Our Perspective

womens empowerment

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

Women are still being forcibly or coercively sterilized, it's time to end the practice

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A mom and her newborn baby at the Maternal & Child Health Training Institute for the medically needy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Kibae Park/UN

Though voluntary sterilization is considered an important form of pregnancy prevention in many parts of the world, force or coercion should never be part of the equation. However, there continue to be cases of women, people living with HIV, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, or transgender and intersex persons who are sterilized without their full, free and informed consent. Our report, “Protecting the right of key HIV-affected women and girls in healthcare settings” highlights the persistence of this practice amongst women and girls in Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Pakistan living with HIV, along with a range of other serious forms of abuse.  These practices are not only discriminatory, they are also violations of fundamental human rights. As reported in 2012 by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, coercive and discriminatory practices in health care settings are rife, including forced HIV testing, breaches of confidentiality and the denial of health care services, as well as forced sterilizations and abortions. Voluntary sterilization is dependent upon a legal environment and social and health programmes, policies and practices that guarantee the rights of all individuals to free, full and informed consent. To this end, countries must prohibit the practice of... Read more

Social media games battle gender stereotypes in Nepal

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Our work will primarily target young people between 13-19 years of age, as research shows that adolescents are still forming their attitudes at this age. Photo: UNDP

The problem with social norms is that even the most conscientious of citizens often stop questioning them. They simply perpetuate. Across South Asia, and in Nepal in particular, despite major strides in women’s economic empowerment in the past decade, gender stereotypes, domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence still continue to cripple society. According to a 2012 study, more than half of Nepali women experience violence in their lifetime. One way to fight these stereotypes and end gender-based violence is to swap roles so that men can experience what it feels like to walk in a woman’s shoes. At UNDP Nepal, we’re building on that premise as we look to tackle the high levels of violence against women in Nepali society. Behavior change is easier said than done, so we’ve decided to try and break the chain of violence by focusing on young people and their willingness to question social norms.  Here’s our gambit: we’ve designed an online interactive quiz for Facebook that turns how young people view gender roles in society inside-out and back-to-front. Six short animated videos, each followed by multiple-choice questions, depict situations where traditional roles have been inverted so as to raise the user’s awareness of... Read more

Questioning the ‘feminisation of development’ and the business logic

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A PARTICIPANT in A WOMEN ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT PROGRAMME IN UPPER EGYPT. Photo: HEEWOONG KIM/undp.

‘Feminisation of development’ is a fancy phrase referring to the recent trend of seeing women as both beneficiaries and agents of change in development. This has become a popular approach and many of our programmes such as micro-loans, or skills trainings for women fit into this category. This new role is bolstered by a so-called ‘smart business’ logic. Based on this view, women’s empowerment is not only a rights or equity issue, but is also a good investment. UNDP and other UN agencies have, to a degree, subscribed to this logic saying that empowering women leads to better health, education and development overall; and many  of our programmes proved to be quite effective in producing results. For instance, the Conditional Cash Transfers programme provided to mothers in Latin America reduced inequality by 21 percent in Brazil/Mexico and 15 percent in Chile. An initiative targeting ultra-poor female-headed households in Bangladesh raised income by 36 percent and food security by 42 percent. But despite such success, there is mounting opposition against this trend, surprisingly, from the feminist schools. Sylvia Chant, a prominent gender and development scholar, strongly argues against this approach stating: “Women are enlisted as foot soldiers to serve in battles whose aims... 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

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

It takes a community to end violence against women

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UNDP Serbia is working towards creating a social and institutional environment that will contribute to reducing violence against women in the country. Photo: UNDP Serbia

We are increasingly aware that preventing gender-based violence and protecting survivors requires the involvement of the entire society. Neighbors, friends and family, school systems and media professionals are all responsible for detecting, denouncing and publically condemning violence against women. An African proverb says: “It takes a village to raise a child.” To paraphrase: “It takes a community to end violence against women.” In Serbia, UN organizations supported the introduction of a multisectoral service delivery model in 21 towns and sponsored specialized training so that police, healthcare and social workers, judicial officials and civil society groups could understand their roles and better work together in assisting survivors of violence.  “A battered woman requested medical assistance for injuries several times in a local healthcare center,” explained a participant in the training. “We suspected she’d been abused by her partner, but she never admitted to it. Police intervened to stop violence on three occasions, but each time she would appeal to her right not to testify against her husband. Charges against him would be dropped and she would come back to the healthcare center soon enough.” This illustrates the institutional inability to respond to a perceived injustice and human rights violation. During the trainings,... Read more

The nightmare of violence against women, seen up close

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There must be increased public awareness and political will and resources for preventing and ending all forms of violence against women and girls in all parts of the world. Photo: UNDP Peru

Nothing raises awareness of violence against women more than experiencing this nightmare first-hand. We always think these things happen to others, but the data indicate such situations are common, albeit in different forms and degrees of cruelty. According to data from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), one in four women in the region experiences some violence from her partner. This is also the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 49 -- ahead of cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, “Convention of Belem do Pará.” How much progress has been made since then? Less than one third of countries in the region (28 percent) have a specific national plan to respond to this issue, and most (78 percent) approach it tangentially in other plans or security policies. This has been shown by the analysis we carried out in 32 countries in the region, which led to the study “States' Commitment: plans and policies to eradicate violence against women in Latin America and the Caribbean.” The result of the study shows there is no clear... Read more

Women’s Parliamentary Caucuses as agents of change

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Meeting of a female community organization in the district of Haripur, Pakistan. Photo: UNDP in Pakistan

Nation-building processes cannot work and development goals cannot be achieved if women are denied meaningful political participation. To ensure this, Pakistan’s Parliament introduced in 2002 a 17 percent gender quota in all legislative houses. But despite accounting for 22 percent of the federal parliament, from 2002 to 2007, women could not achieve much in terms of lawmaking except the Women’s Protection Act. In the subsequent mandate of 2008-2013, however, women made more progress, overseeing policy implementation and raising important issues in all Houses. Gender quotas alone, as global experience has shown, cannot transform the quality of women’s representation. They won’t work unless they are adapted into women’s direct representation, in which more women would win elections rather than taking up reserved seats. Compared to around 13 women in 2002, 16 women won general seats in 2008, while only 8 won National Assembly seats in 2013.  This downward trend reflects the shrinking space for women in the electoral process, despite a numerically larger parliamentary presence. Urgent measures are needed to create a level playing field for women in the electoral process. In 2002, women parliamentarians mostly worked in isolation, without enough sharing of inter- and intra-party experiences. But by 2008 they had... Read more

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