Tag Archives: participation

Cooperation Nations:  Creating Circles of Many Winners, Dr. Robert Zuber

22 Jan

The only thing that will redeem [human] kind is cooperation. Bertrand Russell

There are days in our office (as I suspect in most others) when dissonance overwhelms clarity, when it seems as though we are hell bent on confirming the darkest, murkiest corners of our human character.  While it appears that Gambia will finally achieve political transition, ominous clouds are descending over Cameroon, a country and people for which we have a special fondness and which appears, more and more, to be giving in to the stresses of Boko Haram, refugees from its neighbors, and the vestiges of a protracted bi-lingual struggle that is now quite out in the open and warns of more ugliness to come.

And then there was Friday’s spectacle in Washington, DC featuring a new president with his own dark and at times insulting message; a day that also called attention to a violent minority within what were mostly peaceful protestors, a minority whose own angry message is unlikely to turn down any of the heat that most in what is now referred to as “the winner’s circle” of governance seem disinterested to turn down themselves.

Up the road in New York, I sit daily in “safe” multilateral space, full of people whose task it is to create and endorse norms that are intended to impact behaviors within and beyond national borders.  On the US inauguration day alone, the Security Council found common ground with the Economic Community for West Africa on ways to ease what is now a full-fledged political transition in Gambia.   The General Assembly is close to finding common ground on a conference that will endorse protocols for “safe, orderly and regular migration” with a clear priority on “effective participation of all relevant stakeholders” from scientists to migrants themselves. And in ECOSOC, the Forum on Forests cemented details on a document that will highlight the critical role that forests must continue to play in addressing climate-related impacts.

There are holes that can be “poked” in all three of these initiatives, including states running away from the idea that the regulations they are creating on migration governance have any sort of legal force. But the fact remains that none of these would have even a fraction of the global support they enjoy if not for the sometimes torturous but mostly welcome convening and norm-building power of the UN.

With dramatic changes in Washington, that power will surely and soon be put to the test.  Despite the fact that the US has long been the de facto decision maker at the UN, despite all the deference to US interests which most UN diplomats are encouraged to display, new leadership in Washington seems convinced that the UN will need to sing even louder for its supper — deep-throated odes to the needs and whims of US leadership — or risk losing its place at the dinner table.

There have been US-orchestrated challenges previously, mostly behind the scenes, to the fiscal and political integrity of the UN.   And frankly not all those challenges have been without merit.   It is difficult to assess the current threat level at this early stage, one which could well result in more or less the status quo or facilitate a highly dramatic move out of New York with US funding completely severed,  at least until the next electoral cycle.  Multilateralism was never the strongest interest of many of those who bothered to vote in the US election this time around, and there was nothing in yesterday’s inaugural speech that indicated that such dismissive indifference to the UN, at least at high official levels, will abate any time soon.

Thankfully, the UN that I see up close every day is better equipped than perhaps it has ever been to handle this challenge.  More governments are taking the lead on policy, grasping connections across sectors and finding ways to contribute to the global commons and not only reap its capacity-building benefits. More governments are stepping up with ideas, with funds, and with inspiration needed to cooperatively tackle global problems, some of which have become nearly overwhelming in their scope.

Let’s be clear:   While the UN still too often privileges protocol over insight and bureaucracy over character, we have what it takes in this space to meet our global development and climate obligations.    We have what it takes to create safe and orderly conditions for persons fleeing conflict or drought, or merely seeking a safer environment for their children.  We have what it takes to end our reliance on weapons of mass destruction, to reduce threats from pandemics, to solve conflicts upstream so that we don’t have to unravel mass atrocities downstream.

There is enough talent and resolve in and around the UN to help the human race get through this rough, distracted and dangerous patch — with or without the largesse or approval of any single state and its temporary government.

And thankfully, the potency of our multilateral institutions is mirrored, even surpassed, by the potency of global citizens. The extraordinary, hopeful and non-violent marches that swamped the streets of Los Angeles, Washington DC and New York on Saturday and which resonated with many thousands of other women (and some men) marching in settings from Mexico and Australia to South Dakota and Missouri, are the latest, forceful indication that there will be no turning back, there must be no turning back, on women’s full participation, on respect of persons, on gender justice.

But as there is no turning back, there must also be no turning away.   For every woman of determination marching on Saturday, there is surely at least one woman who might feel slighted, or ridiculed; who might be discouraged from participating in marches in part ABOUT participation perhaps because she doesn’t toe the line on progressive orthodoxy; because her views on what makes women empowered don’t jive with the ideational and behavioral expectations of the political and cultural celebrities who seem always to find their way in front of the cameras.

If the myopic grimness characteristic of Friday’s inauguration in DC is to be countered effectively – and the Saturday marches were a hugely hopeful beginning — it will require an expanding tent, what we at the UN like to refer to as “a broader range of stakeholder engagements.”  To counter threats from hostile officials, whether grounded in ideological paranoia or garden-variety misogyny, our mostly like-minded movements – no matter how large and vocal — are unlikely to be sufficient to the current spate of threats, even if those groupings are already better equipped to fill the streets with legitimate concern than the sources of the threats themselves.

The pathway to the change that women are rightly looking to sustain and grow lies beyond elections and their victors, beyond celebrity endorsers and well-worn messaging.  Indeed, it probably also lies beyond the women marchers themselves.  Much like the hopeful agendas endorsed this week at the UN this change does not depend as much as we might think on the largesse or “permission” of any particular government.  But it does depend on our willingness to push the envelope on participation, doing more to ensure that all who seek to share a contributing, even cooperating voice will have that voice respected and, to the highest degree possible, integrated.

We at the UN must work much harder to honor our promises to include all states and their constituents in global policy. On the domestic side, we would also do well to keep our doors – and our ears – open to the voices of those many, still-marginal women and their still-marginal neighbors, persons tempted to brood in the darkest corners of our national psyches in part because they feel, rightly or wrongly, barred from access to brighter spaces.

Creating Spaces for Creative Participation:  Practicing Fairness, Heeding Evidence: Dr. Robert Zuber

25 Jan

One of the tangibly hopeful things around UN headquarters is the degree to which participation concerns have been legitimized in policy.   The skills and perspectives of people across gender, race, age, culture, social class, nationality, (dis) ability and more receive at least rhetorical confirmation somewhere or other within the UN’s increasingly busy schedule of policy deliberations.

From the vantage point of the still-excluded voices, gender gets the most attention these days around the UN, with strong agency leadership and NGO support from those running a gamut of gender-specific issue concerns – from ensuring more women’s voices at UN functions to the complete dismantling of patriarchy in all its forms.

And certainly there is plenty to atone for where women’s rights are concerned.

Nevertheless, despite all this legitimate, multi-layered attention, there remain structural and political limitations to enacting our participation concerns.   At the UN, as in much of the rest of the world, we have ample evidence for a tenuous relationship between the things we discuss and the things we actually change.   Sometimes conversation serves as a springboard for personal or institutional reform; other times it serves as their substitute.

In the case of gender, our participation-related limitations take multiple forms.  For instance, despite all of the current institutional focus on gender equity, we still have too many single-gender panels at UN Headquarters.   We still put excellent diplomats such as Luxembourg’s Ambassador Lucas in the awkward position of having to remind her peers, as she did during Friday’s 70th Anniversary celebration of ECOSOC, of the pervasive male dominance of much UN agency leadership.  Despite our generally supportive gender rhetoric, we still have not fully grasped the degree to which national economic policies, peace and mediation processes, poverty reduction efforts and much more remain exclusive domains, including exclusive of too many women.

As Denmark noted during Thursday’s “Implementing the 2030 Agenda to Accelerate Realization of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls” event, we must do more than we are now doing to ensure that we bring the “marginal into the center.”  This has implications beyond gender, but certainly many implications for how women – including working class women, women with disabilities, and indigenous women – find space to pursue their policy skills and interests. As Regions Refocus’ Anita Nayar stated, the 2030 development agenda gives us another opportunity – one we would do well not to squander – to claim the space needed to “democratize and feminize” implementation of the new development goals.

Indeed, at Thursday’s “gender and development” event, there were many important statements that fit under the heading of “not squandered,” including several shared by men.  For instance, Latvia highlighted the need for more attention to the “gender digital divide” and better indicators to monitor gender-specific compliance. UNCTAD’s Carpentier raised the concern that the current preoccupation with “public-private partnerships” is not delivering the goods on women’s employment. Cuba went so far as to criticize diplomatic training, noting that if such training is gender-biased, future diplomatic placements are likely to remain biased as well.  And Canada noted “evidence” that gender equity signals many important social benefits, and urged all to listen more carefully to that growing body of evidence.

But the event also highlighted an even broader, more systemic concern.

There is a pervasive flaw, in our view, in events around the UN that are “given over” to issue interests:  Gender advocates talking about gender.   Indigenous advocates talking about indigenous issues.  Youth advocates (however you define “youth” these days) talking about youth concerns.   Disabled persons talking about the unmet needs of persons with disabilities.

These mostly branded conversations rarely add as much as we imagine to the evidence base of the largely knowledgeable audiences around the UN. They certainly don’t help build capacity across issue interests.  They do tend to consolidate domains rather than create linkages across domains.  They do not, as advocated by Ireland’s Ambassador Donoghue on Thursday, effectively promote “whole government” and whole systems commitment to full and effective constituent participation.

In response to this trend, we have long advocated events characterized by persons deliberately advocating for “space” for other groupings, not only for their own issues.    With full respect for the incredible talent that the UN routinely seconds into its meeting rooms, we see relatively little value in organizing events wherein the same voices advocate for the same things in the same way.   Such events tend mostly to ritualize policy concern rather than explore its next frontiers.  People come to these events in the hope of new insights or creative policy formulations, only to leave – more often than not – disappointed rather than reassured.

For us, it is always more inspirational to hear about the “stakes” people acknowledge in the unresolved concerns of others.  Why should advocates for genocide prevention care about efforts to eliminate arms trafficking?   Why should youth advocates care about elder rights?   Why should women’s rights advocates, as highlighted by GPF’s Barbara Adams at Thursday’s event, care about illegal financial flows?  Why should Security Council reform advocates care about the accelerated pace of melting ice caps?

And why should those tasked with implementation of the 2030 development agenda care about the full integration of gender perspectives?  On Thursday, we got a hopeful glimpse of what those answers might look like, as well as some insight into all the many other “cross cutting,” (or as Nayar proposed) “co-constructed” discussions that need to take place in and around our multilateral policy centers.  The clarity of our priorities, the quality of our resolutions, the depth of our commitments, can all be enhanced through our willingness to walk a pace in each other’s policy shoes.

At the UN, who speaks at events is largely (and too often) a function of who has been authorized to have a voice.  However, we have sufficient band-width as a policy community such that we can enable voices beyond the usual, and at the same time demonstrate broader policy discernment beyond our organizational mandates and diplomatic portfolios.  The participation space that we increasingly seek to open in the world must be opened wider at the UN as well; on gender yes, but also with respect to other, too-often “marginal” stakeholders seeking their policy moment.

Women’s Political Participation and Peacekeeping

8 May

Recently, Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, and Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, held a joint Security Council briefing on women peace and security issues, focusing on women’s political participation and protection from a peacekeeping perspective, respectively.  While Madame Bachelet focused on women’s agency, in particular the need for women to play a role in conflict resolution and encouraged their participation and engagement in peacemaking and peacebuilding processes, Mr. Ladsous focused on the protection of women and the need for more training and protection in order to establish a reliable security sector for women’s participation.

Madame Bachelet discussed that most of women’s political participation has been at informal stages and that has not translated at high level.  Women’s participation is a necessary component to resolving a crisis situation and it must be integrated into peace or mediation agreements; of course, of special importance is the role of mediators and advisers and their role in bringing attention to women in conflict resolution.  On rule of law as one of the most important elements of peacekeeping and peacebuilding, she stressed the importance of referring cases to the ICC and other tribunals and assessing lessons learned from previous cases.  She also linked reparations with relieving economic and social marginalization that can be at the root of the violence against women.  

Among the suggestions made include creating more opportunities for women to participate in conflict resolution and peacebuilding forums by inviting them in donor conferences and other international engagement processes. In addition, consults with SRSGs, advisors, Member States and other relevant stakeholders on the need of women’s participation in conflict resolution are promoted in hopes of encouraging and engaging more women in peacemaking and peacebuilding processes. Also, a review of lessons learned from international criminal tribunals and their prosecutions on sexual and gender-based violence that can be applied to future processes.  

Adding upon Madame Bachelet’s theme of political participation, Mr. Ladsous discussed that while peacekeeping has seen progress in the participation in election and political institutions, more remains be done. He noted that one of the major problems of participation of women in election processes, both as candidates and voters, is the lack of freedom of movement and more needs to be done to ensure for the security of women in such settings. Mr. Ladsous outlined some of the steps taken from the UN Missions on the ground to assure for the protection of women, including establishing temporary special measures or holding elections workshops or training police officers. But, while peacekeepers are there to protect civilians directly, the main responsibility to protect continues to lie with the host state itself and peacekeeping cannot be a substitute for that.  Stronger national institutions that promote security and decrease levels of violence need to be in place; civilian capacities need to be strengthened, and protection efforts need to be sustained and multiplied.

Overall, creating a reliable security sector for women’s participation is, of course, essential not only to the protection and prevention of violence against women, but also to women’s participation. As we move forward and evaluate UN Mission mandates, it is important to reflect and assess the progress on the ground on these issues.  

-Melina Lito