By Cecilia Vera Lagomarsino*
This is the sixth in a series of reports on the Vienna UN Conference from January 10-12, 2018, which discussed actions and challenges linked to the Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5) and in the spirit of SDG 17. The Vienna Liaison Office of the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS) organized this Conference co-ordinated by Heather Wokusch. – The Editor
VIENNA (IDN) – Achieving female empowerment is imperative on a global basis, but accomplishing it remains elusive. With a collaborative vision of SDG 5, a recent United Nations Vienna conference explored crosscutting themes and potential synergies among UN organizations, the diplomatic community, civil society, NGOs, academics and business leaders.
As UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed noted in her welcoming message: “Gender inequality affects every one of us — women and men, girls and boys. It is perhaps the most pervasive inequality globally. Tackling it is our shared responsibility, and is fundamental to reaching a more just, peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world for all.”
Since women’s participation in development creates immediate benefits for communities, UN Agencies bear a strong responsibility to implement policies aimed at achieving gender mainstreaming across the board.
To that end, Nicole Shampaine, Chargé d’Affaires a.i. and Acting Permanent Representative, U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna, mentioned the International Gender Champions as an important initiative. This leadership network brings together female and male decision-makers to break down gender barriers, encouraging them to reach firm commitments in areas such as good governance, leadership, accountability, and organizational culture.
Research at Stanford University supplied the basis for the Gender Champions initiative with a three-step model: 1) fix the number of women (achieve parity) 2) fix the institutions (optimize structures) and 3) fix the knowledge (implement gender analysis).
But progress is unacceptably slow. Citing the Global Gender Gap Report, which benchmarks 144 countries on their progress towards gender parity, CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo noted that given the present rate, it will take another 217 years before gender parity is achieved.
The link between gender and economic discrimination is complex, but undisputed is the fact that when more women work, economies grow. Research shows that gender equality in the distribution of economic and financial resources has positive multiplier effects not only for economic growth but also for a range of development goals, including poverty reduction and the welfare of children.
For example, if the employment participation gap and the wage gap between women and men were closed, women would be able to increase their income globally by up to 76 per cent. This is calculated to have a global value of USD 17 trillion.
Women’s economic equality is also good for business. McKinsey estimates that companies with three or more women in senior management score higher in all dimensions of organizational effectiveness.
Before women can reach their full potential, however, they must have control over their own bodies. According to Deputy Secretary-General Mohammed, while SDG 5 includes many dimensions, “Crucial among them is the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls. We are now witnessing an increasingly global movement that is building momentum to speak up against these abuses and violations.”
The UN Vienna conference, therefore, also explored a broad range of issues connected to the topic of Women at Risk. Panelists stated that domestic violence has no borders and is one of the most devastating violations of human rights. Experts shared findings on why violence is gendered in the private sphere and how support shelters can make the difference in preventing violence. The importance of contraception and education of women on reproductive health and rights was highlighted, and strategies against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) were detailed.
The connection between SDG 5, women’s health, and poverty was also emphasized. As a medical professional concluded: “The private is political, the political is economical, and… we have to break this vicious circle.”
The impact of war on women was discussed. Doaa Al Zamel, subject of A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival detailed her harrowing escape from Syria. Jean-Luc Lemahieu of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) connected the refugee crisis to human trafficking, explaining how the Blue Heart Campaign is working to “raise awareness of the plight of victims and to build political support to fight the criminals behind trafficking.” A brigadier general noted that military institutions must be restructured to include the female perspective.
The importance of empowering young people in gender-related topics was emphasized throughout the UN Vienna Conference. To that end, the Regional Academy on the United Nations (RAUN) played a critical role; this international, multi-disciplinary program trains young scholars in issues related to the United Nations and international cooperation. RAUN researchers participated on panels and shared their findings on a variety of topics.
Discrimination against women is systematic and structured, but a full democracy cannot be reached without their equal participation. As Austria’s Ambassador Christine Stix-Hackl concluded, gender equality should not be an SDG, but rather, common sense.
*Cecilia Vera Lagomarsino holds a Master’s degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from the University of Milan, Italy and is currently working for RAUN as a National Coordinator for Austria. During the studying period, she spent one year in Bucharest, Romania with the Erasmus Programme. She also worked at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, at the Information Office of the European Parliament and at the International Office for Migration (IOM). Her areas of expertise are gender equality and international law. [IDN-InDepthNews – 09 February 2018]
Photo: 2017-2018 Graduation students of the Regional Academy on the United Nations (RAUN). Credit: RAUN
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