by Annette Lawson
New York – September 2015
On my way
At Heathrow, I was glad that my left knee made of titanium and plastic was demonstrating to me how good it was at not hurting, although the wound, swelling and muscle action is not quite without capacity to complain and grumble at me. So special assistance was welcome since, of course, the gate was a very long stretch indeed from security. At the entrance to the plane by which time I was in a wheel chair, I heard my name and right behind me was Helen Dennis from Christian Aid and various others with familiar faces making their way to the Sustainable Development Summit – yes that’s the one the Pope is going to together with some 180 Heads of State and entourages.
Listening to, and heeding and acting on Civil Society knowledge and ideas
It is hard to avoid the first ‘structural barrier’ we, in the Thought Leaders’ Meeting tomorrow, are asked to enumerate and consider how to overcome in the achievement of gender equality globally. Civil Society often brings long experience, profound knowledge of and expertise in the issues facing people from all over the world. Governments change rapidly, civil servants move departments, staff within great institutions also leave or move to different areas of concern and the learning curve has to be rapid and follow the overall flavour of the politics of that particular government. Yet, despite calls to hold dialogues over time and involve the participation of civil society organisations more, here, in New York for the Sustainable Development Summit, it is extraordinarily difficult for us to actually participate in such a way as to seriously influence outcomes at intergovernmental meetings. (I do not want to underestimate the considerable input of civil society over two years to the development of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and their targets). Of course rooms have limited numbers and while civil society has rights through ECOSOC accreditation – to attend, observe and, if invited, speak within certain UN Meetings – so many are here that the quotas are low. This is the case even for side events. So, alas, it is unlikely I will be able to knit together what is happening inside the UN or even much outside beyond the few side events for which I have managed to get a ticket. For example, I have not been allocated a ticket to the breakfast meeting at which Justine Greening will be speaking organised by BOND, the UK grouping of development organisations!
On the plane I am working. (Well, I have watched the Disney film, Inside Out, about emotions, the subconscious and even the unconscious; but I like to think I am pursuing my interest in emotional literacy.) Mainly however, I am working on the brief for tomorrow and reading the relevant documents. I invited members of the UK NGO CSW Alliance to let me know what they would like me to bring to the meeting.
Substantive continuing problems for women mentioned: violence against women and girls (VAWG), the plight of women in conflict-ridden countries, including of course refugees, and increasing hugely the numbers of widows against whom there is serious discrimination. Then there is the issue of prostitution – UN agencies even including UN Women – tend to take the view ‘this is work like any other’ and the purchase of (women’s) bodies seems to has become a (male) right. Most women’s organisations in the UK working on the ground and in the field of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) are abolitionists, meaning the selling should be decriminalized but the buying criminalized so as to destroy the market – the demand – helping to undermine the pernicious global sex industry and the whole notion that males are entitled at will, to access women’s bodies.
Others focused on the structural problems: the need both to hear and heed women including the voices of the most marginalised and for this to become a reality mechanisms are needed – at national, regional and international levels. This is part and parcel of the access to and for civil society – ways to speak power to the rulers.
Several focused on the rather ignored issue of the huge demographic shift to aging populations not just in the north but everywhere. “There is a great need for gender disaggregated statistics beyond age 60 and by 5 year cohorts; older people comprise almost 3 generations and those at the lower end have very different circumstance and needs to those at a very good age! Our diversity can only be recognized if it is counted!” – Elizabeth Sclater, Network of Older Women, Europe. Similarly, marital status is not one of the categories normally used in statistical analysis and feminists have fought against it, but without it we cannot count widows or see the impact of early and forced marriage or measure the continuing consequences of divorce. In the same vein there must be data on disabled people. ‘Progress needs to be measured and people need to be held accountable if persons with disabilities are left behind’ – Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDGs via Eleanor Lisney – Sisters of Frida.
“I dream of efficient fact collecting and good decision making systems,” – Sally Spear, WACUNA.
Several commented on the need for reform of the UN and asked why covenants such as International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICECST) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) dealing with economic and political/social rights so important for women, have low status and are not linked in outcome to others such as The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Similarly SCR1325 and following resolutions have inadequate impact – this goes along with very poor and in many parts of the world, reduced funding of women’s organisations essential for development, for enabling those voices to be heard so that grass roots women can share good practice more often and be a powerful force for change.
However, as was urgently and successfully brought into negotiations especially due to civil society activism during the two years leading to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals “the greatest structural challenge to meeting the SDG and equality agenda is the consistent focus on the economic value of things – of people, work and projects.
By perpetuating irrational assumptions about the ‘economic value of things’ and working on an underlying assumption of ‘rationality’, economists, policy advisers, development agencies and decision makers ignore the utility and intrinsic value of actions, options and programmes. Everyone is treated as a commodity that can be bought, sold and replaced at a moment’s notice. It seems that women do not hold their economic value” – Sepi Roshan, Astute Radio.
Finally, many are seriously concerned around the world that the name, Sustainable Development Goals, is being eroded as the UN and its commercial partners seek to spread knowledge of them with ‘Global Goals’. The argument is not to diminish the importance of the spread of knowledge, understanding and the work needed to make them a success, but to insist on the transformational nature of the goals. Advocacy is being led from the Women’s Major Group.
Note – I have included sources for exact quotes. Others contributing to this consultation: Heather Harvey, Eaves Housing; Khatija Barday-Wood, Eiman; Fiona Hodgson, House of Lords; Zarin Hainsworth, NAWO; Sally Spear, WACUNA; Margaret Owen, WPD
Annette 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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