Reflections on the Charter of the United Nations on its 75th Anniversary

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Opinion

Mona Juul is the seventy-fifth President of the Economic and Social Council and Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations.

Inga Rhonda King (left), Permanent Representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Nations and seventy-fourth President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), hands over the gavel to Mona Juul, Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations and newly-elected seventy-fifth President of ECOSOC, at the opening meeting of the 2020 session of ECOSOC. New York, 25 July 2019. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

NEW YORK, Jul 29 2020 (IPS) – This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations, written and signed during a period of great global change. Today, the world is again shifting beneath our feet. Yet, the Charter remains a firm foundation for our joint efforts.


These uncertain times of global disruption shine a light on the interdependences of our world. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the inequality it has exposed, are a global challenge that we must solve through global solutions. These solutions call for more, not less, cooperation across national borders.

Global cooperation is the enduring promise of the Charter of the United Nations. I am honoured to preside over the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), one of the principal organs of the United Nations, at its 75th anniversary.

In January 1946, 18 members gathered for the inaugural meeting of ECOSOC under the leadership of its first President, Sir Ramaswami Mudaliar of India. ECOSOC was vested with a powerful mandate, to promote better living for all ¬¬by fostering international cooperation on economic, social and cultural issues.

The Charter recognizes the value of social and economic development as prerequisites for stability and well-being. In a 1956 speech, Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld said that “while the Security Council exists primarily for settling conflicts […] the Economic and Social Council exists primarily to eliminate the causes of conflicts.”

For me, this is a reminder that sustainable peace and prosperity rely on global solidarity and cooperation.

Today, this unity of purpose to reach those furthest behind first is also the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda is our shared road map to transform the world as we recover better, protect our planet and leave no one behind. With ECOSOC serving as the unifying platform for integration, action, follow-up and review of the SDGs, our promise to eradicate poverty, achieve equality and stop climate change must drive our actions.

ECOSOC has the unique convening power to make this happen. It brings together valuable constituencies such as youth and the private sector to enhance our work and discussions. ECOSOC also remains the gateway for civil society engagement with the United Nations. Civil society has been central to progress on international economic, social and environmental cooperation, from the small but critical number of organizations present in San Francisco when the Charter was signed in 1945, to the 5,000-plus non-governmental organizations with ECOSOC consultative status today.

Wilhelm Munthe Morgenstierne, Ambassador to the United States, member of the delegation from Norway, signing the Charter of the United Nations at the Veterans’ War Memorial Building in San Francisco, United States, on 26 June 1945. Credit: UN Photo/McLain

The Charter also outlines that ECOSOC should promote universal respect and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. While much has shifted in our world, this mandate remains just as important today as in 1945. After all, human rights are a part of the foundation of the United Nations, quite literally. When Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General and fellow Norwegian, laid the cornerstone of United Nations Headquarters at Turtle Bay in October 1949, it contained, together with the Charter, a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human rights have always been a part of the work of ECOSOC. The former United Nations Commission on Human Rights was one of the first functional commissions created within ECOSOC and was charged with drafting the Universal Declaration. Today, ECOSOC remains committed to playing its part to promote all rights: civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

In stark contrast to the 18 men who formed the first meeting of ECOSOC in 1946, I am proud to be the third consecutive female president of ECOSOC and one of five female presidents in its 75-year history. Although slow, this is progress, especially compared to 1945, when out of the 850 international delegates that convened in San Francisco to establish the Charter of the United Nations, only eight were women, and only four of them were signatories to the Charter. Today, the Secretary-General has achieved gender parity in all senior United Nations positions, and the Commission on the Status of Women is perhaps the highest profile part of the work of ECOSOC. The Commission’s annual session is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

ECOSOC must work to place gender equality at the heart of all our work. Women’s rights and gender equality are imperative to a just world. In all my endeavours, I strive to promote and advance these rights with a vision of a more prosperous, peaceful and fair world, for the benefit of women and girls—and men and boys alike.

Before the current crisis, more people around the world were living better lives compared to just a decade ago. More people have access to better health care, decent work and education than ever before. Nevertheless, inequality, climate change and the lasting negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are threatening to undo these gains. While we have technological and financial resources at our disposal, unprecedented changes will be needed to align resources with our sustainable development objectives. The United Nations must remain at the forefront of our collective efforts guided by our commitment to the Charter.

The true test of our success will be whether persons, communities and countries experience improvement in their lives and societies. The United Nations must be of value to people. To our family. To our neighbours. To our friends. Unless we achieve this, our credibility is at stake.

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations, let us remind ourselves of the promise it embodies, to help the world become a more prosperous, just, equitable and peaceful place.

To me, the opening words of the Charter, “WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS”, are a humble and empowering reminder of our capability to overcome current and future challenges. Even in troubling times, there remains great hope in the power of working together. That is the founding spirit of the United Nations—and in this 75th anniversary year, as we face grave and global challenges, it is the spirit we must summon today.

This article was first published by the UN Chronicle on 26 June 2020.

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Coronavirus Hasn´t Slowed Down Ecological Women Farmers in Peru’s Andes Highlands

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Women & Economy

Quechua indigenous farmers from the town of Huasao, in the Andes highlands of Peru, cut insect repellent plants in front of Juana Gallegos' house, while others prepare the biol mixture, a liquid organic fertiliser that they use on their vegetable crops. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Quechua indigenous farmers from the town of Huasao, in the Andes highlands of Peru, cut insect repellent plants in front of Juana Gallegos’ house, while others prepare the biol mixture, a liquid organic fertiliser that they use on their vegetable crops. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

HUASAO, Peru, May 6 2020 (IPS) – It’s eight o’clock in the morning and Pascuala Ninantay is carrying two large containers of water in her wheelbarrow to prepare with neighbouring women farmers 200 litres of organic fertiliser, which will then be distributed to fertilise their crops, in this town in the Andes highlands of Peru.


“We grow healthy, nutritious food without chemicals,” she tells IPS, describing the sustainable agriculture she practices in Huasao, a town of about 1,500 people in Quispicanchi province, 3,300 metres above sea level, in the department of Cuzco in south-central Peru.

It will take them four hours to prepare the “biol”, a liquid fertiliser composed of natural inputs contributed by the local farmers as part of a collective work tradition of the Quechua indigenous people, to which most of the inhabitants of Huasao and neighbouring highlands villages in the area belong.

“Between all of us we bring the different ingredients, but we were short on water so I went to the spring to fill my ‘galoneras’ (multi-gallon containers),” explains Ninantay.

The women, gathered at the home of Juana Gallegos, work in community. While some gather insect repellent plants like nettles and muña (Minthostachys mollis, an Andes highlands plant), others prepare the huge plastic drum where they will make the mixture that includes ash and fresh cattle dung.

They keep working until the container is filled with 200 litres of the fertiliser which, after two months of fermentation in the sealed drum, will be distributed among them equally.

Making organic fertiliser is one of the agro-ecological practices that Ninantay and 15 of her neighbours have adopted to produce food that is both beneficial to health and adapted to climate change.

They are just a few of the almost 700,000 women who, according to official figures, are engaged in agricultural activities in Peru, and who play a key role in the food security and sovereignty of their communities, despite the fact that they do so under unequal conditions because they have less access to land, water management and credit than men.

That is the view of Elena Villanueva, a sociologist with the Flora Tristán Centre for Peruvian Women, a non-governmental organisation that for the past two years has been promoting women’s rights and technical training among small-scale women farmers in Huasao and six other areas of the region, with support from two institutions in Spain’s Basque Country: the Basque Development Cooperation agency and the non-governmental Mugen Gainetik.

“During this time we have seen how much power the 80 women we have supported have gained as a result of their awareness of their rights and their use of agro-ecological techniques. In a context of marked machismo (sexism), they are gaining recognition for their work, which was previously invisible,” she told IPS.

A group of women farmers are ready to head out to the plots they farm on the community lands outside of Huasao, a rural town in Peru's Andes highlands department of Cuzco. They are wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, because they depend on their production for food and income from the sale of the surplus, to cover their household expenses. CREDIT: Nayda Quispe/IPS

A group of women farmers are ready to head out to the plots they farm on the community lands outside of Huasao, a rural town in Peru’s Andes highlands department of Cuzco. They are wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, because they depend on their production for food and income from the sale of the surplus, to cover their household expenses. CREDIT: Nayda Quispe/IPS

This group of women farmers is convinced of the need for nutritious food that does not harm people’s health or nature, and they are happy to do their small part to make that happen.

“We want to have a variety of food constantly available, but taking care of our soil, water, plants, trees and air,” says Ninantay.

“We no longer use chemicals,” says Gallegos. “Thanks to the training we have received, we understood how the soil and our crops had become so dependent on those substances, we thought that only by using them would we have a good yield. But no, with our own fertilisers we grow lettuce, tomatoes, chard, artichokes, radishes and all our big, beautiful, tasty vegetables. Everything is organic.”

Once they were producing their fresh produce using agro-ecological techniques, the women decided to also begin growing their staple crops of potatoes and corn organically. “I see that the plants are happier and the leaves are greener now that I fertilise them naturally,” says Ninantay.

Villanueva says these decisions on what to plant and how to do it contribute to new forms of agricultural production that meet the food needs of the women and their families while also contributing to the sustainable development of their communities.

“With agro-ecology they enrich their knowledge about the resistance of crops to climate change, they carry out integrated management of pests and diseases, and they have tools to improve their production planning,” she explains.

And even more important, “this process raises their self-esteem and strengthens their sense of being productive citizens because they are aware that they are taking care of biodiversity, diversifying their crops and increasing their yields,” she adds.

Thanks to this, these peasant women are obtaining surpluses that they now market.

Three times a week, Ninantay and the other women set up their stall in Huasao’s main square where they sell their products to the local population and to tourists who come in search of local healers, famous for their fortune telling and cures, which draw on traditional rituals and ceremonies.

The agro-ecological women farmers set up their stall three times a week in the main square of the rural municipality of Huasao to sell lettuce, tomatoes, Chinese onions, radish and other fresh produce. They are now marketing their wares in compliance with the health regulations put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic, for which they have received training from the municipal authorities. CREDIT: Nayda Quispe/IPS

The agro-ecological women farmers set up their stall three times a week in the main square of the rural municipality of Huasao to sell lettuce, tomatoes, Chinese onions, radish and other fresh produce. They are now marketing their wares in compliance with the health regulations put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic, for which they have received training from the municipal authorities. CREDIT: Nayda Quispe/IPS

Coronavirus alters local dynamics

However, the measures implemented by the central government on Mar. 15 to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have reduced trade, by not allowing outsiders to visit Huasao, known locally as “the village of the witchdoctors” because of its healers.

But the work in the fields has not stopped; on the contrary, the women are working harder than ever.

“We used to have the income of my husband who worked in the city, but because of the state of emergency he can no longer leave,” says Ninantay. “My fellow women farmers are in the same boat, so we continue to harvest and sell in the square and what we earn goes to buying medicines, masks, bleach and other things for the home.”

Initially, she says, the husbands didn’t want their wives to participate in the project and stay overnight away from home to attend the training workshops. But after they saw the money they were saving on food and the income the women were earning, “they now recognise that our work is important.”

Their husbands, like most Huasao men, do not work in the fields. They work in construction or services in the city of Cuzco, about 20 km away, or migrate seasonally to mining regions in search of a better income.

So the community lands, where each family has usufruct rights on three-hectare plots, were left in the hands of women, even though the title is usually held by the men. With the opportunity offered by the Flora Tristán project, they have increased their harvests and are no longer merely subsistence farmers but earn an income as well.

Despite the pandemic, the women obtained permission from the authorities and received training on the care and prevention measures to be followed in order to market their products under conditions that are safe for them and their customers.

Their stall at the open-air market in the town’s main square is already known for offering healthy food, and on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays they run out of vegetables and other products they offer. They also sell their wares in other fairs and markets.

Their stall in the municipal market is also seen as an alternative to return to more natural foods in the face of the increasing change in eating patterns in rural areas.

“Many people don’t want to eat quinoa or ‘oca’ (Oxalis tuberosa, an Andean tuber), they prefer noodles or rice,” says Ninantay. “Children fill up on sweets and junk food and they are not getting good nutrition, and that’s not right. We have to educate people about healthy eating if we want strong new generations.”

She stresses the importance of people understanding that nature, “Mother Earth”, must be respected.

“We have to recover the wisdom of our ancestors, of our grandmothers, to take care of everything that we need to live,” she warns. “If we do not do this, our grandchildren and their children will not have water to drink, seeds to plant, or food to eat.”

Flora Tristán’s Villanueva announced that the 80 women farmers in the programme would participate in initiatives for the recovery of agricultural and water harvesting practices based on forestation and infiltration ditches, using native trees known as chachacomas (Escallonia resinosa) and queñuas (Polylepis).

The women hope that their experience and knowledge will be extended on a large scale, because although they share with their families, neighbours and relatives what they are learning, they believe that the authorities should help expand these practices.

“We would like not only Huasao, but all of Cuzco to be an agro-ecological region, so that we can help nature and guarantee healthy food for the families of the countryside and the city,” says Gallegos, convinced that if they could do it, everyone can.

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Harness Youth to Change World’s Future

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Conferences, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Gender, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequity, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment, Women & Climate Change

Women bear the brunt of climate change disasters. Credit: Women Deliver

NEW YORK, Mar 31 2020 (IPS) – Vanessa Nakate of Uganda may have been cropped out of a photograph taken at the World Economic Forum, but she along with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg have made the climate crisis centre stage.


Women Deliver Young Leader Jyotir Nisha discusses with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada on how to harness young people to overcome gender inequality and address climate change in a recent wide-ranging interview.

Quesada says key strategies to designing policy to fight climate change require unconventional decision-making to address challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, the fourth industrial revolution, and inequality.

“These are intertwined factors that can hinder development if unattended but, if tackled, they could potentially accelerate progress and wellbeing for all,” he says.

“And, of course, this is a task that young leaders are able to handle and produce the timely answers that are necessary.”

Bringing in her experience in the non-profit sector, Nisha says training girls and women in up-cycling plastic waste to produce handmade goods has assisted them to contribute to their family income and their empowerment in the community. The question is, how can this be broadened.

Quesada says women, in particular young women, are leading the way.

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada. Credit: Women Deliver

“From cooperative seed banks, to early warning networks, from solar engineers to women politicians carving a path of sustainable policymaking. They are at the forefront of forest conservation, sustainable use of resources, and community enhancement, and restoration of landscapes and forest ecosystems,” he says.

However, women’s roles are often underestimated, unrecognised, and unpaid.

“Women and girls with access to technology have already begun developing innovative tools to reduce emissions by targeting sustainable consumption and production practices, including food waste, community waste management, energy efficiency, and sustainable fashion.”

The solutions exist, but much more is needed.

“It takes a whole-of-society approach for collaboration and cooperation on a bigger and enhanced scale.”

The President suggests that the way investments are made could be fundamental to ensure a flow of finance to the communities, including women, and youth. This will, he believes, provide “a stable source of funding for businesses and services that contribute to the solution of social or environmental challenges.”

The impact of this will be partnerships between traditional sources of finance, like international cooperation and development banks, and new partners, like philanthropy, hedge funds, or pension funds.

“And what better than young people giving the thrust that all this requires?”

Nisha says she was pleased to see the massive mobilisation of young people at the inaugural Climate Action Summit last year. The summit had little good news for climate change with concerns raised that the accelerating rise in sea level, melting ice would have on socio-economic development, health, displacement, food security and ecosystems. However, beyond taking to the streets, they also need to hold decision-makers accountable.

“In the last months we have witnessed the irruption of massive mobilisations in different parts of the world, lead mostly by young people. This would seem surprising for a generation that has been accused several times of passivity, indifference, and individualism,” Quesada says. “I truly believe that, as long as these demands are channelled through democratic and pacifist means, they are extremely important to set a bar and a standard of responsibility for us, decision-makers — who are, by the way, more and more often, young people.”

He adds that world leaders owe them explanations of the decisions made.

“We must also have the wisdom to pay attention to these demands and take into account their opinions and proposals to reach agreements that have the legitimacy of consensus-building.”

However, Nisha notes, while campaigns like the Deliver for Good campaign is working across sectors reports at COP25, and the recent World Economic Forum (Davos), “climate change continues to threaten progress made toward gender equality across every measure of development.”

At WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2020 showed that it would take more than a lifetime, 99.5 years in 2019 for gender parity across health, education, work and politics to be achieved.

Quesada says the climate catastrophe “demands that policymakers and practitioners renew commitments to sustainable development — at the heart of which is, and must continue to be, advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, and realising women’s rights as a pre-requisite for sustainable development.”

Costa Rica, he says, has been recognised internationally on two significant areas: the respect of human rights and environmental protection.

“The present Administration has taken these objectives a step further by paying particular attention to women’s rights, inclusion, and diversity, and including them as part of our core policy principles and our everyday practices,” he says. “We expect to increase women’s integration into productive processes and achieve women’s economic empowerment through specific policies linked to our long-term development strategy — the Decarbonization Plan — allowing the transformational changes our society needs.

However, the critical question, Nisha says, is: “What can world leaders and governments do today to ensure young people have a seat at the decision-making table?”

Quesada is confident that young people will be part of the solution.

“The challenges we are facing today are unprecedented precisely because previous generations did not have to face situations such as biodiversity loss, global warming, or the emergence of artificial intelligence and technology. Thus, we need new answers and solutions from Twenty-First Century people, and those should and will be put forward by the youth,” he says.

The importance of youth involvement was recently highlighted too at the meeting of African Leaders for Nutrition in Addis Ababa. African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina said Africa should invest in skills development for the youth so the continent’s entrepreneurs can leverage emerging technologies to transform Africa’s food system to generate new jobs. This is especially urgent as the population on the continent is expected to double to 2.5 billion people in 40 years putting pressure on governments to deliver more food and jobs in addition to better livelihoods.

In a recent interview with IPS International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Director General, Nteranya Sanginga, explained that this change is neither easy or necessarily something all leadership has taken on board.

“Our legacy is starting a programme to change the mindset of the youth in agriculture. Unfortunately (with) our governments that is where you have to go and change mindsets completely. Most probably 90 per cent of our leaders consider agriculture as a social activity basically for them its (seen as a) pain, penury. They proclaim that agriculture is a priority in resolving our problems, but we are not investing in it. We need that mindset completely changed.”

Quesada is unequivocal that this attitude needs to change.

“My advice to world leaders is to have the humility to listen to the people and to allow more inclusive and participatory decision-making. And to the young people, I can only encourage them to own their future, and to act accordingly, with vision, courage, and determination.”

 

COVID-19 in the Time of Insecurity

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Opinion

HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal

AMMAN, Jordan, Mar 26 2020 (IPS) – Humankind has outlived multiple pandemics in the course of world history. The kingdoms and states of Central and Western Europe abolished the institution of serfdom once it had become clear that medieval rule in the aftermath of devastating pestilence would founder without ending the dependency and servitude that characterized the Dark Ages. The vulnerability of entire nations to the risk of total collapse in the absence of widespread access to the most basic healthcare in the Spanish Flu spurred governments to build the public health systems that have made the progress and development of the last hundred years possible. If the past is prologue, then continuity and survival command that we change.


We have more often than not banded together in the face of all kinds of threats. In all its ramifications, COVID-19 threatens to push our social, political and economic structures to the brink. Disease, recession and fright can rapidly overwhelm states and societies. Each coming day will bring increasing challenges that can only be met by caring for the sick, minimizing the impact of shutdowns on lives and livelihoods, securing the delivery of adequate water, food and energy supplies, and racing for a cure. Success – as in an asymmetric conflict – rests on resilience. To contain the socio-political and socio-economic fallout from the crisis, policymaking efforts should center on human dignity and welfare as the bedrock of national and international security.

The most vulnerable members of society in some parts of our world are those on the front lines of the crisis: the doctors, nurses, care-givers, pharmacists, sanitation workers, farmers, supermarket cashiers and truck drivers whose courage, sacrifice and dedication will see us through the next 12 to 18 months of expected lockdowns. In the absence of state support, what will happen to the hundreds of thousands of people who have already been laid off, while millions more face looming hardship as the numbers of layoffs grow? Some will continue to ignore the vulnerable and marginalized, those who have least access to humanitarian assistance, while others will continue to exploit them. The calls for social distancing have grown louder and more frequent over the last couple of days, and as we begin to separate from one other we must remember our humanitarian duty to each another.

Security, far from being individual, is collective and global. The current crisis calls for transcendent thinking between politicians on both sides of the aisle. Grey areas in politics in which zero-sum games and the perverse logic of mutually assured destruction proliferate will not protect and promote human dignity and welfare. Conservatives and reformers must now move beyond the tournaments and arm-twisting of politics. The logic of mutually assured survival cannot accept grey areas. If conflict resolution transcends political beliefs, nationality, ethnicity, gender, and religion, then human dignity and welfare is the benchmark of the humanitarian commitment to life.

Reliable brokers in the management of this crisis and other crises do exist as in the International Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières. Corporate social responsibility requires developing a public platform of health facts so that people-to-people conversations and consultations can be promoted through civil society, the media and educational institutions. We cannot cherry-pick energy and climate change without talking about health or education and human dignity. Migrants and refugees must be an integral part of the national response for halting the spread of the novel coronavirus. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia reports that 55 million people, in West Asia region, require some sort of humanitarian assistance and that the vulnerability of displaced women and girls is especially heightened in a pandemic. Post-conflict insecurity – whether in countries ravaged by war or across the urban centers and countrysides of advanced economies overwhelmed by disease – can only be addressed in the careful terrain mapping of humanitarian access. Yemen, Syria, Gaza and Libya are frighteningly vulnerable to the onslaught of epidemics – what will peace uncover there when the wars end?

Regional insecurity is heightened in the absence of cooperation, but the multilateral system is not at a loss in facing an existential crisis. European solidarity has been sharply damaged by the onset of widespread disease although China is performing through the swift and effective action that has come to the aid of the people and government of Italy. Multilateralism today can only be revisited with a focus on the interdisciplinary priorities of the twenty-first century that include addressing the need for a Law of Peace. We draw humanitarian concessions from the law of war in times of conflict, but have no recourse to legal instruments that can secure the dignity and welfare of all in times of peace.

The current crisis is as much a global health crisis as it is a crisis of the globalization that has come to undermine the foundations of modern society with its rampant inequality and rising injustice and which threatens the very survival of our species with climate change. The planet that we share with other organisms is fragile and prone to crises. A resolution to our predicament will take nothing short of extending the ethic of human solidarity beyond the contours of our immediate response to the outbreak of COVID-19. Real success lies not in the taming of a pathogen or in re-discovering the value of compassion, respect and generosity, but in institutionalizing these values in the days, weeks and months ahead.

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UN Reaches 90:90 Gender Parity in Senior Leadership Transforming Organizational Culture

Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy

Secretary-General António Guterres poses with women who comprise part of the leadership team, including Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed (centre left) and Chef de Cabinet Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti. Credit: United Nations

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 11 2020 (IPS) – The United Nations claims it has reached one of its primary goals relating to women’s rights in the world body: gender parity at senior levels of management and in the highest echelons of the Organization.


Leading the way, besides the UN Secretariat, is UN Women, ‘the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women’, created by the UN General Assembly back in July 2010.

Katja Pehrman, UN Women’s Senior Advisor on Gender Parity and the Focal Point for Women in the UN System, told IPS that 85% of UN Women at senior management (at D1 level or higher) are female.

“Achieving gender parity at the top level is indeed a major accomplishment and takes place for the first time in UN’s history,” she pointed out, as the UN commemorated International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8.

Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, “is truly leading by example, and this achievement comes at an opportune time as we are celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, where the goal of equal representation of women and men was established”.

As the Secretary-General also has made clear, she pointed out, the parity agenda is not merely about numbers but also about transforming the organizational culture. Only that can guarantee sustainable results.

As part of its strong mandate, and through the network of 350 Gender Focal Points, UN-Women helps to guide the UN system on how to build a more inclusive and equal work environment in support of gender parity, she noted.

“This happens through the Enabling Environment Guidelines for the UN system which were published last year and include recommendations on standards of conduct, family-friendly policies, recruitments and flexible working arrangements,” she declared.

Florencia Soto Nino-Martinez, UN Associate Spokesperson, told IPS “We have full parity in (the ranks of) Under Secretaries-General (USGs) and Assistant Secretaries-General (ASGs) in the Secretariat and the Funds and Programmes – 90 men and 90 women”.

“This represents a first step for full gender parity in 2028 at all levels of the UN which remains our basic objectives,” she said.

In the UN hierarchy, the Secretary-General is the chief administrative officer (CAO), followed by the Deputy Secretary-General, Under-Secretaries-General (USGs), Assistant Secretaries-General (ASGs) and Directors (D-1 level and higher).

Guterres told delegates on March 9 that in January this year “we achieved gender parity – 90 women and 90 men – in the ranks of our full-time senior leadership, two years ahead of the target that I set at the start of my tenure, and we have a roadmap for parity at all levels in the coming years”.

Still, he complained that “women in parliaments are still outnumbered three-to-one by men, women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and unpaid care and domestic work remain stubbornly feminized the world over”.

In some areas, he said, progress towards gender equality has stalled or even gone into reverse.

“Some countries have rolled back laws that protect women from violence; others are reducing civic space; still others are pursuing economic and immigration policies that indirectly discriminate against women,” Guterres said.

Outlining some of the steps he plans to take in the future, the Secretary-General said: “I have reminded the entire senior leadership team about the special measures we have in place to advance parity throughout the system”.

If a male candidate is hired in an office or department that has not yet achieved gender parity, and where an equally competent female candidate had been identified, an explanation must be sent to my office detailing the reasoning for the decision prior to final selection being made, he declared.

Ian Richards, President of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS the biggest problem remains the low representation of women in the field.

“Women certainly face greater challenges than men in certain field locations, particularly regarding access to relevant healthcare, and there is a lot the UN can do to improve the field working environment,” he said.

But the Secretary-General’s proposal– now before the General Assembly– to only fire men during downsizing exercises is not the way forward and is legally and ethically dubious, he added.

There needs to be a change in how the field is marketed.

“There are plenty of women in the field making successful careers at every grade yet the overall impression remains that the field is mainly for men.”

He said women in the field need to be held up as role models so that others follow. Human Resources needs to listen to their experiences and understand what the challenges are and how they can be overcome.

Aside from having better diversity on the frontline, said Richards, a key reason to have more women in the field is because those who rise to the top of the UN are more likely to have passed through the field on their way up.

Looking at it from another angle, a surefire way to get better gender equality in the field would be to make it compulsory for all staff who want to get to senior positions to take up at least one prior assignment in the field, with no opt-puts according to gender.

“But it wouldn’t be to the taste of everyone,” declared Richards.

The United Nations-wide Gender Parity Strategy, launched in September 2017, sets targets for equal representation of women and men, with specific commitments leadership and accountability; senior management; recruitment and retention; creating an enabling environment; and field operations.

Maria Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador, only the fourth female to be elected as President of the General Assembly in its 74-year history of overwhelmingly male Presidents. Credit: United Nations

While the UN secretariat and the UN’s affiliated agencies have made progress on gender parity and gender empowerment, the 193 member states have lagged far behind.

In its 74-year history, the General Assembly has elected only four women as presidents – Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969), Sheikha Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa of Bahrain (2006) and Maria Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador (2018)

And that’s four out of 74 Presidents, 70 of whom were men.

The 15-member Security Council’s track record is probably worse because it has continued to elect men as UN Secretaries-General, rubber-stamped by the General Assembly.

And that’s zero out of nine male UN chiefs (Trygve Lie of Norway, Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden, U. Thant of Burma (now Myanmar), Kurt Waldheim of Austria, Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, Kofi Annan of Ghana, Ban Ki-moon of South Korea and, currently, Antonio Guterres of Portugal).

You can find more about the UN’s gender parity strategy at the UN here: https://reform.un.org/content/gender-parity-strategy

A few additional sources of information:

    • • UN Women produced the biennial Secretary-General’s Report on the Improvement in the Status of Women. Available:

https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2019/07/improvement-in-the-status-of-women-in-the-united-nations-system-2019

    • • In 2019 UN Women produced the ‘Enabling environment guidelines for the United Nations system’ in support of the ‘Secretary-General’s system-wide strategy on gender parity’. Available:

https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2019/02/supplementary-guidance-on-the-enabling-environment-guidelines-for-the-united-nations-system

    • • The recent UN resolution A/RES/74/128, ‘Follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and full implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly’, reiterated the political commitment to gender parity, including recognizing the role of UN Women and calling on the UN system to use the Enabling Environment Guidelines (see especially para 30-23). Available:

https://undocs.org/en/A/RES/74/128

    • • The goal of the equitable distribution of positions between men and women at the UN Headquarters was enshrined in the Beijing Platform for Action (see especially 913c). Available:

https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2015/01/beijing-declaration

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Feminists Rewrite Their Realities Across the Global Map

Civil Society, Gender, Global, Headlines

Opinion

Laila Malik is Information, Communication and Media Coordinator, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)

Mar 6 2020 (IPS) – In November 2019, thousands of Chileans took to the streets to perform an anti-rape, anti-femicide choreography organized by a small feminist collective called Las Tesis. The group created the choreographed chant in response to an upswing in violence against women and human rights violations in Chile, where 42 cases of sexual abuse are reportedto the police each day, with only around 25% resulting in judicial rulings.


It is a violence faced by women, trans and non-binary people all over the world. And it often results in complex, inconvenient, expensive and exhausting circumnavigations – or avoidance – of public space, even when the reality is that gender-based violence is just as likely to be committed in private as it is in public.

So when, months after the first Chilean feminist flash mobs, women from Nairobi to Karachi, Maputo to Istanbul and beyond, continue to creatively reclaim their own streets with local grievances and demands, they are collectively rewriting the global map. This rewriting is an example of a Feminist Reality – a way in which feminists take action to create, and re-create spaces and communities to be more equitable and just.

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Roaring together in the face of police brutality and complicity 

“The patriarchal behaviour is deep in our society and no one is doing anything,” says Nzira De Deus from Mozambique’s Fórum Mulher, the network of women’s rights and gender equality organizations that organized Chilean-inspired feminist flashmobs in the cities of Maputo and Beira.

“What we are doing with that song is denouncing the impunity we see in our community. We know who the rapist is but the police is doing nothing, and is in complicity with that situation. We need to continue to spread this kind of campaign, adapting an African version, denouncing not just in words, but also with this kind of thing.”

Coming together to address police impunity was also a powerful experience for Hum Aurtein, a group of womxn and non-binary people who advocate for gender justice who performed the choreography in Karachi.

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“It was electric as we yelled “Yeh police, Yeh nizam, Yeh jagirdar, Yeh sarkar [This police, this system, these feudal land-owners, this government]” as men in a police van watched on and we pointed at them. So there was a sense of collective reclamation,” recalls Atiya Abbas, Hum Aurtein organizer.

When women speak truly they speak subversively — they can’t help it: if you’re underneath, if you’re kept down, you break out, you subvert. We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.

Ursula LeGuin

In Nairobi, members of Maisha Girls’ Safe House decided to take the choreography to three locations in Nairobi where rape and other sexual violations are rampant, in slum areas and around local administration offices. The performance allowed girls and young women survivors of sexual violence to directly confront perpetrators, including agents of law enforcement.

“We did it in our small way and the impact it left was amazing,” says Florence Keah from Maisha Girls’ Safe House. “I can walk in the community and l hear the young children (some of whom were conceived from rape) chanting “And the rapist is you!”’

“We hope the message to the police reached home.”

Meanwhile in Istanbul, several hundred women who gathered to perform the choreography were tear gassed, dispersed and arrested by riot police for insulting state institutions. But a week later, eight Turkish women MPs used their parliamentary immunity to perform the chant in Turkish parliament, while colleagues held up some 20 pictures of the faces of women said to be killed in domestic violence.

Creating and harnessing the power of new feminist words

If there is one thing the global Las Tesis-inspired tsunami has shown, it’s that feminists are infinitely collaborative, creative, and keenly aware of their specific contexts and needs.

In Karachi, Hum Aurtein added a stanza to their chant about class, religion and labour to speak to forced conversions, honour killings and labour-based discrimination and harassment faced by women in Pakistan.

In Mozambique, Fórum Mulher changed the line “It’s the judges!” to “It’s the MPs!” to reflect their discontent with the ongoing impunity of the MP accused of raping a child. Beirut organizers adapted the chant to Arabic, adding new content around media responsibility and sexual harassment, while maintaining the rhyme. One Beirut organizer described participants as “full of rage”, saying, “They will translate it in every way possible, and the flash mob came out as a beautiful means to do so.”

In other instances, feminists have had to adopt entirely new language to adequately express specific gender injustices.

“The word for rape in Urdu is “ismatdari,”” says Abbas, “which links rape to a woman’s honour. That is not what the violence of rape is. Rape happens because rapists commit these acts of dominance and terror – and not for any other reason.”

To shift this mis-association, Hum Aurtein organizers added new lines to their chant, saying, “Hear this, it is rape [adopting the English word]! Not “female honour”!”

“Language is power, and language is responsibility,” reflects Abbas. “One can hope the reproduction of knowledge through language continues to be feminist in its approach and that a generation from now, our efforts to do that will realize meaningful change.”

Indeed, future humans may reap benefit from the courage, creativity and collaboration of today’s global feminists, but the volcanoes have been simmering for generations. Feminists all over the planet are linking with one another, shedding fear and finding untold strength and collective intelligence in community. The new map is already here, and its seismic energy is palpable.

Aurat March (Women’s march) in Pakistan. Credit: Shehzil Malik.

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