Our Perspective

gender and governance

Whatever you call it, violence against women is never acceptable

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Although local activists continue their efforts to stop the tradition of bride kidnapping, more work is needed to make a difference. Photo: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Along with the beauty of its mountainous landscapes, one of the first things associated with Kyrgyzstan is the cruel phenomenon of bride kidnapping. This ritual involves ambushing a young woman and detaining her until she agrees to marry her kidnapper. I read a lot of sad stories about this practice coming from different countries in Central Asia and Africa, as well as trite justifications based on culture and poor economic conditions. But perhaps the most striking story I’ve heard is the personal account of a young woman I will call Roza. Roza has been kidnapped twice, first at the age of 19, then at 23. In both cases she clearly remembers the applause welcoming the kidnapper when he brought her home. It was as though they were heroes coming back from a victorious battle. She was the spoils. The first time, Roza was taken to a nicely set room and offered tea and plov while her potential mother-in-law praised the virtues of her son – “a hard worker and mild person”. Roza stubbornly refused the marriage. Many other female relatives joined the effort, the discussions eventually becoming very tense with shouting and threats. After a long night, she was eventually allowed... Read more

Gender equality: A human right critical for development progress

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In Sonsonate, El Salvador, UNDP promotes women’s economic empowerment as a way of reducing violence. Photo: UNDP El Salvador

This week, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which remains the world’s best blueprint for achieving gender equality and empowering women. The review of this visionary roadmap, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, is an opportunity to celebrate the world’s progress toward ensuring the rights and opportunities of women and girls, and also to renew and reinvigorate commitments to achieve gender equality. One of the great achievements of the Beijing Platform for Action was the clear recognition that women’s rights are human rights. Since that historic gathering in Beijing, when 17,000 participants and 30,000 activists gathered to voice and demonstrate their support for gender equality and women’s empowerment, there has been increasing recognition that gender equality, in addition to being a human right, is also critical to making development progress. If women and girls are not able to fully realize their rights and aspirations in all spheres of life, development will be impeded. Twenty years on, we can see both progress and challenges in the twelve areas of critical concern laid out in the Beijing Platform for Action. Gender parity in... Read more

Zero Discrimination Day: a call for freedom, equality, and inclusion

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At the opening of the BeingLGBT in Asia dialogue, New Zealand parliamentarian Honorable Louisa Wall; Luc Stevens, UN Resident Coordinator, Thailand; Trans activist Geena Rocero; and LGBT activist and TV host Sophon Shimjinda show their support for Zero Discrimination.

Zero Discrimination Day is an international call for freedom, equality and ending exclusion. This day, and every other day, for effective HIV and development responses we must work towards creating a world that is free from stigma and discrimination. Intolerance is often fueled by and mirrored in harmful laws, policies and practices – laws, policies and practices that are not founded on human rights but based on moral judgment, fear and misinformation. These laws, policies and practices exclude or punish those that are marginalized. They perpetuate stigma and discrimination by dehumanizing and criminalizing those who are most vulnerable and they place a disproportionate burden on those affected by HIV such as sex workers, people who use drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender people. In a number of countries, discriminatory laws criminalize transgender people on the basis of their gender identity. These laws, which often reflect the social marginalization of transgender people, do not recognize their existence. Without legal recognition and access to justice, transgender people are unable to get official documentation with their names and sex reflecting their gender identity. Without the accurate identification, they are unable to access even the most basic of services that they are... Read more

Peaceful Societies Need Security Reforms

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In Haiti, UNDP has contributed to the professionalisation of 2,700 people in areas critical for recovery and development, including vocational training for all judicial actors (judges, registrars, police officers).

For societies to be inclusive, they need to be peaceful and safe for all. They need to be safe for those who most need protection. They need to be safe for women. Last week, the Group of Friends of Security Sector Reform (SSR), and its Slovakia and South Africa co-chairs, convened a meeting to discuss how national governments can enable reform, with the United Nations supporting them in their efforts.   In April 2014, with support from more than 40 Member States, the Security Council unanimously passed the first-ever stand-alone resolution (2151) on security sector reform.  This highlights the broad political support for such reform and its links to crisis management, post-conflict stabilization and sustainable development. The latest report of the Secretary-General on SSR emphasizes community and citizen security.  This is where we see strong linkages to the post-2015 Development Agenda and where Member States, within the context of the Open Working Group, have placed rightful emphasis on violence reduction and accountable, responsive governance. 2015 marks the 10 year anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.  Security for women is part of our quest for gender equality.  We continue to see unacceptably high levels of sexual violence... Read more

Climate change and inequalities: How will this impact women?

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Women are key drivers of sustainable development. (Photo: UNDP)

Of all the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to landslides and flooding, one does not get the attention it deserves: exacerbation of inequalities, particularly for women. In poor countries, women’s lives are often directly dependent on the natural environment. Women bear the main responsibility for supplying water and firewood for cooking and heating, as well as growing food. Drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation make these tasks more time-consuming and arduous, threaten women’s livelihoods and deprive them of time to learn skills, earn money and participate in community life. But the same societal roles that make women more vulnerable to environmental challenges also make them key actors for driving sustainable development. Their knowledge and experience can make natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies at all levels more successful. Just look to Ecuadorian Amazon, where the Waorani women association (Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) is promoting organic cocoa cultivation as a wildlife protection measure and a pathway to local sustainable development. With our support, the association is managing its land collectively and working toward zero deforestation, the protection of vulnerable wildlife species and the production of certified organic chocolate. In the process, women... Read more

A rural community calls for an end to FGM

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Communities in Qena are joining forces with international organizations and civil society to end FGM in Egypt. Photo credit: Jose Sanchez/UNDP Egypt

I recently visited the village of Beir Anbar in the district of Koft, Qena governorate, and listened to the powerful statement this community is conveying to the rest of the country to put an end to the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The whole village, from young schoolchildren to village elders came together to denounce FGM as "violent", "wrong" and "harmful". Even today, many girls and young women are subjected to genital mutilation in the name of ‘tradition’. According to the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey, at least 91 percent of Egyptian women between the ages of 15-49 have undergone genital mutilation. The people of Beir Anbar made it clear that Egyptian girls and women deserve a new tradition – a tradition of protecting and safeguarding their rights. The joint efforts of families, community activists, authorities, development agencies and media are gradually making a difference to phase out this traditional harmful practice. Let us be clear: there is no justification – moral, religious, cultural, medical or otherwise for this practice. ‘Cutting’ demeans, dehumanizes and injures. It is a human rights violation that must be actively opposed until it is ended. As we gathered inside the community centre, a group of... Read more

The way to stop violence against women and girls

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Everyone has a role to play in ending GBV, but with so many actors involved, we need better coordination and communications. Photo credit: UNDP/Pakistan

An average of 1 in 3 women across the world suffer from violence at the hands of a partner, in their lifetime.  Gender-based violence (GBV) disproportionately affects lower and middle income countries, poorer regions within these countries, and in particular vulnerable groups that include migrants, sex workers, and people living with HIV or disabilities. Earlier this year, I took up the role of UNDP Regional Advisor on GBV in Asia and the Pacific.  Since then, I have had numerous conversations that more or less follow the same pattern: “I cannot believe we still have such high rates of violence around the world, but it all seems so complicated and deep rooted in our societies.  What can we actually do to reduce this violence?”    Recently, I contributed to the Lancet Series on Violence against Women and Girls. This project gave me the opportunity to discuss challenges in the field and exchange ideas for ways forward with some of the world’s most renowned experts on violence against women.  It also gave me time to think about an answer to this question: What can we do to reduce gender-based violence? The resulting five papers in the series present the evidence of which methods... Read more

Volunteering the future: A call to arms

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Photo: Zaven Khachikyan/UNDP in Armenia

How does volunteering make a difference? These days, we are trying to do development differently: to partner with less usual suspects for outside insights, and tap into local energy and initiatives. The ethos of volunteerism is exactly the same – it is not a supplement to the work we do; it is a natural component within it. And with whom do we partner up to do this? The answer, of course, is young people. They are the natural choice. To be truly inclusive though, we have to work harder to reach women, minorities, and other vulnerable groups. Volunteerism can be an essential part of that reach. Today, we have the largest cohort of youth in human history. Fifty percent of the population is below the age of 30. We cannot shape an effective response to youth matters if we do not include the voices of young people themselves.  We see ample evidence of this already happening in our region. In Belarus, young people volunteer to give free city tours to blind children; others provide orphans with clothes for harsh winters. They don’t see themselves as volunteers per se, but as citizens passionate to create infrastructures for resilience in their communities. So... Read more

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

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