UN Thought Leaders’ Meeting

UN Thought Leaders’ Meeting

posted in: Activism, Blog, Politics | 0


by Annette Lawson

Annette Lawson continues to share her insider view of what is happening at the Sustainable Development Summit in NY.


Thought Leaders’ Meeting – New York – 24 September, 2015 
I woke up to the most glorious sunny day with the beautiful 1930s buildings and great skyscrapers bathed in sunlight.

News was all about the Pope and his imminent arrival in New York. I imagine if you lived on the Upper West Side you might not know, but around the UN the police presence is huge and it must be wildly irritating to people who live here not to be able to take their kids to the local park or to jog their usual paths – I saw two young women prevented from both of these. Despite the upheaval, the Pope seems to be doing a good job on his chosen topics.

I was at the UN Women offices early after having stood in line for an hour waiting for someone to simply re-issue my lost UN Annual Grounds Pass. Finally I was with a clerk who took about 5 minutes to reissue by Grounds Pass. There is a fluttering change around those nearby streets when the police glance and see the badge: I feel as if I may be a person, now.

At UN Women’s Offices, everyone was welcoming despite the fact they were still setting up. One guest was already there, a woman from Guatemala from the Indigenous Women’s group. Already, typing away.


The Meeting
Eventually the room became crowded. There were two cameras because it was being filmed and apparently 700 students were watching on a live webcast. There are maybe 80 people in the room – it felt as if the whole of UN Women staff were filling the two lines or so of seats at the back of the room and then there were us thought leaders – a wonderful mix of colours, ages, abilities and ages in the room at tables.

At the top table we have:

  • Lopa Banerjee, Chief, Civil Society Section, UN Women
  • Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women.
  • Lakshmi PuriActing Head of UN Women, Deputy Executive Director, Intergovernmental Support and Strategic Partnerships Bureau, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations

The meeting’s theme is all about Planet 50:50 by 2030. The focus must be all on implementation. Ambitious but possible. What are the absolute crucial things we must achieve that will tell us we are on the path to irreversible gender equality?

  • Must get knowledge of the programme out there – need people to support everywhere: Agenda is not known at country or regional area.
  • We need to amplify normative power so that works for feminists and women and girls everywhere.
  • We know about the shrinking democratic space – what can we do?

Not everyone is celebrating the new 50:50 by 2030 Agenda and the outcome would be worse if we do not had civil society so active and and UN Women always present. This collaborative pattern should continue

Steps to take to realise the agenda:

  • List what is not there and have a strategy to address gaps. For example,in the area of Women, Peace and Security something stronger was needed. We need protection for HR defenders, for women at the coal face – we did get sexual and reproductive rights but we have gaps that remain.
  • Today, here and now we are starting the implementation. We want today to start work on a new road map to achieve real gender equality. So we are not sitting here in another 15 years with the same outcome.  

In many countries, the leadership never took the Agenda on – we need:

  • Heads of State talking about it – dealing with us and our needs.
  • Greater support for UN Women – looking at resources for strengthening country presence and programmes.
  • UN Women has four strands: Normative, programmatic, administrative, plus advocacy. Flagship programmes will listen to the demand and will be needs-responsive.
  • Building on collaborations.  UN Women is ‘pushing the needle’ and developing very good relationships.
  • In areas where do not have the capacity we need civil society to utilise the collaboration better.
  • Wherever you are punch above your weight everywhere. ‘They’ cannot deny you the right to say what needs to be said. For example, UN Women has brought women into the peace talks in Colombia.

Representation in leadership
No country has women in the right level in the right numbers. Currently there is institutionalized mediocrity. Men in power range from the mediocre to the brilliant. But women cannot afford to b mediocre and need to be in those places of leadership.

A very important point made was that support is needed for Women’s Organisations as opposed to all organisations. This means positioning the women’s movement at the centre. More needs to be done for women to own the agenda.  However, this must serve to strengthen not weaken the women’s movement.

The absence of good data is a structural barrier to change.  Must collect reliable data to be evidence-based in the work that we do.  What is required?

  • Gender responsive budgeting is essential.
  • Closing the gender funding gap is critical.
  • Take action/campaign about issues.  For example: (a) Unpaid work which need our every effort. What is the most women would benefit from – paternity leave, equal pay, child care?;  (b) Ending violence against women – not for poor countries only;  (c) Addressing sexual and reproductive rights;  (d) Women in conflict countries is so high; (e) Laws against women. We need law reform to support gender equality; (f) Girls education and life-long learning.

Gender stereotypes
These are always hovering sometimes at the edges, often at the obvious centre and affecting the lives of women.  The sugar cane worker in Brazil and the woman on Wall St share a universal agenda: for equal pay, child care, parental leave, health care, decent education and so on.

Gender Stereotypes

The democratic deficit
Not everyone is buying into the new 50:50 by 2030 Agenda

  • 97 member states have methods and laws to inhibit and prevent the free working of NGOs, including women’s groups. That’s right – half of the members of the UN!
  • Access to NGOs – Civil Society – is harder every year it seems to the UN. [Yet Eleanor Roosevelt made it our right!].

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka ended the meeting by acknowledging that UN Women needs to do more on certain categories of women: Disabiity, LGBT, older women. Is there a significance to older women coming last in this list? And Where are women caught up justice systems; imprisoned; tortured?

Meeting open to the floor 
Alas, with only about 75 minutes, it was clear not all could contribute. Are ‘thought leaders’ meant to think and not speak?

Might have been good to divide into smaller groups with allocated topics to come up with initial solutions and next steps.

List of participants 
It was a real problem that we had no lists or contacts. Although we had networking time and met a good many, cards don’t do it and half the time people don’t have them.

A list would have helped us work out who was speaking about what. And if we are thought leaders, let’s share our thoughts not just for two hours but over time. I asked again at the end and was promised we would have them – not so far!

However, the UN is busy; incredibly busy right now.

To be continued – off to another meeting!

You can read Annette’s first blog here.

You can listen to the Pope’s UN speech provided by the Official United Nations Webcast by clicking here or read the full transcript by clicking here.



Annette LawsonAnnette Lawson is an ex-academic sociologist who has worked for some 20 years seeking to help advance women’s status, and achieve equality in a transformed society.   She has been a leader in the women’s movement including have chaired NAWO for nearly 20 years, Vice-President of the European Women’s Lobby, and more recently co-chair and one of the founders of the UK NGO CSW Alliance.  She was also an elected and then appointed Commissioner of the Women’s National Commission (which was abolished in 2010) and chaired its International Work for some 4 years.  Currently Annette is a UN Women ‘Thought Leader’ and chairs a family foundation, the Judith Trust, which works to improve the lives of those with both Learning disabilities and mental health issues; this charity has a particular interest in Jewish people and women.


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