Our Perspective

Gender equality

Female genital mutilation: When a harmful traditional practice becomes a crime

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An artistic representation of FGM in Egypt. Photo: UNDP Egypt

Recently I visited Fayoum and Aswan, Egypt, and met with women, men and girls who are actively advocating against female genital mutilation (FGM). A father told me that when he understood that FGM had no religious basis, and was an inherited traditional habit, he actively started advocating against it. A female community activist I spoke to explained that until recently she had to meet families in secret to share her message against FGM, whereas now she is invited to speak openly. As evidenced by these testimonies, once people change their perceptions on FGM, they become staunch advocates against this harmful practice. The National Anti-FGM Day, on June 14th, was established in honor of 12-year-old Bodour Shaker, who died on the same date in 2007. In June 2013, 13-year-old Soheir El Batea suffered the same fate. As heartbreaking as these two tragedies are, their untimely deaths were not in vain. As a result of public mobilization, the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) was criminalized in 2008 and the first case is currently under prosecution. Data from the Demographic and Health Survey suggests that some improvements occurred over the last two decades. In 2008, among women aged 15-17, the FGM/Cutting prevalence rate... Read more

Beijing+20: Time to fulfil the promise

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UN Women launches the year-long campaign, "Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!," to spark global dialogue and actions on women's right and gender equality. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

I was recently among a few thousand people at the public launch of a year-long UN Women campaign marking 20 years since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Women leaders, celebrities, officials and activists of all ages came together with musicians and performers in New York’s iconic Apollo Theater on 26 June to celebrate the landmark summit which made the slogan “women’s rights are human rights” universal. In 1995, as a graduate student volunteering with the New York-based Women’s Environment and Development Organization, I went to Beijing, one of more than 30,000 women’s advocates in the NGO Forum in Huairou. ‘Beijing’ symbolized the moment when, as feminist leader Charlotte Bunch put it, “all issues came together. Crossing borders and boundaries, race, culture, class, sexual orientation, age, diversity was key to women’s success in Beijing.” Women’s work and tireless advocacy were in large part behind the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with its 12 critical areas of concern. To date, it is the most comprehensive bill of women’s rights that women have won by consensus. Much has since changed for the world’s women and girls – in health, education, work, rights and opportunities. But celebrations of Beijing are tempered... Read more

A sole woman at the negotiating table for peace

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SHADIA MARHABAN SPEAKS TO REPORTERS AFTER PARTICIPATING IN A CLOSED, MEETING OF THE SECURITY COUNCIL ON THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN MEDIATION AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION. PHOTO: UN

Almost ten years ago, I was part of a peace process that produced an agreement to end a 30-year bloody conflict between the Government of the Republic of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Then and now, women are rarely seen in this peace negotiation arena. They are not perceived as adequately prepared for tackling "tough" issues like peace and security. Despite recent international obligations to include women in peace processes, reality has not kept pace with rhetoric. My own presence, as a lone woman among "tough" men, who had been at the helm of the struggle for independence for decades, was unique. As a woman, and a mother of two children, I did not push to go to Helsinki for the peace talks, since it meant leaving my two small children. But as fate would have it, the official negotiators were arrested on the way to the airport and exiled to prison. By default, I then became formally part of the negotiations, as I was a field expert. I was treated with respect by the top leadership. I presented myself not as a woman on the team, but rather as a field expert whose expertise was important to the... Read more

Making education work: The governance conundrum

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Globally, 123 million youth (aged 15 to 24) lack basic reading and writing skills; 61 percent of them are young women. Photo: UNDP/Pakistan

Pakistan is one of the few countries that spend just around two percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on education. The actual development expenditure on education is another problem- on average, 82 percent of allocated funds are used on non-developmental items. In Pakistan, as in most developing countries, the impact of education investments is usually discussed in very simplistic terms. The measure of performance and the subsequent outcomes are seldom questioned. Good governance—setting up performance benchmarks, systems of monitoring and accountability, and budgeting and distribution formulae can considerably improve institutional effectiveness and results in the education system. Tracking expenditure and ensuring responsible spending are essential. So is the process through which budgets are prepared and distributed across different geographic areas. Is there a formula that accounts for education poverty? That guides resource allocation to different districts? An example from district Dera Bugti illustrates the severity of education inequality across the country. The district’s net enrolment ratio stands at 12 percent, survival rate and literacy rate are 9 percent and 16 percent, respectively. The highest corresponding figures in the country are of Islamabad, which are 76 percent and 89 percent. There are also gender-based disparities. The gender parity index for primary education in... Read more

Why women matter for peace

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Women and girls are uniquely and disproportionately affected by armed conflict and disaster. Photo: Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC

"It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern wars." These are not the words of a woman who has faced the violence and ferocity of conflict, but words of Major General Patrick Cammaert, who served as the Deputy Force Commander of the United Nations Mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The nature of modern conflicts has changed: almost 90 percent of casualties are civilian, of which the most vulnerable are women. As witnesses and victims to conflict, they are overlooked as participants to peace processes. They are too often sidelined in dialogues and negotiations on peace and security, arenas still seen by much of the world as the domain of men, with the association of guns, money and power. What is often disregarded is how much women know about conflict, and therefore how much they can contribute to peace. Women experience war differently than men. They are victims of sexual violence, often used as a systematic tool of war, which has lasting impact on their lives and the lives of their families and communities long after the war is over. Women can bring new understanding of a conflict, and with it,... Read more

Why troublemakers should work together: Ten thoughts on innovation and gender equality

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UNDP is fostering innovation to address complex problems in a new way. Photo: UNDP in Europe and CIS.

Pushing innovation and working for gender equality are a natural fit. Both necessitate the combination of causing trouble, looking at internal mechanisms, and working with non-traditional partners. Moreover, both have transformational potential. Inspired by UNDP’s current innovation agenda, we formulated some principles on innovation and gender equality. Our aim is not just to marry gender equality and innovation but to further bolster UNDP’s Guiding Principles for the Innovation Community. These 10 thoughts can hopefully provide meaningful food for thought when designing innovation initiatives around the world. 1. Start with your partners It’s been our experience that those most affected by society’s problems are often the ones who have the innovative solutions at hand. It is our job to unearth, enable and scale them. However, innovations, like everything else, are not gender-neutral. Who designs the latest gadget, website, or citizen feedback mechanism also plays a role in who will use it. Ensuring equal numbers of men and women are with us at the design table will help ensure everyone’s voice is heard. 2. What’s the bottleneck? A key component of finding innovative solutions is figuring out the problem, and then trying to find out the root causes. To do this, we must get out of... Read more

Can there be sustainable development without gender equality?

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Young mothers get health care education at a UNDP-sponsored clinic in Hakha Township, Chin State, Myanmar. Photo: Tom Cheatham for UNDP

Whenever we analyze a development strategy, the inevitable question arises:  Should the approach to gender equality be comprehensive across all sectors or should it be a separate issue and agenda? Experience tells us that both approaches are desirable: A concrete goal for gender equality as well as fundamental indicators and targets that require creation of gender policies. These policies should contain specific measures to address half of the population's need for education, health care, access to land and energy, etc. To date, this has been the most common approach across various UN groups, reaffirming the idea that a comprehensive and transformative approach is urgently needed in order to address structural barriers to gender equality and to lay a solid foundation for the future. The key now is to draw lessons learned from the experience of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and strengthen the tools that advanced gender equality in the desired areas. But what has been achieved by the MDGs with regard to gender equality? The answer is mixed: Gender parity has been achieved in primary education, but only 2 of 130 countries have achieved this goal at all levels of education. Progress has been made in access to employment. Globally, 40... Read more

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