Achieving Gender Equality and Furthering Women’s Rights by Holding Institutions Accountable

Intersections remains staunchly committed to gender equality and the safety, wellbeing and freedom of women and girls; this is critical to our global peacemaking work. On January 16th, Rachel McCave, Intersections Program and Administrative Associate participated in a lively discussion at NGO CSW on how organizations and individuals can better hold governments, institutions and large multi-national organizations, like the United Nations, accountable in regard to a plethora of women’s issues. We are dedicated to furthering Sustainable Development Goal # 5: Gender Equality. Our work at the United Nations, especially leading up to CSW64, is focused on uplifting women as crucial actors in global peacemaking processes and helping to alleviate the most urgent needs of women and girls around the world.  

Among the panel of experts was H.E. Ambassador Koki Muli Grignon from Kenya who spoke of the importance of the policy process and how it impacts gender equality, stating that “Gender equality is not about sameness (to men), but equal access to resources and opportunities.” She expressed that in addition to gender-responsive legislation and policymaking, there needs to be institutional frameworks that allow for women to participate in these processes and governments to be held accountable through a clear set of standards that ensure women have impactful roles in government and legislative bodies. Ambassador Grignon emphasized the role of civil society participation in national budgeting systems in order to combat the lack of resources and funding allocated to issues relating to women and girls. It is important for women to be political appointees in order to engage in this work and effect change from within.

Dr. Yasmine Ergas, Director of Gender and Public Policy Specialization at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs spoke largely on the current backlash against women’s rights. She emphasized that now is a critical time for civil society organizations to hold institutions accountable in this fight for gender equality as many of the platforms formerly in place have been dismantled and/or their budgets have been reduced due to lack of attention being given to gender-specific issues.

In reference to legislation being passed that restrict women’s bodies, Dr. Ergas shared, “The right to be secure in your body is essential to being everyday citizens in this world and participating in our democracies.”  In order for women to be better citizens and participate in society as a whole, women and girls must first be protected from violence, given opportunities for education and granted access to adequate healthcare – all urgent needs that impact not only women, but families and communities as a result.

Aparna Mehrotra from UN Women stressed the importance of solidarity networks and breaking down large-scale initiatives like the UN Sustainable Development Goals into smaller, more manageable steps in order to track progress when working with such multi-faceted, complex global issues. She also mentioned the need to acknowledge marginalized communities when they reach out for help; it is important to honor their dignity and our collective humanity. Institutions do not need to shy away from emotion when intellectualizing many of the issues that plague communities, but lean into more empathetic, simpler responses to urgent global needs.

Sheila Dallas Katzman, Chair of Cities for CEDAW, shared the importance of balancing perspectives and holding space for the intersectionality of the oppressed in regard to race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. Siloed advocacy can leave out some of the needs of individuals who may experience discrimination on several levels, pertaining to various parts of their identity. The United Nations’ engagement with civil society organizations like Intersections, which is working closely with vulnerable communities to meet some of the world’s most pressing needs, can help build a more robust international cooperative framework for solving these issues through policy, advocacy and hands-on approaches. Governments, institutions and civil society organizations all play a role in how gender-specific issues are handled and resolved around the world.