The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) attended the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City in March. HAF’S representative, Mary Sloan, shares her experience below.
Last week I attended the 59th Session of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) as a representative for the High Atlas Foundation (HAF). It marked 20 years since the Beijing Platform, from which a roadmap for gender equality was created. The session focused on the challenges of achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. It also recognized the progress that has been made since Beijing in the social, political, and economic spheres. Girls’ education levels have risen. Female representation in parliaments has increased. Overall, the issue of gender inequality has been raised and brought to the forefront. Yet, challenges remain. What is holding back the implementation of the Beijing platform? Why has economic empowerment not yet been realized? Why is gender-based violence so prevalent? Where are women in the peace-keeping process? These are the key questions that were raised at the session. Together, officials from governments, international organizations like the African Development Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), NGO representatives, and citizens from around the world sought to answer these questions and more.
One thing was clear, opportunities for achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment are a crucial component of the post-2015 development agenda, moving from the Millennium Development goals to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
I attended the session with the purpose of understanding the current challenges to achieving gender equality in the context of women in Morocco and the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA). Undoubtedly, gender equality and women’s empowerment are linked to the advancement of human development. As such, HAF plays an important role in supporting the achievement of gender equality. As a grassroots organization committed to catalyzing development in disadvantaged and vulnerable communities in Morocco, its work is inextricably linked to women’s empowerment. As an organization, HAF empowers women internally, through management and board positions, and through its inclusive work environment. Externally, HAF involves women as key stakeholders in development projects, supports increased participation in education, and enhances the role of women in the agricultural value chain of the High Atlas Agriculture and Artisinal (HA3). In Morocco, progress has been made. Yet the issues of land rights, access to credit, gender-based violence and stereotypes, wage gaps, disparities in education, and access to technology prevent further achievements.
Over the course of a week, I participated in meetings with representatives from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the League of Arab States (LAS), the Arab Women’s Organization (AWO), the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), the UN-NGO Working Group on Women, and many more. In these meetings several points were discussed:
•Women’s role in peace and security
•Eliminating gender-based violence
•Increasing women’s role in agricultural value chains
•Taking economic empowerment from the micro- to the macro-level
•Engaging men and boys in achieving gender equality
•Gender indicators and measuring progress
From these discussions, a few key concepts were highlighted. Collaboration is required. Moving forward requires a multi-sectoral approach, from the top-down and the bottom-up. Governments and civil society must work side-by-side in integrating policies for gender equality. Legislation must complement and support the work of NGOs and citizens to create a path forward. Men and boys should be engaged in the process. Removing social and cultural barriers requires the buy-in of all members of society. When men and boys become actors for gender equality these barriers can be broken.
Looking forward, we must think big. Projects should be scaled-up, more women should become leaders and decision-makers. Organizations should envision moving from the micro- to the macro-level. Furthermore, progress must be measured and measured well. If you don’t measure it, you cannot manage it. Country-year level data should be disaggregated to allow for regional variances and differences between communities. This will assist in creating more targeted solutions. Finally, in the post-2015 agenda, specific funds for advancing gender equality should be set aside from overall development funds. These are the necessary steps to ensuring the empowerment of women in all spheres of life. Empowering a women strengthens her family, her community, and her country.
As a female growing up in America, my experiences with gender inequality do not necessarily mirror the experiences of a woman in Morocco or a girl in Indonesia. Yet, that is the beauty of the CSW; a singular understanding of gender equality is not promoted. Rather, the session is an opportunity for individuals around the world, from different ethnic groups and religious backgrounds, to come together and find solutions for a singular goal: gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Mary Sloan is currently a graduate student specializing in Middle East Development Policy at North Carolina State University.