Tag Archives: “women as agents of change”

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.

A New Source of Skills for Crisis Prevention and Management

14 Nov

Editor’s note:  The following is from Gord Breedyk, currently in residence at GAPW where he is exploring ways that the UN can connect with his own work at Civilian Peace Service Canada. GAPW has long been supportive of this civilian-based initiative and plans to stay connected longer term. We need more of the skills and competencies that Gord and his team help to assess. 

I have recently been given the privilege of working with Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict (GAPW) including observing and learning from UN meetings.  These meetings have ranged from Security Council briefings on Gaza, Mali, Syria and Ukraine to committee deliberations on: Human Rights; Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control; Interstate Arbitration and Enforcement of Decisions; Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support; International Law and Asymmetric Warfare; Women Redefining the Terms of Peace Negotiations; the Peacebuilding Commission’s response to Ebola; the Power of Entrepreneurship; and a Report on the Economic and Social Repercussions of the Israeli Occupation. And this is but a tiny sample of all the meetings taking place in a relatively typical fall week at the UN.

Hugely impressive to an outside observer is the breadth and depth of subject matter deliberated by UN delegates; also the overall dedication, civility and mutual respect  practised by most of them,  often despite deeply held and contradictory views, and often despite  significant frustration at the apparent inability of the UN as an institution to a) prevent what often seem to be relatively predictable catastrophes and b) adequately deal with them once they do materialize financially, operationally and, yes,  politically.

For example (paraphrased), “Why bother rebuilding Palestine …it may be destroyed again in months or years?,” two delegates recently asked the Commissioner General for UNRWA. The Commissioner answered, “It is a human imperative to rebuild – we must.”

Rebuilding is one thing. Prevention, even transformation of conflict-related threats that can minimize destruction is quite another. But where is the capacity and skill needed to prevent and mediate conflict going to come from?  We feel that the UN would be well-served by engaging Accredited Peace Professionals as a supplement to the UN’s own recent commitments to involve more civilians in its operations.

Like well-trained doctors, lawyers, engineers, soldiers, etc., Accredited Peace Professionals are practitioners in the field of international negotiation, mediation, arbitration and diplomacy. These practitioners are held to high professional standards through rigorous assessment of values and competencies in the peace field and, once qualified, formally accredited as meeting the required standards.

To quote Cameron Chisholm of the International Peace & Security Institute (IPSI): “Doctors are educated in both theory and practice before they ever enter the operating room. Why should peacebuilding be any less professional?”  And he goes on to say “It shouldn’t be!”

How would Accredited Peace Professionals supplement Peacekeepers and other UN capacity?  Whereas  UN Peacekeepers are primarily military professionals providing (increasingly complex) mandated peacekeeping services in areas of conflict, Peace Professionals are accredited for competencies and values in preventing, mitigating and transforming conflict in all aspects. As with any other profession (including the military) these professionals will have met the standards relevant for their peace/mediation vocation.  In other words, Peace Professionals have demonstrated skills in areas that Peacekeepers struggle to address as part of their increasingly complex mandates.

What difference could this additional assessed capacity make?  The UN and its agencies could benefit from the skills and energies of hundreds, ultimately thousands of highly trained, thoroughly assessed Accredited Peace Professionals, persons focused on reducing the number of violent conflicts and the levels of conflict (where they still occur) and, significantly, minimizing the impact on civilians including damage to their infrastructure.  Such professionals would also ease demands on UN and member state resources.  A reduction in civilian lives lost and/or in the numbers of IDPs and refugees would more than offset the cost of deploying Accredited Peace Professionals.

Civilian Peace Service Canada (CPSC) has developed and piloted an assessment and accreditation methodology that has withstood academic and professional scrutiny. Its rigour ensures dedicated and competent professionals ready for service in peace and mediation related fields. We are now looking to significantly grow the number of Accredited Peace Professionals to meet the growing capacity gaps at the UN and elsewhere. (More on this at: www.civilianpeaceservice.ca).

We are aware and supportive of the need expressed in different UN settings for more gender balance in areas of mediation and other peace processes.  But there is a broader need as well.  We simply don’t have enough capacity to handle all of the crises (and threats of crises) that are the focus of so many UN briefings and discussions.   Accredited Peace Professionals can help fill this gap.

Gordon Breedyk, Civilian Peace Service Canada

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

Dharavi: A Place of Paradox and Misconceptions

14 Aug

Editor’s Note:  This is from Kritika Seth, an associate from Mumbai who previously managed GAPW’s youth effort. Kritika now works for an NGO in Mumbai where her compassion, attentiveness and thoughtfulness have resulted in the following reflections.  

Lakshmi Dhadke – A star, a ‘sorter’, a lady that oozes dynamism and passion from every ounce of her body; her laughter lights up the entire room; her effortless ways of dealing with life’s problems and her smooth ability to deal with the full range of human emotions will leave you awe struck. She seems almost limitless. Lakshmi Tai, as we like to call her, is a simple Marathi lady, a mother of two adorable sons and a wife to a rickshaw driver living in the labyrinthine slums known as Dharavi.

The first time I met her and realized that she possessed all of these creative, life-affirming qualities, I wondered, what is she still doing living in Dharavi?

With more than 60,000 structures, many of them shanties, and as many as one million people living and working on a triangle of land barely two-third the size of Central Park in Manhattan, Dharavi is one of the world’s most infamous slums. It is often seen as a cliché of Indian misery, a visual eyesore and a symbol of raw inequality that epitomizes the failure of policy makers to accommodate the millions of rural migrates searching for an opportunity in the magical city of Mumbai. Paradoxically, it is also a churning hive of shops and workshops resulting in an annual economic output estimated to be $600 million and perhaps as much as $1 billion.

Perhaps those who have not seen Dharavi would consider it to be nothing more than a huge slum, but when I have looked, I see Dharavi as a city within a city, a city of many faces and many facets.

Despite India being a rising economic power, a huge portion of its economy operates in the shadows. In most developing countries, there is only one economy, but in India, there are two. The formal economy consists of businesses that pay taxes, abide by labor regulations and polish the country’s global image. The ‘informal’ economy is everything else: the hundreds and millions of shopkeepers, construction workers, taxi drivers, tailors, street vendors, middlemen and more. The informal economy is responsible for the overwhelming majority of India’s annual growth and as much as 90 percent of all employment. Thus, Dharavi could welll be referred to as one of the self-created, special economic zones for the Indian poor.

“What do we make?” questioned, the ever-enthusiastic Lakshmi Tai during our brainstorming session intended to help her start and run her own business. “We live in a world where we can get almost anything and most of it is made in Dharavi. What can I do to make my creation different?”

It is not an easy question to answer.  Leatherwork is now a major industry in Dharavi. Small garment factories have proliferated throughout the slum, making children’s clothes or women’s dresses for the Indian market or export abroad. According to a 2012 study by the United States Agency for International Development, Dharavi contains at least 700 larger garment workshops and about 40,000 smaller ones. Then there are 5000 leather shops. Then there are food processors that make snacks for the rest of India. And then still more: printmakers, embroiderers and, most of all, the vast recycling operations that sort, clean and reprocess much of India’s discarded plastic.

As Lakshmi Tai rightly puts it, “Every slum has its businesses. Every kind of business is there in the slums.”

Plans to raze and redevelop this informal city of Dharavi into a “normal” neighborhood has stirred a debate about what would be gained but also about what might be lost by trying to control and regulate Dharavi. Every layer of Dharavi, once exposed, reveals something far more complex and organic than the image of a slum serving merely as a warehouse for the poor.

Discrimination is still common practice towards Dharavi residents. They often complain that they are routinely rejected for credit cards if they list a Dharavi address. Private banking institutions are reluctant to make loans to business owners in Dharavi or to open branches there. Part of this stigma is as much about traditional social structures as about living in the slum itself.

But money talks in Mumbai, and Dharavi now has money, even millionaires existing alongside its misery and poverty.

Dharavi’s fingerprints continue to be found across Mumbai’s economy and beyond, even if few people realize it.  And thus, after zooming out, looking at the bigger picture, I believe there is no other place that Lakshmi Tai be other than the eccentric hive of Dharavi.

The area is imprinted in the Indian imagination, depicted in books or Bollywood movies, and even featured in the Oscar-winning hit “Slumdog Millionaire.”  Dharavi has been examined in a Harvard Business School case study and dissected by an army of urban planners all over the world. Yet efforts to fully capture Dharavi’s diverse character are elusive.  May they remain so.

Kritika Seth, GAPW Junior Associate

Traffic Control: Making Policy Sufficient to Ending a Menace

30 Jul

Editor’s Note:   Today (7/30/14) is World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.   To help call attention to this unresolved scourge, Danielle Peck has offered this reflection on UN and member state efforts to eliminate trafficking and restore dignity to victims.  She also offers suggestions on ways to better highlight this crime and eliminate impunity for abuses. 

On July 14, 2014 while attending the special high-level event on “Improving the coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons” co-organized by the Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), many shocking statistics were brought forward demonstrating the ongoing reality of human trafficking. President John Ashe discussed how human trafficking affects every nation in the world. He called it a most “grotesque and lucrative” crime generating 36 billion dollars per year.  The executive director of UNODC, Yury Fedotov, stated that “victims come from 136 different nationalities and are circulated through 118 different countries.” He also mentioned that 75% of victims are women and girls. UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo said, “Every one victim found represents 100 victims still lost.” Statements like these have led me to ask, “What is our international community doing to prevent human trafficking from occurring?”

The U.S. Department of State created the Trafficking in Persons Report, which holds every state accountable for maintaining minimal standards needed to eliminate human trafficking in persons, though states are obviously not required to sign an agreement to that effect. The ‘minimal’ standards are that each country must make a serious and sustained effort to prohibit and eliminate forms of human trafficking. Stringent punishments are suggested to those who violate trafficking laws. Each country is categorized within a ‘tier system’ based on how well it follows minimal standards against trafficking.

Even though the U.S. Department of State has created international pressure with its ‘tier system’ to eliminate trafficking, that system is often disregarded by other states. It is often the case that a nation does not want to be told what to do by another nation. Many countries have also questioned the way the State Department gathered its information for the Trafficking in Persons Report. For instance, Russia voiced its aggravation at being moved to a tier three (the worst rating within the tier system), and they accused the system of being corrupt.

In addition to US efforts, it is vital that the United Nations has a well-established department to combat trafficking. This would not only create efficiency and accountability when gathering ‘best practices’ and statistics, but it might influence more actions to combat human trafficking. UNODC has an office dedicated to combating human trafficking and has implemented many policies to attempt to combat the full range of such trafficking. Still, there are many challenges the department has faced in part due to the fact that human trafficking covers such a broad range of behavior. The department must focus its attention not only on sex trafficking, but also immigrant smuggling or child labor, just to name a few areas of concern. Within the “Human Trafficking FAQs” section of the UNODC website, there is a list of challenges the UN believes must be further addressed. Here I have taken a few of these challenges and provided some suggestions moving forward.

First, the UN believes that there is a problem with how states and organizations gather accurate information on trafficking. There has been no system implemented within the department that encourages states to gather accurate data. As trafficking is a criminal activity, many states may find the data gathering task beyond their capacity. The UN should implement a system with templates that each state can follow to help gather relevant data. Studies should be done that show how accurate data (on trafficking or related matters) has been gathered in the past. The UN should then take further steps to create an infrastructure that will assure that every state can follow those templates with as much ease as possible. If an efficient plan could be created for every state to follow, there would be more accurate trafficking data throughout the world.

Today there are too many different data-gathering systems yielding a wide diversity of statistics on trafficking in persons for each nation. Thus, my first suggestion is for the UN to create an instruction manual that can guide nations seeking to gather human trafficking data.  Then the UN needs to create a common space/system for nations to share their data. The international community needs better cooperation and coordination in developing an information exchange. If every nation had a system to follow on how to gather accurate information, they would probably be more willing to enter their information into a shared database.

Secondly, despite this fine event, the UN does not yet fully convey the importance of countering human trafficking within the international community. Every state has its own list of priorities in this area, in part a function of local cultures and values. The UN must be clear that countering trafficking should be a high priority for every state. As mentioned above, human trafficking exists in every country and affects or influences every person, directly or indirectly. Trafficking represents a massive corrupt network that cannot be overcome without the entire international community making it a priority. The UN should hold more panels that discuss the facts and methods to combat trafficking, as these get publicity and the attention of leaders, as well as create a space for open dialogue for diplomats and NGOs to discuss solutions. It is the UN’s responsibility to help spread awareness of the scourge of trafficking of persons into the international community.

Third, the UN needs to do more to prevent trafficking at its source. Research needs to focus on the sources of the trafficking industry. The UN should provide outlets for funding locally based NGOs that work with trafficking issues and victims. This will make it possible for NGOs to publicize the reality of human trafficking, show how women and men can avoid becoming involved, or even help to stop the practice. Then the UN could consider exposing the identities criminals involved in trafficking to the international community. This could create international pressure as no country wants to have leaders of the trafficking industry publicized as coming from their nation. The criminals should be brought from underground into the public eye. Impunity for their abuses needs to end.

It is unclear the extent to which the UN and other international organizations are addressing human trafficking on a global scale. We need to make human trafficking one of our main priorities. The UN has the power to organize more global events based on the realities of trafficking. The trafficking industry controls more than we realize. It needs to be confronted robustly by the international community with UN guidance.

Danielle M. Peck, Junior Associate

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

Amplifying Women’s Voices in Ukraine

5 Jun

Editor’s Note:  This is the first post from Danielle Peck, who comes to GAPW from the University of Wyoming.   Danielle will take leadership for some of GAPW’s program work in the areas of youth development and human rights, and she will be writing in this space from time to time. 

At the recent (pre-election) panel discussion “Invest in Women for Peace: Conflict Prevention and Women’s Participation in Ukraine,” part of the speaker series for Women, Peace and Security, panelists Natalia Karbowska and Gregore Pop-Eleches highlighted the unsettling situation facing women being excluded from the political processes taking place in the Ukraine.

Karbowska began the panel with an example detailing how talk of war in other states often includes the gender perspective, which looks at the impact of gender on people’s opportunities, interactions and social roles during war. Ukrainians as well as the international community have yet to apply the gender perspective on the current situation in Ukraine. Karbowska explained that when Ukrainian women fight to be heard, they are told that their opinions are important but that they can be heard later. Women, not only from the Ukraine should be asking, “When is this later that you speak of?” Women all around the world have been silenced for many generations, too many generations. I say, enough is enough. While it is 2014, women are in need to be heard now especially in countries like the Ukraine that are attempting to implement serious reform.

While NGOs and Parliament are implementing reforms to help overcome crisis and fight corruption, they often still do not sufficiently incorporate a gender perspective or promote women’s participation in political processes. Karbowska explained further, “During this moment in time, many important developments within social policy are being made. Ukrainian women are at risk of losing their own rights; they are at risk of losing their only rights and permanently.” Women need to be involved not only to secure but also to protect their liberty. She also stated that organizations and programs that include women are often the first shut down due to budget cuts. The National Action Plan on gender equality is one of those programs at risk. The narrow window of opportunity for Ukrainian women to finally and fully be heard is closing.

The National Action Plan on gender equality to improve the situation and status of women was first approved in 1997, and then later modified in 2001 to not only improve the situation of women, but to implement gender equality in society. Many positions were implemented all over the state to ensure its success. One major goal of the plan was to significantly raise the female representation within the highest positions by 2015. The National Action Plan not only incorporates a list of goals and tasks to accomplish gender equality, but it supports other programs that support the interests of women. Karbowska referred to the National Action Plan as an essential tool to guarantee women’s involvement in the political decision-making process.

Pop-Eleches focused his presentation more on the divide between East and West Ukraine, which helped explain where and possibly why Ukrainian women’s voices are having the least impact. Due to the lack of mass media in the country, the East and West gather different perspectives from the surrounding countries’ media sources, which can lead, as a result, to a different perception of political reality.  Women from eastern Ukraine are the least represented within the state. As shown in the recent election, there was a high voting turn out everywhere except for regions in eastern Ukraine where polling stations were shut down by pro-Russian separatists. Even though statistics of women’s participation in the election have not yet been revealed, Karbowska explained that in past elections male voters outnumbered women two to one.

Taking all of the above into consideration, what can be done to assure Ukrainian women’s political participation? The international community ought to support Ukraine’s National Action Plan on gender equality. Funding and budget advising should be given to increase the program’s success. The international community should also support other grassroots woman’s civil society organizations in the country. Pressure and education about the importance of including women through media attention, and UN and other state capacity assistance to the Ukrainian parliament and government are both needed. The Ukraine is going through an unsettling period of political reform at this moment in time and cannot afford to ignore the voices and talents of its women. A nation whose policies represent only the interests and positions of men is a nation that, in reality, is only half a true society.

Danielle Peck, GAPW Intern