and generally growing fertility rates, causing worries of unwelcome declines in educational participation by women and girls.

Two inextricably linked, youth-centric development cornerstones were recurrently addressed at the UN Youth Forum: a lack of educational resources and a paucity of employment opportunities. Young attendees expressed frustration at what seem to be their ‘empty’ school diplomas given the lack of available job opportunities, noting that their presumably marketable skill sets did not appear to be in sync with the rapidly changing and expanding needs of current labor market. Perhaps even more than generations past, youth face the conundrum of how to obtain practical experience as a precondition for employment when on-the-job training opportunities are often predicated on prior work experience. But unlike past generations, almost all youth attendees cited a dearth of available internship, apprenticeship and mentorship opportunities at all educational levels.  This cycle of inopportunity requires a systemic revamping of attitudes and best practices, not only within the private sector, but as addressed through national and regional government initiatives.

For its part, GAPW (with Women in International Security) has long advocated policy mentoring of young people to help prepare the UN system to handle a new generation of global issues in a thoughtful and responsible manner. The young scholars and advocates who have taken temporary residence in our office often return to national capitols and regional NGOs where their acquired skill sets enhance development of local capacity for meaningful change.  As we have perceived often and as several youth delegates at the UN also noted, girls in particular are likely to benefit from mentoring as their active engagement with trustworthy older persons builds confidence and strengthens decision-making and leadership skills.

Beyond mentoring, UN youth delegates clamored for greater, “full-partner” policy participation, not only in setting the post-2015 development agenda, but in tracking and accelerating progress, and holding governments accountable. Youth expressed interest in politics but also shared disillusionment with political processes that ignore younger stakeholders. As a corrective, Kenya’s Ambassador Kamau implored the Youth Forum to ‘embrace your transformative power as youth’ in determining whether ‘you will be part of the problem or part of the solution’ over the next fifteen years. Youth delegates were captivated, appearing galvanized by Ambassador Kamau’s inspirational ‘call to arms’.

When youth representatives at the Feb 26 UNDPINGO event were asked what they could do to help promote the post-2015 development agenda, they responded without hesitation: Youth can provide counter narratives to extremist recruitment strategies through social media campaigns and digital diplomacy, becoming ‘boots’ deployed in the battle for cyberspace. They can employ their entrepreneurial spirit and innovation skills to emerging development initiatives benefiting triangular and south-south cooperation. They can offer a new generational ‘plurality of thought’ and a ready adaptability to shifting scenarios in the rapidly changing world in which they’ve been raised. Youth indeed appear ready to accept responsibility for what appears to be a stubborn legacy of global insecurity. But ‘ownership’ will not come without a significant relinquishment of the policy reins wielded by the current, older incumbents of the current global governance structure.  Young people need more ‘space’ to operate as well as guidance while operating.

The February gatherings of youth delegates were undeniably impressive: as a group they demonstrated a confident resolve to tackle a deluge of post-2015 global development obstacles.  And no doubt they represent ‘the best and brightest’ talent of their host countries, already being groomed for leadership roles as the next generation of diplomats and policy makers. But if we are to truly ‘leave no one behind’ we will need to insure that a wide range of young people irrespective of class, gender, culture, religion or ethnicity are included at the table of engagement.  We will need to do more to cull and cultivate the untapped potential of youth residing on the margins of urban developments, on rural farms and remote villages, in refugee camps and tented settlements. Elitism and other barriers to inclusion can only be eradicated through universally accessible and needs-specific education as a pathway to full employment, economic empowerment and social leadership.

As March brings new Commissions and crises into focus, we should avoid allowing the welcome upsurge in youth participation to be obscured.  Maintaining youth momentum is indispensable to successful post-2015 sustainable development. As UN Youth Envoy Ahmad Alhendawi exhorted, it’s time to reach cross the generational divide to ‘unleash the power of 1.8 billion young people ready to lift the heavy agenda of the SDGs’.

Working Assets: Development Infrastructure Worthy of Development Aspirations, Karin Perro and Robert Zuber

1 Feb

The UN’s final working day of January featured an odd mix of events, including a seminar dedicated to teaching about the UN, a full-day event promoting social media, and the Security Council’s debate on the Protection of Civilians with a special focus on women and girls.

The last of these is particularly germane to GAPW’s work and, as noted by the UK, represents perhaps the singular lens through which outsiders view the value of the United Nations. And there was much of value in the discussion which we attempted to capture through @globalactionpw. Not surprisingly, some of the presentations represented a mixture of now-familiar POC assumptions and a few needlessly repetitive political grievances.  And despite some passionate and convincing articulations on the common theme of Women, Peace and Security and its implications for protection, a number of delegations noted that 15 years after the WPS norm was consummated, it still ‘feels’ more ornate than embedded.

This lament is relevant to what could well have been the most far-reaching event of the day, held in Conference Room 2, a surprisingly small venue for a discussion as potentially significant as this one could turn out to be.  ECOSOC’s “Dialogue on the longer-term positioning of the United Nations development system” attracted a roster of high-level presenters including UNDP’s Helen Clark, Timor-Leste’s Amb. Sofia Mesquita Borges, and Colombia’s Amb. María Emma Mejía Vélez, vice president of ECOSOC.

GAPW’s Karin Perro spent the morning listening to UN officials and others discuss ways to make the full UN system more accountable to and engaged in the fulfillment of development goals, another one of those ‘core lenses’ for public assessment of UN effectiveness. Among the insights she gleaned were Helen Clark’s ‘delivering as one’ approach.’  Such an approach includes what Clark referred to as a ‘relevant and nimble’ institutional structure for SDG implementation. This warrants more sustained attention with caveats to ensure room for innovation (as the US suggested) and also to guarantee (as Albania noted) that UN development priorities avoid policy silos and fully embrace national contexts.

Perro also reported some echoes of skepticism in the room that went beyond caveats.  Amb. Borges wondered aloud about the ability of states with fiscal, security and governance limitations to successfully coordinate implementation of what will likely be wide ranging development goals.  And several African states bluntly questioned the UN system’s ability and effectiveness in coordinating with other development partners, including states.  Ghana was perhaps the boldest of these states, intimating that development ‘competition’ indulged by UN agencies can result in disrupted development flows, duplicated efforts, disempowered (or frustrated) non-UN development partners, and neglect of legitimate, country-specific needs.

As it turns out, space for this important and even innovative discussion was a non-factor as perhaps 2/3 of the seats in CR 2 were filled.  Apparently ensuring a robust and responsive development infrastructure isn’t as sexy for some in the UN system as formulating text outlining largely normative goals and objectives. Or perhaps state and NGO representatives were busy sharpening their twitter messaging in another conference room.

Regardless, the implications of this event for fulfilling the new goals of the UN’s development pillar were clear to all who participated.  All seemed to recognize that there is limited value to establishing development goals in the absence of viable development infrastructure. On this point, GAPW noted a general, if guarded optimism from delegations, including from those seeking more attention to national context, but also from those wondering if structures of governance in some states are sufficiently fair and robust to handle our new and expanded set of development commitments.

It was also clear that unless all relevant institutional and national assets can find complementary service in our development workplaces, our SDG efforts are likely to create the equivalent of lovely sprinkles on an ice cream cone that itself is not fit to be eaten. We are all the ‘responsible parties’ here, responsible to guide implementation of fair and transparent development priorities, but also responsible to prevent possible damage to the UN’s reputation from development goals and objectives that could regrettably turn out, once again, to be as ornate as substantive.

Rights and Wrongs:  The UN Seeks Discernment for Itself and Lasting Relief for Others Dr. Robert Zuber

25 Jan

This past week at UNHQ witnessed a flurry of interest in the human rights dimensions of the other UN pillars, from post-2015 development to the practice of peace operations and the protection of civilians from armed violence. Much of this activity was informed by the SG’s “Rights up Front” initiative.

On Tuesday The Netherlands sponsored a special Women, Peace and Security event, entitled “Seeking Synergy with the Reviews on Peace Operations and Peacebuilding.”  While there wasn’t much discussion of the review processes themselves, the skilled panel reinforced the need for greater vigilance both in terms of the full participation of women and in terms of how UN operations in the field treat women within their protection and care zones.

On Wednesday at Poland’s “Why have we failed in preventing genocides” event, DSG Eliasson noted the need to transform lessons “we already should have learned” into concerted action, a call that was echoed by others including the US and UK Ambassadors.  For his part, USG Dieng wisely highlighted the current, “scarce institutional investments” in preventive capacity while urging us all to do more to counter prejudice and other ‘triggers’ of mass violence.

On Thursday Switzerland organized a discussion on “human rights at work in peace operations, featuring among others ASG Šimonović and UNSMIL’s Cardone. Panel recommendations were based in part on ample documentary evidence of high level, ‘joint’ discussions that have taken place (and continue) between UNOHCHR and the human rights leadership of diverse peace operations from the DRC to Haiti.

That same day the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C-34) met for briefings on the important matters of conduct and discipline, as well as ‘protection of civilians’ doctrine.

And on Friday, Lithuania convened an informal Security Council meeting to help solidify the human rights dimensions of Council-authorized peace operations.  It is presumed that this discussion helped to set the bar for the upcoming Security Council debate on the Protection of Civilians scheduled for next Tuesday, January 27.

These discussions and others taking place around the UN are most welcome.  Anyone who believes that the UN system is largely insincere in its attempts to chart a humane and rights-based course for peace operations and peacebuilding is simply not paying sufficient attention.

That said there are, of course, caveats here that need to be explored.  As peace operations become more complex in their mission objectives and robust in their protection mandates, the human rights implications of peace operations grow in complexity as well.  So too, we would argue, does the level of vigilance required to maintain a human rights focus under the most challenging of field circumstances.

One example of this vigilance relates to the ‘intervention brigade’ authorized for the Eastern DRC ostensibly without ‘setting a precedent,’ a capacity which has recently seen an expansion in its focus but with little in the way of a sustained vetting of its limitations and implications for other UN country teams and humanitarian operations. Having witnessed some (welcome) security progress in the Eastern DRC, the government of Mali at a recent Security Council meeting had little apparent compulsion in asking the Council for a ‘brigade’ of its own, a call which is likely to be mimicked further as states wrestle with diverse security, human rights and governance challenges, and as vigilance regarding unintended consequences of such capacities remains elusive.

We have long cautioned against an overly militarized and de-contextualized response to the challenges of insurgency.  Not all insurgent movements are the same; some like the pastoralists roaming the ‘ungoverned’ spaces in northern Mali and border states, are arguably not ‘insurgents’ at all.   There are times when military response might well be appropriate; but for the most part, such responses are too –often a result of a clumsy (at best) process of ‘upstream’ political discernment on the part of the Security Council, as well as of the unwillingness of states facing security challenges to make the changes needed to eliminate discrimination and corruption towards regaining the broadest possible public trust.

In a UN system with its carefully worded Charter mandate for peace and security maintenance, the burden of proof regarding the effectiveness of any military response must reside with its Council authorizers as well as with those states seeking such authorizations.  Such ‘proof’ to our mind is too-often unconvincing or even lacking altogether.

Thankfully, awakenings of political, ‘upstream’ discernment were clearly on display in all of the week’s events where we were present, including the UK’s forceful declaration of need for more ‘early warning’ capacity at the “preventing genocides” event.  More pointedly, it was outgoing USG Haq at the event on peace operations and peacebuilding who reminded the audience that the pursuit of human rights pertains not only to those whom we defend, but to how we behave while defending.

Indeed, if we are not scrupulous about ensuring that our resolutions, response capacities and field conduct uphold our prevention and protection principles, we risk undermining both our own credibility and the dignity of those whom we presume to protect. The admonition by Haq for the UN “to look at itself” and curb its own abuses implies that the UN and its member states can do more to restrict the implementation of response doctrines that inadvertently perpetuate human rights abuse under the guise of eliminating it. We can only urge the full and careful incarnation of such discernment.

Clear Channel Communications:  Saying What we Need and How we Need it

25 Nov

While spending this past week ‘in the field,’ I was able to follow a bit of the Security Council’s discussion on countering terrorism as well as the 25th anniversary celebration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, one of the most ratified of all UN conventions and one of the organization’s  signature achievements. The Convention’s language is filled with caveats related to children’s limitations and vulnerabilities, but this really is about rights of children as much as about the obligations of adults.   In a world which for many of us would be borderline intolerable without the presence of children in it, the Convention reminds us that while we have not done nearly enough to ensure developmentally appropriate protection and education of children, let alone secure their future, the obligations to children contained in this Convention are, in some significant sense, the very least we can do.

Children were also on the menu at the Budapest Human Rights Forum, now in its 7th year, and more especially in the side event organized by György Tatar and his colleagues with the Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities.  The latter event was on education for mass atrocity prevention, a topic similar to one covered during this fall’s opening of the GA hosted by the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, along with ministers from Belgium and Ghana.   The Budapest Centre event, however, was a bit less about the control and potential of the internet (the focus of both the UN event and the Forum), and more about learning skills and materials needed to help stimulate understanding and involvement of young people in the struggle against mass atrocity violence.

Consistent with their reputation, the Budapest Centre brought together a wide array of stakeholders, from United Nations officials to the leadership of educational programs in Bosnia- Herzegovina.  Speakers were engaging though they tended to mostly highlight the activities and accomplishments of their own organizations.  There were few attempts to step back from immediate needs and activities to address larger governance and development concerns.

And this is the point at which some significant questions became relevant, two in particular.  The first was related to an issue that we have taken up previously in this space, the relationship between activity and impact.  How do we determine that we in our various venues are doing more than building up ‘our numbers,’ more than creating busywork for the cause of peace and justice?  This question was posed to panelists with mostly muted response.   Only a few even acknowledged the problem of transformational language that becomes incarnate in activities that are more likely to fulfill the expectations of funders and governments than change the core dynamics of schools and communities.

And the other interesting question, also largely posed without response, referred to the ways in which we seek (or don’t ) the clarification of what it is that we want from others, in this instance ‘others’ referring primarily to that elusive “international community.”   This particular question had two components, what we want bound together with how we want it.

You would think that this combination question would be easy for activists and policymakers to address, but this is rarely seems to be the case.   For the Bosnian representatives, as for many others, telling the story of wants and needs comes in the form of lots of complaining about conditions and an equal measure of pleas to the aforementioned (and also not particularly well understood) international community to ‘do something’ regarding the sources of our collective misery.

The obvious follow up to this combination of discouraging words and pleas for change is, well, what do you want?  What in your view would be the best way for the international community or any other interested party to assist?  And how would it be best to provide that assistance so that we, for instance, avoid dependencies, ensure local control, help guarantee complementary of policy responses, take a longer remedial view instead of just addressing the most current needs?

As someone who has spent much of his life counseling the problems of others, I remain surprised at the inability of people to really come to terms with what they want from others and provide some guidance as to the form that this assistance should take.  Many personal relationships are undone by this lack of clarity.  Remembering birthdays and anniversaries, of course  but with gifts that are thoughtful rather than perfunctory, putting care into selection rather than simply  buying the first thing that seems ‘good enough.’  People have desires, but few want things ‘thrown at them’ in a take-it-or-leave-it manner.  Faced with such a choice, many would choose the ‘leave it’ option.

It is much the same with international assistance.   Activists working in places like Bosnia face considerable challenges including often chronic resource deficits.  They need a hand from time to time, as we all do, if we are to reconcile an often unjust world.  But that ‘hand’ requires guidance of sorts if it is to find the most appropriate and effective end use.   For those seeking to assist, there is simply more they need to know beyond the fact that there are problems needing to be addressed. Needs and wants can be prioritized.  They are often linked to each other.  They have contexts. And there are times when inappropriate assistance is worse than no assistance at all.

In my view, a healthy collaborative exchange requires more clarity from potential recipients, more discernment about needs and expectations, more insistence that any assistance be about more than crunching numbers to fill funder expectations.  This successful matching of needs and resources, whether in development, education, illicit arms or any other areas of policy concern takes more sensitivity from those who claim to assist.  But it also requires more clarity from the assisted.

A common refrain in counseling personal relationships is the belief that he/she should already know what “I” want and need.   This is an understandable but altogether elusive claim that presumes more clarity on the needs side and less sensitivity on the assistance side.   The good human rights discussions held in Hungary  served as reminders that proper assistance requires sensitive assessment, but that clarity of needs and wants is equally an indispensable, if often overlooked, part of the assistance equation.   If we are not willing (or able) to explain clearly what types and forms of assistance would be most helpful to us and our constituent communities, the odds of getting what we want greatly diminish.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Women’s Security amidst Resource Scarcity

19 Sep

This past summer, Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict (GAPW) introduced a program initiative to explore and address gendered security questions integral to the UN thematic nexus of Food, Water, Energy and Climate.

Our approach will look most directly at the multiple challenges of water access and quality, and their impact on rural women. Our policy involvement at the UN has stressed the evolving relationship of resource scarcity as a major contributing factor to armed violence.  As is so often the case, scarcity of supplies, restrictions on access, and the violence that increasingly erupts from such conditions disproportionately impact women’s lives in a multitude of ways. This program will speak to the growing concerns regarding the effective and inclusive governance of water while identifying the potential for conflict caused by water stresses – specifically related to access, quality and a lack of participation in water-related policy.

In the first half of 2015 UN member states will have set an agenda which will then determine local and national policy interventions and activities on climate and development. Climate change negotiations related to the Conference of the Parties  (COP) 20 will transition to COP 21, and the Millennium Development Goals will formally transition to the Sustainable Development goals, most likely finalized at the 70th United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. All of global civil society will be on hand and will be ready to encourage and support governments as they adopt and implement their development and climate commitments.

On a local level NGOs will define, underscore and help promote the security measures needed to ensure SDG accountability. As Bhumika Mucchala has suggested, a universal model of accountable security must accompany the effective realization of SDGs. During the first half of 2015 GAPW will share security-related perspectives with diplomatic and global civil society actors to ensure the effective realization of SDG goals. GAPW is also committed to ensuring that agreed targets of water and food security are assessed by gendered data indicators necessary for ensuring participation and preserving peace. In all of this work, we will remain gender-aware, context- sensitive, and rights-based.

In partnership with other NGOs we seek ways to minimize risk while safeguarding conditions of sustainable development access. For example, the often-perilous journey women face in water collection and overcoming water inaccessibility heightens levels of vulnerability to exploitation and abuse by unscrupulous traffickers, smugglers and employers. We seek to ensure that new implementation models for Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture and Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, will fully examine the security needs that can help ensure access and prevent water-related armed conflict and violence against women.

As we approach the Climate Change Summit (CCS) of 2015, where member states will seek to “advance climate change action and ambition,” UNSG Ban Ki-Moon has invited member states to “bring bold announcements and actions to the summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will.” As a means to build global governance and climate diplomacy, the CCS 2015 will be a great opportunity for member states to pledge their support in a detailed, optimistic, and implementable manner. Deliberations of a “new climate economy” can raise the level of discourse, but can also change the narrative of geopolitics in ways that are welcome. While thinking about resources and conflict prevention with respect to climate change I pose three questions to member states attending CCS 2015: (1) What kind of development-related climate models are most likely to create fiscal dependencies in states? (2) Which models of sustainability are best able to ensure social stability and prevent conflict? (3) In which ways has women’s participation in water and other resource policies been enhanced to help ensure access and prevent conflict?

As CCS approaches, GAPW respectfully encourages member states to look closely at the impacts of water stresses on their societies. Indeed, the alarming rate of water stresses worldwide – related to sanitation, dam construction, sludge and other pollutants, and more — has resulted in and been exacerbated by local and state conflicts. Agribusinesses and other industries demand large quantities of existing freshwater, reducing water tables and increasing access challenges. Water, like any other resource essential to human life, represents not just a fundamental human need, but also a pivotal matter in the preservation of state and international security. In an Inter-Press Service article about water’s use as a weapon in war, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon comments, “Preventing people’s access to safe water is a denial of a fundamental human right [and the] deliberate targeting of civilians and depriving them of essential supplies is a clear breach of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

Water stresses clearly create heightened vulnerability and liability for less developed countries. One major issue faced by many small island, least developed and post-conflict states is the question of how these states can be asked to respond effectively to the SDGs when the resources used to tackle any particular issue are constrained by financial, water and other deficiencies. Many have argued that the lack of equitable assistance, whether financial, infrastructure related or strategic will invariably cause new sets of constraints. At the Climate Change Summit governments will have the opportunity to cite their own specific impediments to the fulfillment of SDG obligations and also share suggestions for remediation.

Climate health and its many implications is a direct by-product of our policy and consumer choices. Our climate “footprint” is large and growing, and showcases our successes and failures. As global leaders and a large numbers of global citizens gather in New York to discuss our climate future, the time has come to stop thinking only about risk mitigation and shift to a concern for risk elimination.  We are simply running out of time to save what’s left and make that accessible to all in a fair and participatory manner.

Sulekha Prasad, WPS Fellow

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