Will ‘People Power’, or Powerful People, Change the World?

By Solitaire Townsend
LONDON, Mar 8 2019 (IPS)

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a hero. While my friends dressed up as princesses, I wore a home-made Joan of Arc costume. Where others read romance novels, I read about fighting dragons. I didn’t want to be a princess, I wanted to save them.

Then I grew up.

As we get older, most of us exchange our dreams of heroism for the realities of our daily responsibility. We don’t slay dragons or save the world, but we do feed our kids and try to be decent people.

And we look to our leaders, in our governments, business and civil society, to do the dragon slaying for us. Our institutions hold the power and the responsibility to protect us from threats, to lead the way and make the hard decisions.

But somewhere inside us, the urge to be a hero remains – and the time has come to let our inner hero out. Because true global sustainability demands that individuals – and not just institutions – take action. And that’s why I’m so proud the new Good Life Goals exist.

These new goals were inspired when the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underscored the need for people power in its latest report, by recommending actions for people, not just policy makers, for the first time.

So, every one of us now has a role in defeating the climate threat, from changing how we eat and travel to how we heat our homes. And people power can go even further. We have a role to play across the entire sustainability agenda.

This conviction is why I have dedicated my professional life to translating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) into a set of actions for everyone. Because heroism is a renewable resource.

When the SDG’s were launched, the United Nations made it clear that “For the goals to be reached, everyone needs to do their part: governments, the private sector, civil society and people like you.”

Our Good Life Goals were developed and designed to make the ‘people like you’ part comprehensible and even exciting. They bridge the gap between the high-level targets of the Sustainable Development Goals and the sustainable lifestyle movement that calls for action by citizens in the everyday choices they make.

By providing personally-relevant links between SDG and the actions individuals can take in their daily lives towards these goals, the Good Life Goals send a message that everyone can play an important role in the future.

Individually and collectively we have the right, responsibility, and the opportunity to change the world for the better.

The Good Life Goals will help us learn more about sustainability and the most urgent issues that we face, demand action from leaders, stand up for the vulnerable or exploited, and teach our children about the SDG’s.

Some of the specific actions under the Good Life Goals are deliberately targeted to ‘over-consumers’: those who live far beyond a one-planet lifestyle and have a greater responsibility (especially on environmental impact).

Whilst most of the actions are designed for everyone and include how we treat each other and the world around us. One of the most popular has been to ‘teach kids kindness.”

Smart choices are at the core of creating a world that works for everyone. From smart choices made by individuals in their daily lives to the choices made by multination companies and governments: the way we produce and consume directly correlated to the resources we use or the trash we produce.

On March 11-15, government leaders, CEO’s of major companies, innovators and activists will gather in Nairobi to debate, challenge and help activate those choices at the Fourth UN Environment Assembly.

For those who can’t be there, please join in online. Using the #SolveDifferent hashtag we can use our ‘people power’ to make the difference between good intentions and real action.

The Good Life Goals are already being used to harness people power and bring about change in a lot of small ways. Businesses are adopting them in staff communication and marketing, storytellers and media organisations are embedding the actions in TV and film, educators and students are using them to connect the complex world of policymaking to everyday life.

How can you use them too? Because to change everything, we are going to need everyone.

On International Women’s Day, CPJ highlights jailed female journalists

Graphic: CPJ

By Sarah Guinee
Mar 8 2019 (IPS-Partners)

On International Women’s Day, CPJ has highlighted the cases of female journalists jailed around the world in retaliation for their work. At least 33 of the 251 journalists in jail at the time of CPJ’s prison census are women. At least one of those–Turkish reporter and artist Zehra Dogan–was released in February after serving a sentence on anti-state charges. The four female journalists jailed in Saudi Arabia were detained over their criticism of the kingdom’s ban on women driving.

Explore their cases and view CPJ’s infographic here.

Environmental Funding For Guyana Must Cater for Mangroves Too

An aerial view of a mangrove forest along the Guyana coast. Approximately 90 per cent of Guyana’s population lives on a narrow coastline strip a half to one metre below sea level. Courtesy: Ministry of the Presidency/OCC/Kojo McPherson

By Desmond Brown
GEORGETOWN, Mar 8 2019 (IPS)

For several decades, Guyana has been using mangroves to protect its coasts against natural hazards, and the country believes its mangrove forests should be included in programmes like the REDD+ of United Nations, in order to access financing to continue their restoration and maintenance, as they complement miles of seawalls that help to prevent flooding.

In recent years, the seawall barriers, which have existed since the Dutch occupation of Guyana, have been breeched by severe storms. This resulted in significant flooding, a danger which scientists predict could become more frequent with climate change.

The seawalls must also be maintained, and this is at an enormous cost for Guyana which has been spending an average of 14 million dollars a year to maintain and strengthen the defences.

Joseph Harmon, Minister of State in the Ministry of the President of Guyana, said given the importance of mangroves, they should factor more in discussions about financing to help countries build resilience to natural hazards and climate related risks.

“While we look at climate change, while we look at sustainable livelihoods, we have a forest that is so inaccessible, but the areas that are accessible are also threatened,” Harmon told IPS.

“The fact that we’re on a low coastal plain, the issues of environment and environmental funding must cater for mangroves as well.”

Approximately 90 percent of Guyana’s population lives on a narrow coastline strip a half to one metre below sea level, and Harmon said almost 80 percent of the country’s productive means are on the coast as well.

“We’ve actually started, several years ago, with the establishment of mangroves as a form of defence from rising sea levels,” he said.

“We would want to posit that in the way in which forest coverage calculations are done, that mangrove protection, which protects the persons on the coast, that must also be a feature of your forest coverage because it does the same thing as the forest in the hinterland.”

According to the Nature Conservancy and Wetlands International, mangroves don’t always provide a stand-alone solution, and may need to be combined with other risk reduction measures to achieve high levels of protection.

As is the case with Guyana, appropriately integrated mangroves can contribute to risk reduction in almost every coastal setting, ranging from rural to urban and from natural to heavily degraded landscapes.

The benefits offered by mangrove forests include timber and fuel production, productive fishing grounds, carbon storage, enhances tourism and recreation as well as water purification.

Janelle Christian, the Head of the Office of Climate Change in Guyana, said the mangrove forests provide livelihood opportunities for residents of many coastal communities.

“There are a lot of coastal community women’s groups involved in beekeeping and honey production,” Christian told IPS.

“Along where many of the mangrove forests are located you also have fishing communities. So, for us, it is important both as a form of natural protection and also because of the livelihood opportunities tied to that.”

Mangrove trees grow along the bank of the Demerara River which rises in the central rainforests and flows to the north for 346 kilometres until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

In 1990, the total area of mangrove forest in Guyana was estimated at 91,000 hectares, according to a country report to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. By 2009, this figure stood at 22,632 hectares, notes the same report.

But the country has been on an intensive campaign to protect and restore its coastal mangroves. Christian said in 2010, Guyana started a mangrove restoration project funded by a partnership between the Government of Guyana and the European Union.

The project’s overall objective was to respond to climate change and to mitigate its effects through the protection, rehabilitation and wise use of mangrove ecosystems through processes that maintain their function, values and biodiversity, while meeting the socio-economic development and environmental protection needs in estuarine and coastal areas.

More than 141 hectares of mangrove forest has been restored along Guyana’s coastline since rehabilitation efforts began. The country has about 80,000 hectares in place and continues to accelerate the growth of mangroves, many of which were lost 30 years ago.

“Going along the coast you will see mangrove regrowth in several areas where they were diminished,” Christian said, pointing to the success of the project.

“It’s an important natural mechanism against floods. It also helps in terms of land reclamation because over time the roots of the mangrove allow for sedimentation and so there’s a build-up of land.”

The restoration project also provides employment for residents.

At the various restoration sites, local women – often single mothers – were paid 50 cents for each 14-inch mangrove seedling they grow. It also provided temporary employment opportunities for seedling planters and site monitors.

“So, there are livelihood opportunities that are tied to mangrove-type forests,” Christian said.

Other traditional applications include using the bark of red mangrove trees for tanning leather. It sells for approximately 100 dollars per pound. The leaves of black mangrove trees are used by locals in cooking.

Women as Forerunners of Change: When Financial Inclusion Meets Digital Transformation

By Karessa Ramos
MADRID, Mar 8 2019 (IPS)

Imagine a world where women fully participate in society, and enjoy equal access to resources and opportunities. Most probably, the 2030 Agenda would be nearing its fulfillment and we would be closer to achieving the better planet we wish to build.

Unfortunately, that scenario remains a vision. In Latin America, considered the most unequal region in the planet, half of the women’s population still don’t have a bank account.

This exclusion from the formal financial system forces them to rely on cash which is risky and unsafe and can make them easy targets for abusive loan sharks.

Moreover, financial exclusion deprives them of the chance to tap into financial resources and seize opportunities to improve their standard of living, thus making them and their children more susceptible to falling into poverty.

This is why financial inclusion is recognized within the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda, as a tool to reduce poverty.

Technology becomes a fundamental ally to facilitate access to financial resources and bridge gender gaps. Digitalization, albeit the challenges, opens doors to design and distribute more adequate products and services that truly cater to the needs of the more vulnerable and excluded segments of the population.

Aware of this reality, at BBVA Microfinance Foundation, we work to bring the digital transformation into the microfinance sector. By leveraging innovation, we strengthen our personal relationships with the 2 million plus entrepreneurs we serve in Latin America, 57%, women. 84% of them live under vulnerable conditions, 40% possess primary education at best, 45% are single heads of households with dependants and nearly 30% live in remote, rural areas with less access to basic services such as health or communication(*).

Take the case of Sandra Mendoza, her household’s breadwinner. This Colombian farmer and cattle breeder used our microcredits to adapt her livelihood to climate change and thrive in a traditionally-male sector.

She has made her immediate surroundings healthier and more environmental friendly by using organic fertilizer in her plantation and renewable energy in her home.

Also thanks to technology, she enjoys more freedom: digital innovation has made it easier for her to access her bank account through her mobile phone, without having to travel to the nearest branch office.

With more time and money in her hands, she was able to enroll in a health and well-being course. She also found time to vie for a candidacy in the local Coffee Growers’ Committee, where she succeeded in becoming the first woman to preside at regional level. She even managed to create a local Association for Female Coffee Growers!

In Peru, Rut Pelaiza is a living proof on how empowering rural women through financial education can help them reach their potential and guarantee that the next generation would not suffer the same vulnerability as they had. As one of our loan officers, she is a daily witness that these women are active participants in construing sustainable development for their communities.

Rut herself used to be one of the vulnerable women she now mentors. Her husband used to belittle her, leading her to believe she was worthless. He ended up abandoning her and their children, literally leaving them with no roof over their heads.

But she possesses the desire to progress, fueled by her own strength as a woman and mother. She once dreamed of owning her own house and today, in part thanks to her work as a loan officer, she was able to do so.

Her story of triumph over life’s adversities earned her a recognition from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) last 2017. She received an Honorable Mention in the regional contest, “Stories of Rural Women in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

Her case was selected among 244 testimonies from 18 countries, standing out her tenacity with which she improved her life, her family’s, as well as helping so many low-income people living in difficult situations.

Whether as a loan officer who supports entrepreneurship, or as an enterprising individual, these women prove that hardships can be withstood, barriers can be toppled; they have the power to bring prosperity to their families and communities and they deserve opportunities that most of us take for granted.

Both will take part in an event hosted by the Foundation, UN Women, SEGIB, Colombia and Peru at this year’s CSW63 at the United Nations. On March 13th, these forerunners of change will share their viewpoints on financial inclusion and innovation.

Committed to help achieve the 2030 Agenda, the BBVA Microfinance Foundation takes the challenge of increasing the depth and breadth of financial inclusion through technology.

We believe this venture will simultaneously reduce gender gaps and promote inclusive growth. In such a world, we don’t question how financial inclusion could achieve gender equality. Rather, we ask in what way can innovation and financial inclusion be harnessed to accelerate gender equality?.

(*) Female clients who received at least one loan during 2018

Urgent Call for African Food Sovereignty Movements to Connect with Radical Feminist Movements on the Continent

Farmers, especially women, and civil society are doing important work on agroecology and sustainable agriculture on the ground, but are often unable to break out of their localised practices. These need to urgently connect with others on the continent into a bigger and more coherent movement for change, especially radical feminist movements on the continent. Together, we can fight back and contest the hegemony of large-scale commercial farming and corporate agri-business. We must, together, rebuild and strengthen local food and seed systems for all Africans.

Picture courtesy of Linzi Lewis

By Mariam Mayet, Stephen Greenberg and Linzi Lewis of the African Centre for Biodiversity
JOHANNESBURG, Mar 8 2019 (IPS)

Africa is facing dire times. Climate change is having major impacts on the region and on agriculture in particular, with smallholder farmers, and especially women, facing drought, general lack of water, shifting seasons, and floods in some areas.

Small holder women farmers are at the cold face of agricultural biodiversity erosion, deforestation, declining soil health and fertility, land and water grabs by the powerful, and loss of land access, marginalisation and loss of indigenous knowledge, and generalised lack of essential services and support.

At the same time, economies are weakening and remain heavily dependent on foreign aid, with extractivist interventions from outside. There is a strong authoritarian orientation in governments in the region, with secrecy and lack of transparency and accountability, weak and fragmented civil society organisation, and top-down development interventions.

There has been corporate capture of key state institutions, decision making processes and functions, with privatisation of decision making and exclusion of the populace, and the occupation and appropriation of seed and food systems for multinational corporate profit.

Farmers, especially women, and civil society are doing important work on agroecology and sustainable agriculture on the ground, but are often unable to break out of their localised practices. These need to urgently connect with others on the continent into a bigger and more coherent movement for change, especially radical feminist movements on the continent.

At present, corporate power is almost unchecked in agricultural input supply. The dominant narrative of agribusinesses being indispensable for feeding the world holds great sway on the continent, and where corporations have captured policy making processes from continental to national levels.

Although most seed on the continent is sourced from farmers’ own saving, sharing and local markets, this system is not recognised in policies and laws in most countries.

Farmer seed practices are marginalised and generally denigrated as poor quality and backward. The predominant thrust of agricultural and seed policy and programming on the continent is to seek to replace farmer systems with top-down interventions based on the use of privately-owned technologies, as well as large-scale commercial markets that can only ever integrate a relatively small top layer of producers if not displace them outright.

This thrust is driven by multinational corporate interests with support from key continental, regional and national state institutions and agencies. This is either from a large-scale commercial industrialisation thrust pushed by a powerful global agribusiness coalition, or through a Green Revolution smallholder strategy to integrate a layer of smallholder farmers into corporate value chains for the export of bulk commodity crops such as maize and soya.

Women play an essential role in the selection, saving, and sharing of seeds, as part of a broader network within farmer managed seed systems, shaping the agricultural diversity that meets needs of local populations.  This applies to both staple crops, as well as other food crops. In many ways, this pool of genetic resources, which women continue to develop and maintain, is the backbone of human society.

The restrictions placed over reproductive materials, i.e. seed (including all cultivation materials), and the centralised decision-making around reproduction towards uniformity, homogeneity, ownership, creates greater inequality, amplified vulnerability and a reliance on external inputs, which places the future of food production at greater risk.

Increasing restrictions on use, lack of support for these activities and even their criminalisation makes production conditions more challenging for all smallholder farmers, but particularly women as the majority. In the prevailing division of labour, women are generally responsible for food acquisition and diets.

 

Picture courtesy of Linzi Lewis.

 

Restrictions on seed use, what may and may not be produced and how, translate into limits on food diversity at household level, which is a key element of nutrition.

Since the majority of seed cultivated on the continent is saved on farms, exchanged and locally traded by farmers, this provides a solid base for alternative seed sovereignty systems to thrive outside the credit and corporate market. For small holder farmers in Africa, the importance of farmer seed systems as central to conserving biodiversity, ensuring nutrition diversity and supporting livelihoods has been highlighted in a huge body of work over the past 30 or 40 years.

However, these systems can benefit from external support. A key priority for smallholder farmers in Africa is resilience in the face of harsh weather events. This requires seed variety adaptation and greater agricultural diversity. Women are the primary custodians of our seed diversity, the custodians of reproduction, of life. This highlights the struggles of farmers’ right, of reproductive rights, to self-determination, and to maintain life-supporting systems. As we honour women on this day, we honour our heritage and our future.

An ecological food systems transition coalition, based on agroecology and food sovereignty, has found some traction in Africa and globally, but remains relatively weak, fragmented and under-resourced.

Farmers, especially women, and civil society are doing important work on agroecology and sustainable agriculture on the ground, but are often unable to break out of their localised practices. These need to urgently connect with others on the continent into a bigger and more coherent movement for change, especially radical feminist movements on the continent.  Together, we can fight back and contest the hegemony of large-scale commercial farming and corporate agri-business. We must, together, rebuild and strengthen local food and seed systems for all Africans.

 

The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) is a strongly women-led non profit organisation based in South Africa with staff in Tanzania. It carries out research and analysis, learning and exchange, capacity and movement building, and advocacy to widen awareness, catalyse collective action and influence decision making on issues of biosafety, genetic modification (GM) and new technologies, seed laws, farmer seed systems, agricultural biodiversity, agroecology, corporate expansion in African agriculture, and food sovereignty in Africa.

 

Break the Menstrual Taboo

In India, less than 10 percent of women and girls have access to sanitary products. Many are forced to seek alternatives, from old rags to newspapers. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 8 2019 (IPS)

It is time to rise up and fight a long neglected taboo: menstruation.

Marking International Women’s Day, United Nations human rights experts called on the international community to break taboos around menstruation, noting its impacts on women and girls’ human rights.

“Persistent harmful socio-cultural norms, stigma, misconceptions and taboos around menstruation, continue to lead to exclusion and discrimination of women and girls,” the experts from various mandates from cultural rights to violence against women said in a joint statement.

Among the experts is the Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice Ivana Radačić who told IPS of the need to challenge the taboo.

“Even in the human rights community, it is either thought of as not so important or people did not understand how much discrimination exists still,” she said.

“We really feel that it is time to challenge the taboos and shame and to address the human rights issues that arise in respect to discrimination and stigma,” Radačić added.

Period-Shaming

Around the world, millions of women still lack access basic sanitary products to manage menstrual bleeding.

In India, less than 10 percent of women have access to sanitary products. Many are forced to seek alternatives, from old rags to newspapers.

The use of unsanitary materials often have health implications, including reproductive tract infections and cervical cancer.

The lack of adequate gender-sensitive facilities is another challenge, preventing women and girls from maintaining menstrual hygiene in a private, safe, and dignified manner.

According to the World Bank, at least 500 million women and girls lack such facilities, which severely impact girls’ attendance and participation in school.

In Nepal, 30 percent of girls report missing school during their periods.

This all stems from the idea that menstruation is “impure” and even often treated as an illness, resulting in the exclusion of women and girls in societies around the world.

“When combined with the stigma and shame that women and girls are made to feel during that time, it is truly disempowering,” the joint statement said.

When on their periods, many women and girls are not allowed to touch water or food and are restricted from entering religious or culture sites.

Chhaupadi, a practice still common in Nepal, restrict women and girls from entering her home, touching her parents, or going to school or temple. Instead, they are banished to a hut outside the main house for the duration of their period.

The U.N. has found reports of pneumonia, attacks from wild animals, and rape when women and girls are banished to a shed.

However, if a woman doesn’t follow the rules, she is told that she will bring destruction and misfortune to their family.

Though the Indian Supreme Court lifted the ban on women and girls of menstruating age from entering Sabarimala temple in Kerala, the move has sparked protests and violence by opponents, many of whom blocked women from entering the temple. 

“This idea of women being contaminated and impure—that then has an effect on how they feel and see themselves and how they see their own womanhood,” Radačić said.

Changing the Cycle

Many have already been working to shine a spotlight on the issue, including Plan International UK which has launched a period emoji, represented by a red droplet, as a way to overcome the silence around the natural monthly reality for billions of women worldwide. 

A new documentary, ‘Period. End of Sentence.’ which revealed the stigma of menstruation in rural communities in India, even won an Oscar.

Radačić noted that the documentary was “timely” and a good way to raise awareness to people in Western countries who may be unaware of the inaccessibility of hygienic and sanitary pads for many girls and women.

The documentary, directed by Rayka Zehtabchi, follows the installation and impacts of a low-cost sanitary napkin machine made by notorious “Pad Man” Arunachalam Muruganantham.

“The daughter never talks to the mother, the wife never talks to the husband, friends don’t talk to each other. Menstruation is the biggest taboo in my country,” he says in the documentary.

Inspired after seeing his wife use a rag for her menstrual bleedings, Muruganantham now provides pad machines to communities across the South Asian nation and trains women on how to use them, allowing them to establish their own business and sell affordable pads.

“The strong creation created by god in the world is not the lion, not the elephant, not the tiger—the girl,” Muruganantham said.

In the documentary, a group of women branded their sanitary products “Fly,” and with good reason.

“We have installed this machine for women. So now we want women to rise and fly,” one woman said.

Radačić also pointed to situations of conflict and crises, leaving many displaced and refugee women without access to sanitary products or even basic, private facilities.   

Organisations such as WoMena and CARE have started to address this gap, implementing a pilot project in the Rhino refugee camp in Northern Uganda which provided menstrual cups and reusable pads.

One girl who received a menstrual cup, which are reusable for up to 10 years, told CARE that she now feels more comfortable and has confidence as she plays sports and attends class during her period. 

In fact, a study from University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) found that providing free sanitary products and lessons about poverty increased girls’ attendance at school by 17 percent.

“There is more and more grassroots actions in certain communities and there is a celebration of the menstrual cycle, of the cyclical nature of a woman. I think it is a great time to really push this issue forward,” Radačić told IPS.

However, it is not enough to just provide sanitary pads, she noted.

Radačić highlighted the need for countries to abolish laws where women are excluded or restricted on the basis of menstruation, ensure access to hygienic products and gender-sensitive facilities, and teach comprehensive sexuality education to help break the taboo around periods.

“Much more has to be done to address the menstrual health needs of women and girls and to acknowledge that the failure to address them has a detrimental impact on all areas of women’s lives,” Radačić and others said.

The Geneva Centre is co-organizing with the UNOG Library a discussion on Leadership in Modern Multilateralism

By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Mar 8 2019 (IPS-Partners)

The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue has partnered with the UNOG Library in the organization of the upcoming Library event entitled Leadership in Modern Multilateralism.

This debate will discuss the topic of multilateralism as the most logical approach to the challenges the world is facing in our time of fast-paced globalisation. Despite mounting nationalism and criticism, there is no valid alternative to international cooperation.

This debate will explore the principles and ideas underpinning multilateralism against a complex background of climate change, the rise of technology and the future of the global economy. Furthermore, the panel will underscore the role of eminent personalities who shaped international affairs and the changes in the nature of leadership in the 21st century, with the rise of modern multilateralism.

Opening Remarks
Michael Møller
Director-General, United Nations Office at Geneva

Introductory Remarks
Idriss Jazairy

Former Ambassador & Permanent Representative of Algeria to the UN Office at Geneva; Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

A Panel discussion with

Roberto Savio
Editor; Journalist; President Emeritus of Inter Press Service (IPS) and Chairman of IPS Board of Trustees

Hala Hameed
Ambassador & Permanent Representative of the Republic of Maldives to the United Nations Office and other international organisations in Geneva

Thomas Biersteker
Professor of International Security and Director of Policy Research, Graduate Institute

Moderator
Corinne Momal-Vanian
Director, Division of Conference Management, United Nations Office at Geneva

Q & A Session

Book signing by Roberto Savio

Free copies of the following books will be available at the event:

“Remembering Boutros Boutros-Ghali: A Visionary Internationalist and Global Leader: Tributes and Reminiscences”

“Legacy for the Future and Future Generation: Remembering Maurice F. Strong: Tributes and Reminiscences”

All attendees who do not hold a UN badge are kindly requested to register on the link below:

REGISTER

The Geneva Centre reiterates the importance of fully including women in the labour market and in all spheres of society on the occasion of International Women’s Day

By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Mar 8 2019 (IPS-Partners)

On the occasion of the observance of the 2019 International Women’s Day, the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue reiterated the urgent need to intensify efforts towards achieving gender equality in all spheres of society, eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, and promoting women’s political and economic empowerment.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change1 , aligned with the 63rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), bound to start next week in New York and dedicated this year to access to social protection systems and public services, and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality.

These themes highlight the importance of changing mind-sets and attitudes, and put innovation, by women and girls and for women and girls, at the heart of efforts towards reaching gender equality. According to Ambassador Jazairy, Executive Director of the Geneva Centre, “This year’s focus of International Women’s Day enhances the importance of using new technologies to empower women worldwide, to increase their access to the labour market and to high education, but also promotes respect and recognition of women as an incredible well of innovation themselves, in science, education, politics and all fields of societies.”

In this regard, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre reiterated the importance of recognizing the capacities and the potential of women worldwide, particularly in the labor market, and the important positive impact that achieving gender equality could have on the world economy. In her latest book Fifty Million Rising, Saadia Zahidi, a Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum (WEF), described how, in the last 10 years alone, nearly 50 million Muslim women entered the workforce gaining greater autonomy. Furthermore, Zahidi calculated that if female labor participation rose to Western levels, the GDP of many Middle East regions would spike dramatically. 2

Nevertheless, the numbers showed by WEF in their latest Global Gender Gap Report show that progress is very slow: a 32 % average gender gap remains to be closed worldwide, affecting countries irrespective of their culture, religion or location. Moreover, despite important efforts towards empowering women, the Arab region continues to rank poorly on the overall Global Gender Index with an overall gender gap of almost 40%. Ambassador Jazairy deplored the important gender wage gap that remained pervasive worldwide. The EU recently released a Eurostat study which shows gaps of up to 24 % in some of its Member States, and concluded that the average in the EU is of 11,5%.

He reiterated that these findings are showcasing the persistence of important invisible barriers, particularly in the labor market worldwide that prevent women from breaking the famous glass ceiling completely. As noted by LinkedIn co-founder Allen Blue during a debate entitled “A quantum leap for gender equality: for a better future of work for all”, organized by the International Labor Organization on 8 March 2019, in the private sector and public sector alike, networking is crucial for advancing and obtaining managerial positions. Nevertheless, as these networks remain for the most part male-dominated, women are at a disadvantage, which is just one explanation to having merely 34% women managers worldwide.

Ambassador Jazairy underlined the importance of men leaders acknowledging issues of unconscious bias and subtle discrimination occurring in the workforce, and taking a strong stand to condemn any form of discrimination, by championing equal treatment of women and men, by mentoring women and by ensuring equal opportunities for advancement.

Furthermore, the Director of the Geneva Centre underscored the importance of changing mind-sets in order to fully achieve gender equality. Whilst numerous countries around the world have adopted exemplary legal frameworks for equality and women’s rights, concrete results show a level of progress that is, according to a report released by UN Women3 , unacceptably low measured against the objective of SDG 5 on gender equality. Ambassador Jazairy emphasized that without grappling with the gender roles and stereotypical norms that still dictate the world of work today worldwide, no real progress will be achieved, despite the adoption of legislation and policies towards equality. Laws are only successful if they bring real change in the life of people, and it is necessary to shift hearts and minds in order to increase their efficiency.”

Finally, as the UN and other international organizations are celebrating this year 100 years of multilateralism in Geneva, Ambassador Jazairy remarked today, 19 years after the adoption of the famous UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, the participation of women in peace and multilateralism remains too low and the goal of equality in this field is still remote. From the UN Charter to the First UN Conference on Women held in Mexico in 1975, to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted in 1995, as well as the UN Security Council Resolutions adopted to promote the women, peace and security agenda, a long road has been travelled and there has been progress in this regard rhetorically, if not always in a commensurate manner, in practice.

However, Ambassador Jazairy remarked, gender equality is not a nicety or a favor made to women, it is a smart move for everyone, including in multilateralism. In times of conflict, women play a crucial role in sustaining livelihoods and ensuring the cohesiveness of communities. When they are given a seat at the table, they increase the legitimacy of peace processes. Furthermore, a recent report on nuclear security negotiations showed that women’s presence in decision-making had improved the process, by adding more emphasis on collaboration and on increased innovation.4

Ambassador Jazairy thus reiterated the importance of increasing women’s participation in peace processes, peacekeeping operations, negotiations and all multilateral processes.

The Geneva Centre marked International Women’s Day by organizing a debate and book presentation as a side-event to the 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, entitled Muslim women between stereotypes and reality: an objective narrative. The two publications launched on this occasion, entitled Women’s Rights in the Arab Region: Between Myth and Reality and Veiling /Unveiling: The Headscarf in Christianity, Judaism and Islam are available for ordering.

1 http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2018/10/announcer-iwd-2019-theme
2 Synopsis by the Financial Times published in 2018.
3 Turning Promises Into Action: Gender Equality In The 2030 Agenda For Sustainable Development, UN Women, 2018: http://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2018/2/gender-equality-in-the-2030-agenda-for-sustainable-development-2018#view
4 The “Consensual Straitjacket”: Four Decades of Women in Nuclear Security, Heather Hurlburt, Elizabeth Weingarten, Alexandra Stark, & Elena Souris, 2019: https://d1y8sb8igg2f8e.cloudfront.net/documents/The_Consensual_Straitjacket_Four_Decades_of_Women_in_Nuclear_Security_2019-03-_yEtsRar.pdf