Source: Sudan Daily Vision
Social Watch, an International Network of Civil Society Organizations (NGOs) monitor and report on all issues which; have impact on social justice all over the world. This is one of Social Watch Reports published in 2011.
Particularly notable in the resolution are the paragraphs regarding the importance of civil society participation in the new entity. The new organization will expand its operational presence at the country level including engagement with women’s groups and other civil society organizations invested in gender equality and the empowerment of women.
This resolution would not have happened without the strong advocacy and determined commitment of women’s movements and other civil society organizations over the last four years, beginning with the adoption of the 2006 System-Wide Coherence Panel report on UN Reform, which included a recommendation to establish a new entity to increase the authority, resources and capacity of UN work on gender equality. Recognizing the need for a strong civil society effort to influence the shape of the new entity, many of these groups united in the Gender Equality Architecture Reform or GEAR Campaign. Charlotte Bunch, former Executive Director of the Center for Women’s Global
Leadership, a founding member of the GEAR Campaign stated:
“We have high expectations for this new agency –the women’s groups and other social justice, human rights and development organizations that played a pivotal role in this effort must now work to ensure that the new body has the human and financial resources necessary to succeed.”
A lot depends on who the UN Secretary-General appoints to new Under- Secretary General position to head the new organization. There is general agreement that this person must combine the vision, experience and determination to not only expand the work of the UN entity for gender equality but to hold the other parts of the UN system accountable for advancing gender equality in all countries. This is particularly important in the current period, as both the international community and countries worldwide accelerate efforts to advance progress towards achieving the MDGs by 2015, while at the same time confronting the ongoing impact of the worse global financial and economic crisis in 40 years.
The first major challenge facing UN Women, therefore is whether it will adopt the traditional model of multilateralism where the decisions are made only by governments and the political process tends to water policy recommendations. This has failed to promote sustainable development to all countries or address the “policy gap” between macroeconomic policies and gender justice approaches. Gender equality advocates in CSOs, governments and UN agencies must start closing this gap, and the test for UN Women is whether it will provide the necessary vision and leadership.
The policy gap
The financial and economic crisis has challenged not only the resources for development but also the policies to make it inclusive and sustainable. As governments seek to reduce their budgets and their public expenditures in the face of the debt they have incurred to address the crisis, many of the areas in which these reductions will be felt are in the provision of social services, including education and health, which are essential for women’s empowerment.
This in turn threatens to reverse the gains in women’s empowerment, not only because the services will become more limited and more expensive to access, but also because the cuts will increase the unpaid labour of women in making up for them through what is known as the “care economy,” based on the incorrect assumption that women are by nature dedicated to care and that they have the time and capacity to provide it.
At the same time, it is these sectors in which women’s employment is most concentrated, thereby adding to women’s job losses, based on the assumption that if governments reduce spending on public services, and instead subsidize private sector initiatives, the private sector will step up provide them, thereby creating jobs for both men and women. This assumes not only sustained demand, despite the loss of household income and imposition of new fees, but also that the main source of household income is men’s employment, while women’s earnings are secondary. This at a time when the UN has affirmed – and the MDG targets reflect – that the key strategy with regard to reducing poverty is providing full, productive and decent employment, especially for women and youth. Policy responses to the economic crisis are in many cases perpetuating all of these outdated and discredited assumptions, thus disproportionately disadvantaging women and enhancing the policy gap.
This and other reports have stressed the need for developing countries’ governments, which had no part in causing this crisis, to be allowed sufficient policy space to expand fiscal policy to respond to it, in order to promote employment and protect social spending. In response, international lending institutions, such as the IMF and World Bank, have indicated a greater willingness to support more flexible fiscal policies and continued social spending, at least in some cases. What is most urgently needed therefore, is concerted efforts by civil society, including women’s organizations, to make sure governments take that space, in ways that protect the rights and promote the well-being of all sectors of their societies. This is the new direction that the new gender entity, UN Women, must inspire and lead.
The GEAR network of women’s and civil society organizations and networks is contacting UN representatives at all levels to work with the transition process and assure the new Under-Secretary-General of their readiness to support the new entity to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment.
“We know that this is only the beginning,” said Rachel Harris of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). “We must continue to ensure that we are building a United Nations that really works for all women on the ground. This requires the active engagement of all stakeholders.”