Feminist UN Campaign Report Wants UN Chief to Walk the Talk

By J C Suresh

WASHINGTON, D.C. (IDN) — “Talk less, act more …. All words are like feathers in the air,” commented an informant of the Feminist UN Campaign‘s report on UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ commitment to gender equality in his five-year first term.

In fact, key informants reported that staff remain disillusioned with the UN’s “macho culture of impunity,” are profoundly mistrustful of reporting and justice mechanisms in the system and are fearful of retaliation.

Moreover, the closed-door process for the selection of UN Women’s new Executive Director, Sima Sami Bahous, is considered a major misstep on the part of the Secretary-General toward a feminist transformation.

The Campaign hopes that the UN Chief will push for a more comprehensive and progressive agenda during his second term, 2022-2026. It should be an agenda that centralizes intersectionality, defends human rights, takes action on structural and systemic change, and advances gender across the entire UN system

The Campaign’s report on Guterres’ commitment to gender equality in the fifth year of his first term, notes that after measured improvement in 2020, the UN Chief’s grade decreased from a “B” to a “B-” in 2021.

The Feminist UN Campaign drafted a feminist vision for the United Nations in 2016 and has graded the Secretary-General on his performance toward that vision over the last five years. Since 2017, the report card has measured the extent to which the Secretary-General advanced progress on six priority areas for a more gender-equitable U.N. system.

  1. Articulate and Implement a Feminist Leadership Agenda
  2. Ensure Feminist Implementation and Accountability for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  3. Financing for Gender Equality
  4. Parity and Rights Protections
  5. Enable A Feminist Transformation for CSW and UN Women
  6. Promote the Freedom of Information in the U.N. System

“The Feminist UN Report card demonstrates how careful analysis, and collective and thoughtful scrutiny can chart a pathway toward a more feminist UN. The report card plays an important role for civil society, elevating their voices and holding the institution and its leadership to account for meaningful gender equality in its ranks and in its work,” said Sarah Gammage, a report reviewer and Latin America Policy Director at The Nature Conservancy.

This year, the Secretary-General’s performance declined considerably in four of the six priorities laid out by the Campaign: (1) Articulate and Implement a Feminist Leadership Agenda (2) Ensure Feminist Implementation and Accountability for the SDGs (4) Parity and Rights Protections (5) Enable A Feminist Transformation for CSW and UN Women. Meanwhile, there was some improvement in (3) Financing for Gender Equality and (6) Promote the Freedom of Information in the U.N. System.

The Campaign report authors found overarching themes included a lack of systemic accountability, inconsistent transparency with information and access, and a limited understanding or push for intersectionality in gender initiatives.

On ‘Articulating and Implementing a Feminist Leadership Agenda’, the Secretary-General has done well in reiterating the importance of gender. However, his calls are devoid of actionable commitments or accountability beyond the progress toward gender parity. He uses language that prioritized the protection of women, as opposed to their autonomy, participation, and active consultation in the design and implementation of solutions.

Also, references to adolescent girls, LGBTQIA+ rights, disabilities, and harassment were largely missing from the Guterres’ speeches in 2021. The Campaign wants the Secretary-General to sharpen his intersectional feminist analysis and promote an understanding of intersectionality across the UN system, so that it becomes a key consideration in policies, programs and leadership decisions.

The current achievements for the integration of gender across all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015—have been minimal, at best, and implementation and accountability in regard to SDG 5, which focuses specifically on gender equality, has been limited, notes the Campign.

Of the 18 indicators used to gather data on country-level progress toward SDG 5, only two of them have sufficient data to assess progress over time across all countries. The Secretary-General must push member states to accelerate progress to collect the data needed to track all SDG indicators, declares the report.

On the topics of Rights Protections and a Feminist Transformation for CSW (Commission on the Status of Women) and UN Women, there was a concerning lack of accountability and transparency in 2021. Progress stalled on responding to sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse in the UN system.

Guterres’ score increased in Financing for Gender Equality and Freedom of Information due to the application of the gender equality marker system to additional funds and collective efforts to promote access to data, resources and meetings through virtual platforms.

“Our 2021 analysis shows that while Secretary-General Guterres has made progress, a lot more needs to be done to foster a truly transformative, progressive, feminist U.N. system. In his second term, we expect Guterres to implement policies further advancing gender equality, intersectionality and civil society access, and to be an unequivocal advocate for human rights.” said Spogmay Ahmed, Senior Global Policy Advocate at the International Center for Research on Women. [IDN-InDepthNews – 09 March 2022]

Contact: Joe Shaffner, Senior Communications Manager, ICRW: jshaffner@icrw.org

Image credit: ICWR

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This article was produced as a part of the joint media project between The Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group and Soka Gakkai International in Consultative Status with ECOSOC on 09 March 2022.

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