The theme of the just concluded 65th session of the Commission on the Status on Women (CSW65) was on Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence. The event, which took place from 15 to 26 March 2021, was aimed at achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. This is the first time I will be part of a delegation to attend events of the Commission on the Status of Women. And I thank the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) for granting me this platform. I was impressed by the diversity and intersectionality in the nature of the delegation, and I hold the view that it is this intersectional approach at inclusion that afforded someone like me, who is an international student in Canada, to get a chance at being part of the CSW65 delegation.
Generally, some take-aways from the experience illustrate that women’s participation in decision-making processes has been stifled by structural processes that base selection to participate on some privileges; either secured by virtue of specific gender identities, or something given because of socio-economic status. So, participation is not on equal footing across women groups. Another way to labour that point is that women are not equally participating. This has nothing to do with the women themselves, but the decision-making structures in societies that continue to exclude and discriminate against women and certain women identities. That is to say that these structures privilege some women identities over another. It entails a ruling of some influential class with privileged capacities and nothing based on ideals around equality, fairness, human rights, and inclusion of voices of those already furthest behind.
Although progress has been made in some countries, much more is expected to have been made in this 21st century. No country has yet achieved gender equality because women’s rights fought for are increasingly under threat. There is still a lot of resistance in accepting women as leaders. Exclusion of women from negotiating tables is still rampant in many organizations. It is important that women are not just seen and represented at negotiating tables, but also heard. This is necessary because it helps us speak to important societal issues and represent various communities.
A way forward on this is that women participation in decision making processes, whether in politics or the private sector, should be a right, not something given. It further stresses the need to address structural processes in decision making and create enabling mechanisms to tackle systemic barriers that create reserved seats, some visa-like quota, that entitle some groups to participating but invalidate and disqualify others.
In terms of the session that inspired me the most, there are a couple, but I will give it to the first Plenary Session of the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico. The global Generation Equality Forum is a multi-stakeholder assembly for gender equality that is focused on youth and feminist movement. The session was on Women and Transformative Leadership for Generation Equality. Part of what I gleaned from the session is that to achieve gender parity in decision making processes, attention should be accorded to advancing the following recommendations:
- Leadership should not be bureaucratic or governed by a privileged few (oligarchy). Considerations should be given to fairness, equality, and inclusion of voices of the margin.
- Increased funding in political parties to support women. There are socio-economic barriers and familial responsibilities that tend to deter women’s full and effective participation. These consist of part of the structures in societies that continue to exclude perpetuate discriminations against women. The pandemic is, particularly, impacting more significantly on women, the future of work and children’s education. All these put pressures on women leadership and women’s traditional roles in an unsettling way. There is, therefore, a need for state policies that create platforms for women to manage both fronts. Increased funding can help remove pecuniary barriers for women and secure social supports.
- Protection of women going into politics from violence. It is significant to enact laws that facilitate protection from violence and access to justice for women. And it’s not enough to just have these legislations, they should be implemented in protecting women and creating a just world.
- Diverse, inclusive, and intersectional and intergenerational forms of leadership. This stresses the need to include women of different ages, gender identities, social status, and religious inclination in co-leadership platforms.
- Link the gender equality agenda to bigger agenda. To accelerate the progress on gender equality, it is important to link the fight for gender equality to other struggles and bigger agenda on race, tolerance, human security, peace, etc. It is anticipated that this will help us go some lengths in addressing gender inequality.
- Using media to tackle gender stereotypes and violence against women and girls. Women are portrayed in the media as sexist objects whereas men in executive positions. Erroneous stereotyping of women and girls should be discouraged as it spawns violence. Media regulations regarding how women are portrayed should be enforced.
Regarding what I intend to take back to my community and a final ask to policy makers and civil society advocates, it is the view that as much as we want to be the voices for marginalized groups, it is becoming important that these groups are enabled to speak for themselves. In the spirit of collective action and solidarity, we can do better by creating enabling platforms that help disenfranchised groups be their own voices.
The ALT Scholarship Program is funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada and by Mastercard Foundation. It is managed by CBIE in partnership with the Institute of Public Administration of Canada and in collaboration with the African Association of Public Administration and Management and the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration.