gender, post 2015, United Nations

Sustainable Development Goals

The work around the next MDGs or ‘Post 2015’ as it is most commonly known, has been going on for a number of years now. considering the amount of flack the old Development Goals got back in the day, it might seem surprising that the draft version of the new SDGs (are we calling them that?) look so much like the MDGs.

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Although, the MDGs did a good job of rallying governments, and it’s hard to deny that significant progress has been made on targets such as education and reducing the levels of extreme poverty. Some argue that this is a result of a general increase in economic prosperity over the past 20-30 years. maybe. but it seems like the MDGs did the impossible, which was, to be aspirational and concrete at the same time. that’s a tricky balance, and for the most part they got it right. so what now?

taking a look at the Zero draft it seems like the UN is learning from mistakes, and taking steps to ensure the SDGs are more comprehensive and nuanced. This is, I should hope, the influence of CSO’s and coalitions which has taken part in wide ranging consultations. the process isn’t over yet, there’s still time for the UN governing bodies to backtrack and buckle under pressure from member states, making the next 18 months of advocacy work critical.

thank god Civicus published an Advocacy and the Post 2015 for Dummies toolkit.

advocacy toolkit

Seriously though, if you’re a Civil Society Organization involved in UN level work and you need this toolkit to explain ‘What is Advocacy?’, you’re in the wrong business. I’m not sure who this is supposed to help, but it does provide a useful breakdown of the UN decision making process around the SDGs.

and it’s enough to make you want to cut yourself. I mean, seriously. It’s the most complicated process ever developed in the history of complicated processes. trust the UN to come up with something so ridiculously unwieldy, it requires it’s own manual, and even that makes little sense unless you’re already involved in the meetings. It’s like road signs in Israel, they are there to confirm what you already know rather than point you in the right direction. If you trust the signs, you’ll never get to where you need to go.

So I guess the next 18 months or so are for CSO’s to ensure the more controversial sections of the draft, that didn’t make into the first set of gaols, actually make it through this time. And maybe harden some of the language too?

SDG 5.10

I mean, ‘promote the availability of gender disaggragated data’ is: A. ridiculous, data should be disaggregated by sex, how the fuck do you analyze data according to social norms? and B. a sorry excuse for a target. Data must be disagregated by sex and age. anything else is a waste of time and money. there – that’s what the target should say.

I’m also interested in seeing what kind of indicators will be included in the target on  reducing gender based violence – which I suspect will be very tricky. and fingers crossed the mention of the ICPD platform won’t be dropped – it’s the most critical gap that currently exists in development efforts. women’s sexual and reproductive health rights are under constant attack from a variety of conservative forces and it will show the UN’s true leadership if they manage to get everyone signed off on this.

Here’s hoping the SDGs really do usher in a new development era…as the Girl Effect once said: It’s no big deal, just the future of humanity.

 

 

 

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gender, girls rights, post 2015, Women's rights

Leaning on an open door

This is what we (in the policy and advocacy biz) used to say when we were lobbying the government to do something they had already said they intended to do. And this is how I felt yesterday during a #shebuilds digital rally on gender and international development. I took part in two tweetchats that focused on girls’ empowerment. In both cases, most if not all of the tweeters were organizations and members of organizations that are already dedicated to working on girl issues.

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I couldn’t help but wonder: were we preaching to the choir?

Of course, I couldn’t keep this observation to myself so I tweeted it at the organizers who were hosting one of the tweetchats. The @girleffect replied quickly and asked for my suggestions about fixing this. However, I only had 140 characters at my disposal, so the answer was somewhat brief.

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However, I would like to take this opportunity to delve a little deeper into this issue.

Voice vs. power

There is something slightly misleading about taking part in digital ‘activism’. In this I’m going to refer to tweets, and likes, and comments on discussions boards, and well, anything that doesn’t require moving out of your comfort zone. I’m not talking about activities like hacktivism, which can be quite the game changers (re Steubenville). Most of the actions individual users are likely to take online involve supporting a cause they already believe in and sharing this cause with others. Now, for most organizations this is an important way of gaining popular support which should ideally lead to pressure on decision makers to change whatever cause folks are supporting. In real life, this is rarely the case. Certainly the ‘occupy’ movement failed spectacularly to achieve any of the changes they were advocating for so vocally. On the other hand, it seems that the Post 2015 consultations are being quite open in their wish to engage the public and organizations from the ‘global south’ in the consultations. However, a close look at the emerging recommendations that were submitted last year by the ‘high level panel’ to the Secretary General reveal that what made the cut were the issues that had the backing of the right people, not the most people.

For instance, one of the illustrative goals that made it onto the list is about ending child marriage (more about the issue here). Despite the fact that child marriage is simply a symptom of a much larger illness, i.e. institutionalized gender based discrimination and unequal power relations, that are both exacerbated by poverty, ignorance, and the chaos of crisis and war. You might point out that it’s an easy ask – and you’d be right. it’s SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. But is it the most urgent violation of women and girls’ rights? Is it tackling the underlying cause in a systematic way? or did it make it into the short list because the right people are backing it?

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Let’s be honest – we all know decisions are eventually made by a handful of people walking down a drab corridor on the way to the cafeteria.

My point: there’s a gap between how we, the public, perceive the importance of our voice in supporting or opposing an issue through online activism, and the real process that goes into making decisions. We think we have power when we come together, but unless we’re actually represented in the places where decisions are made, there’s no chance of changing anything. To those in the higher echelons, it all seems like a lot of white noise.

Who’s listening?

So you might say – that’s terribly cynical, I think some voices are heard even if they are powerless. ok. so we get together and organize a tweetchat to talk about girl-issues, responses, and programmatic innovations, and who shows up? 1. the people who are already working in this area, have knowledge, practice and understanding that they can contribute. 2. organizations that are using this as a platform for making noise about themselves, their ideas, work, campaigns, slogans etc. If you’re Joe Blow, has any of this reached you or engaged you? highly unlikely. you’re not listening, because this is way outside your comfort zone.

What are we actually saying?

One of my issues with the discussion was that it seemed very stale. We’ve been using the same stats and arguments since the dawn of (wo)man.

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In case you were wondering – that statistic has been around since 1994, which means it’s based on data from the 80’s. yeah. It’s as old as I am. surely with the amount of money being poured into the issue of girls in development, we could have found a little bit to spend on some honest research?

also, I’m wondering why we haven’t come up with a better argument than ‘throw money at the problem, and girls will reinvest it into a flawed economic system’? we all know that the level of messaging that has been adopted by ALL the organizations working on girl-issues, has toed an instrumentalist line that sees girls’ empowerment as a route towards economic growth. We have yet to come up with a formula that treats girls rights as a universal truth and a question of social justice, completely divorced of economic, political, or any other gains that might be derived from advancing gender equality.

Then why are you still here?

stickgood question. i’m mostly here because I see it as my duty as a freelance consultant unaffiliated with any one organization to poke a stick at those I love. this blog post is my way of supporting the work and campaigning and awareness raising efforts of many organizations and individuals that i follow faithfully on twitter, who have really good intentions, and who come up with great ideas for digital events (thunderclaps and rallies!).

I expect more – so I’m asking everyone to raise the bar. I know it’s possible. we just have to try a little harder!

Keshet Bachan

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girls rights, United Nations

Malala day and the rise of youth

Today is the UN youth takeover day or in its alternative name ‘Malala Day’, named after Malala Yousafzai who was brutally shot in the head by religious extremists for campaigning on girl’s education in Pakistan. The UN general assembly will be taken over by 600 young people, and presided over by Malala herself. The youth delegates will then pass the first ever UN youth led resolution.

This important event is not only about the UN acknowledging the issue of global education, and girl’s right to education, as a critical topic; it is also a recognition of the importance of ‘youth’ in today’s global processes.

The world is experiencing a ‘youth bulge’, which basically means there are more young people under 30 alive in the world today that ever before. These young people are coming of age in an era plagued by political instability, but also great technological progress. They are taking part in protests, online and off-line, they are critical of centralised decision making processes and they want their voices heard. The rise of young people is being felt throughout the globe, from Brazil to Egypt, Turkey and India, where young protesters have taken to the streets in huge numbers.

The UN rightly identifies youth unemployment as one of the biggest issues facing the world today. young people in developing countries make up (especially in conflict affected states) more than 60% of the population, and they are entering labour markets that cannot offer them decent employment. this is a cause for concern and a driver of political instability. although labour markets are influenced by global systems, macro-economic processes and trading regimes, leaving us with a feeling that there is little we can do to change or expand them, there is one thing we can do to better equip young people to this changing landscape.

which brings me back to education. in order to ensure young people are equipped to face the challenge of a changing political landscape and an economic system in turmoil, we must provide them with the right skills, capabilities and knowledge. By ‘we’ i mean those of us in the business of holding governments accountable. innovative approaches to education are needed to ensure young people leave school with the ‘resilience’ they need to face shocks and rapid changes, to adapt to changing priorities and new employment opportunities especially in the knowledge economy.

there is a gender lens to all of this. as usual. girls are still facing more barriers to accessing their education than boys. this means that they are missing out in greater numbers on the chance of acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to develop resilience and adaptability, key components of being able to successfully negotiate employment opportunities. structural forms of discrimination are keeping girl’s from taking advantage of new technologies further limiting their chances of realising their aspirations.

Today is a chance to remind the decision makers that education is the most important topic on their agenda. It is also a chance to remind them that there are power imbalances that are keeping half the population from accessing the most basic right – a good quality education. I believe the global attention leveraged today will provide an important platform for strengthening the voices of those most concerned with these issues – young people, girls and boys, who are inheriting a complex net of problems. UN member states would do well to heed the young people flooding their halls today, lest they encounter them in less amicable circumstances, marching in protest.

Keshet Bachan

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Uncategorized

Gender equality as smart economics?

I was recently sent a fantastic article by Sylvia Chant (former Prof. of mine from the LSE) and Caroline Sweetman titled ‘fixing women or fixing the world? ‘smart economics’, efficiency approaches and gender equality in development’. This article can be found in the gender and development journal here. It really struck a cord, for reasons that will become obvious, and although this for me is not a new discussion, it’s worth highlighting for those who might think all ‘girl advocates’ speak with one enthusiastic voice in support of investing in girls.

Chant and Sweetman take on the ‘girl agenda’ and ask whether the new interest in investing in girls as a route towards poverty reduction is simply ‘Women in Development’ (WID) in a different guise. For those unfamiliar with the history of gender/development, here is a brief explanation:

WOMEN IN DEVELOPMENT (WID):

Dates to the early 1970’s. Height of WID was during the UN Decade for Women (1975-1985). Was concerned with women’s ‘predicament’ in developing regions. Fuelled by growing academic research on the ‘gender blindness’ in development. Focuses on women as a group in their own right. Women were seen as an ‘untapped’ force in economic growth. Emphasis was on integrating women into development. This provoked the creation of national machineries, bureaus, units, programs and departments within States.
PROs: 1st time resources apportioned to women’s development; more women than ever ‘infiltrating’ international development system; potential for creating awareness of gender inequality in development planning.
CONs: concentrated exclusively on women; essentialized women as a single group; sex was highlighted above all other identity categories; women’s concerns only ‘added in’ to mainstream development projects; not about changing gender relations and ideology; led to tokensim, marginalisation and ghettoisation of women’s efforts and concerns; rising resistance from women in the global South who saw WID as an imposition of neo-colonial development strategies that prioritised external interests.

GENDER AND DEVELOPMENT (GAD):

Evolved out of WID, beginning around the 1995 Beijing Conference. Basic theoretical premise is that gender identity is a dynamic and social construct shaped by time, place, age, class, ‘race,’ etc. Understands a unilateral focus on women as inappropriate and non-transformative. The focus is now on gender relations rather than women. Short term-goals are similar to WID: improved education, access to credit, legal rights. But long-term goals are very different: structural shifts in male-female power relations; empowering women through collective action; challenging gender ideologies and institutions that subordinate women.

So what happened after GAD became popular, i.e. from 1995 onward? According to Chant and Sweetman the World Bank comes out with a new report that lauds women’s ability to withstand economic crises and other emergencies (see here). In other words, the policy powers that be realize that women can act as cushions for the fallout of neoliberal restructuring. This adds to the emerging evidence of the social goods that can be gained in terms of reduced fertility and children’s health outcomes as a result of investing in women directly. The WB follows this publication up with a later Gender Action Plan and Global Monitoring Report that depict ‘gender equality itself as smart economics, in that it enables women to contribute their utmost skills and energies to the project of world economic development’. Chant and Sweetman site the Girl Effect campaign as taking these messages to a whole new level by ‘proposing that once these investments are made girls will ‘do the rest’, ‘change the course of history’ and safeguard the ‘future of humanity’.

Now look back at the WID summary.
concentrated exclusively on women (read girls) = check
essentialized women (girls) as a single group = check
sex was highlighted above all other identity categories = check
not about changing gender relations and ideology = check

Basically Chant and Sweetman argue that women and girls are working for development, again (check out an older version of this argument from the fantastic Rosalind Eyben). or in their words: ‘Smart economics seeks to use women and girls to fix the world’. I think they make another important point in this context, which relates to the last part about WID being unconcerned with changing gender relations, that there is a risk that this instrumentalist messaging will overestimate ‘what women are capable of in a global order characterized by ongoing gender bias and structural barriers to their capabilities’. Which means detaching the messaging of investing in girls from the feminist project of transforming the laws, policies and practices which have so far kept women and girls oppressed will not lead to women and girls’ empowerment.

Now that we have thoroughly taken the ‘invest in girls’ agenda out back and set it on fire, let us take a moment to put all this in perspective. Firstly, for those who decide to read the article in full, you’ll note the authors mention the ‘because i am a girl’ report series which i coordinated for a good number of years as an example of how INGO’s have taken up this call for gender equality as smart economics. And to some extent public campaign messaging has been toeing this popular line. However, research, analysis and certainly programming has stuck to GAD quite faithfully, in part due to Plan’s commitment to rights based programming which inherently means tackling gender inequality holistically to remove barriers to the realization of rights.

But this isn’t a manifesto in the defense of any one organization. In fact, the disturbingly instrumentalist, or efficiency-led, approach to girls’ empowerment has been at the forefront of my blogging endevours for a while. see here for a three year old blog post lamenting the language used at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative meetings. They quite clearly leveled the discussion at the private sector and World Bank type donors stating their sessions focused on ‘adolescent girls, the most underutilized resources in the world today’. At the time, i felt this was letting duty bearers off the hook. almost three years later, im worried it will lead to an epic fail. and if so, will the backlash and disappointment move the policy discussion away from girls altogether? when they are unable to deliver on the expectation that they ‘move their community and country’ out of poverty, will the trickle of funding dry up altogether?

Some will argue that we should engage in ‘strategic essentialism‘, which is an important concept that means strategically using a heterogenous category like ‘girls’ in a homogenous way for a political end. If donors are pouring millions into education systems to ensure girls receive basic schooling, does it really matter that they are motivated by a reductionist approach to ‘girls’, an instrumentalist argument and 20 year old data?

I can’t answer that. but I would quote Chant and Sweetman again when they say: ‘structural discrimination constrains the agency of women and girls and presents them with insurmountable obstacles, despite their best efforts to advance their own interests and meet their own needs…what is needed is a gender and development approach which recognizes inequality as a relational issue, and which recognizes the equal rights of all women and girls – regardless of age, or the extent or nature of their economic contribution’.

Keshet Bachan

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