Monday September 20, 2021

Shrinking space for gender rights

February 10, 2021

Sadia MirDespite an increase in awareness about gender rights through the recently acclaimed movement ‘metoo’ or spaces on social media, the reality is that real platforms, where women could participate for defending their rights, are shrinking fast.

Many factors have contributed to this trend such as austerity measures following the financial crisis of 2008, which saw women programmes receiving less funding and that fatal legacy continues to this day.

An independent women’s think tank reviewed that austerity measures (in the UK) impacted women much more severely than they did men. The Women’s Budget Group identified that a decade of austerity had left public services, mostly which women relied on, in ‘crisis.’

More seriously linked to the economic cuts was the rise in populism, which saw gender equality not as a priority but a nuisance. The paradox here was that as women grew in making noise, (on social media), in contrast this sent a message that women had already achieved equality, and anti-gender backlash grew even louder in response.

Such sentiments were echoed through the top levels of government, by sidelining women’s representation, through economic cuts and austerity policies, in what can only be defined as deliberate exclusionary politics.

As domestic politics started to see this reversal trend at home, internationally by and large women were the worst hit by globalisation, conflict, climate change, and severe economic measures imposed on programmes that were their lifeline.

This had a direct impact on women’s rights and was felt on most of the UN platforms such as the UNCSW, Cedaw and Beijing Platform for Action. Over the years, we saw that the number of women’s organisations decreased, and diverse and unique programmes just ceased to exist. The previous decades had seen an impetus behind gender rights supported through the United Nations instruments.

The importance of UN platforms is that each one was created to assist the then newly found agenda in the advancement of women’s rights.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) was founded in 1946. It aimed at gender empowerment through UN entities and gave a space for women to participate from most countries, therefore covering women’s issues from a truly global perspective. CSW was also interlinked and tasked with assessing the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action’s outcomes.

The Beijing Platform for Action stood to address 12 essential areas to enable gender equality. Its implementation was to be carried out by national executives of member states through programming, development and enhancing policy frameworks.

More recently, Beijing Platform for Action was recognised as the landmark resolution that propelled women’s rights by broadening them into diverse and much needed areas such as economy, human rights, armed conflict, education, poverty, health and media. Thus the recognition that women were needed in these fields, firmly put them on the agenda.

The UN’s Economic and Social Council itself undertook the technical expansion and implementation of the Beijing Declaration through its own mechanism and bodies.

After the Montreal Protocol was recognised and validated via the UNFCCC, the Kyoto targets were acknowledged with aims to be operative in mitigating and adapting to measures that combated climate change.

This eventually led to launching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was felt that all the above UN instruments and principally the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, Cedaw was one of the key tools to administer SDGs in order to achieve broad gender dimension of the goals, notably Goal 5.

The CEDAW convention was adopted in 1979, recognised as a significant mechanism which designated national action plans (NAP) and procedures to enhance gender equality. Notably since a necessary principal component of the SDGs was to leave no one behind and women constituted half of the population, so all goals can only be achieved through gender equality and gender economic parity.

Hence commitment towards harnessing the Beijing Resolution had become increasingly important on an international level.

There is a critical link between SDGs and gender equality, since this awareness is in a new European ‘feminist’ dimension, the push is now coming from the European feminist lobbies and the significance of the CSW and Beijing platform for action are being recognised as key gender equality mechanisms. This is reflected in the recent European Parliament’s report to fight the backlash against gender equality. It is evident that political participation is essential to having a voice at the table and representation, this was what United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 fought so hard to achieve.

Transitioning to a green and inclusive sustainable economic pattern is paramount if we are serious in meeting the SDG target. Evaluating the SDGs reveals that they work on intersectional levels, in many cases these are the areas where prevalent forms of ‘feminised’ poverty exists. Data also confirms this.

Not just Goal 5 is linked to women, slicing through SDG ‘Zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, quality education you see that women have a significant role to play, ‘no poverty’ can only be attained when women have financial independence, so many goals are intricately linked to women achieving economic parity and can really be attained when this becomes a norm rather than an exception.

Again women cannot be excluded from goals that undertake tackling climate action, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, industry and innovation or reduced inequalities, and key to these should be the poverty reduction objective. Another key component of the SDGs and the green growth economy is inclusivity, grassroots programmes that are run through local schemes are not only inclusive but assist in a bottom up approach to policy making converging a more equal and horizontal distribution of economics.

The Beijing platform is a good example of how grass roots organisations can meet with policymakers and impart locally run programme knowledge by sharing ‘best practice’ techniques and methodologies.

The economic crisis of 2008 was an opportunity to reset the neo-liberal economic structure. Currently we are again at a point in history — the Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated two points very clearly. One is that the current economic structure has failed: government bailouts have been in trillions, only if that had been spent on infrastructure in the first place, and second that women have been the essential force in the fight against the pandemic, supporting and propping up the care and nursing sectors. Now we need to build back better and support a sustainable growth pattern.

The writer has over 15 years of experience at the EU level and works to impact policy by offering strategies in a wide variety of sectors including energy, environment, finance, and academia.