Posts from November, 2014

Reflections on “2015 and Beyond”

By Shannon Morrall

I recently attended a Town Hall Conference at the United Nations organized by the Department of Public Information’s NGO Relations (DPI/NGO). This meeting was designed to follow up on the success of the 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference in August entitled “2015 and Beyond: Our Action Agenda.”

The DPI/NGO Conference is one of the largest assembly of NGOs, bringing together over 1,500 representatives from all over the world. This year’s theme was “the role of civil society in the post-2015 development agenda.” As such, the general goal of the conference was to provide a space for civil society to network and share strategies and objectives. To achieve this goal, participating NGOs had the opportunity to attend workshops, participate in discussions, and view exhibits. There were thematic roundtables on sustainable development, human rights, and climate change, and workshops centered on topics such as fostering women’s entrepreneurship, ending violence against children, and survivors struggling to end sex trafficking. Reflecting on this year’s meeting, lead expert on gender equality, Anna Keye, reviewed some of the agreed upon priorities for achieving gender equality. Among these were the guarantee of women’s human rights, including reproductive health rights, and the removal of structural barriers for women’s economic capacities. These topics will continue to be incredibly important throughout the next year, especially in discussions around the Post-2015 development agenda.

Throughout the DPI/NGO conference, NGO representatives collaborated on the Conference Outcome Document, which calls for governments to take action on human rights and to create better systems of accountability. This document included the priorities for gender equality, mentioned above. Once finalized, the Conference Outcome Document was circulated throughout civil society globally, as well as among UN Member States with the goal of impacting the priorities included in the Post-2015 agenda. The next conference will be incredibly important as well, and therefore the DPI/NGO team has already begun planning, taking into account the aspects of this year’s event that attendees felt were most beneficial, like the networking opportunities with other NGOs and discussions around the Post-2015 process. Attendees recommended that the next DPI/NGO meeting next year include workshops on advocacy at the community level. While many details of the next conference are still undecided, it promises to be incredibly valuable, impacting not only the NGOs in attendance, but their partners, supporters and beneficiaries around the world. 

VGIF was among the many NGOs taking part in the DPI/NGO event. Representatives attended meetings on topics such as women and natural resources, women’s and girls’ inclusion in the Post-2015 agenda, and the need to fight multiple levels of inequality. After the event, staff and representatives discussed what they had learned, shared their own thoughts, and discussed how information gained at these meetings may be useful in VGIF’s grantmaking processes. VGIF collaborates with other organizations to discuss important issues and priorities, as well as strategies for bringing the voices of women at the grassroots to the UN. Working together in these spaces allows NGOs and community-based groups to better prepare a united front when entering into negotiations on the Post-2015 development agenda and other important discussions around issues that impact grassroots groups.

The Gender Dimension of Post-Conflict Recovery

By Kristie Manzueta

Vesna Pusic, First Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of European and Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia, in her opening remarks said, “The status of women in a country shows how far a country has come and how much it has left to go.” The meeting, called “Integrated approach to the gender dimension of sustainable development within the context of post-conflict recovery,” highlighted important challenges unique to women during conflict and pre-conflict periods and reflected on progress and setbacks for women around the world since the Millennium Development Goals were developed in 2000.

This meeting was strategically timed, falling on the heels of the anniversary of the binding resolution on women, peace and security, Security Council Resolution 1325, as well as the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Women’s Roles in Post-Conflict Development

While speakers did discuss the many challenges women face pre-conflict and during conflict, the meeting focused primarily on the positive ways in which women can and do contribute to post-conflict recovery. The Executive Director of UN Women, Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of the Republic of Ghana, Ms. Hanna Tetteh, were adamant that the key to full recovery of a country post-conflict is the degree to which women participate.  Women are, after all, often the community members most likely to return home after a period of displacement, to find lost family members, and to start the reconstruction process at the local level. Speakers also noted that since more women survive conflicts than men, they are left with immense responsibility – for household wellness and income generation especially - and are therefore significant stakeholders in post-conflict recovery.

Breaking Down Barriers

Dr. Vuyokazi Feleicity Mahlati, President of the International Women’s Forum South Africa, stated, “We need concrete approaches so that women across the world can work from the bottom up on making their goals a reality.” She added that in countries devastated by conflicts there has to be a middle ground where governments, civil society, and women at the local level all act to improve the situation and do what they can individually to promote the empowerment of women. She emphasized the importance of concrete steps initiated by individuals and civil society - steps that governments can and should support.

Ms. Louise Mushikiwabo, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Republic of Rwanda, and Dr. Vuyokazi Felecity Mahlati, President of the International Women’s Forum South Africa, outlined several suggestions for ways the global community can combat barriers to development in these conflict and post-conflict settings. They are:

Education of both men and women on the recognition of the rights of women before a conflict starts

Access to credit (especially post-conflict) to jump start the rebuilding process after major conflict

Property/Inheritance Law reform and outreach

Leaders who champion girls education

Active participation of women in the political process. When women have a voice in policy decisions, women are more likely to be in favor of projects such as schools and hospitals that benefit local communities.

The most inspiring and interesting part of this meeting was that this influential group of women did not focus on barriers to women’s rights caused by conflict, but rather focused on opportunities for women to play major roles in bringing about societal change. The speakers’ comments supported the idea that if a woman changes her life, she also creates change for her family and for her community.