Photo credit: Emily Miller
By Emily Miller, MAGG student
During my time with the Permanent Mission of Canada, I have had the opportunity to learn more about Canada’s priorities at the UN in Geneva. Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP) places gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as a priority for the government’s foreign policy. This impacts the work I have been involved with since Canada, as a Member State to the Geneva-based UN agencies, has the power to advocate for UN agencies to prioritize gender equality. Within FIAP, one priority is to address sexual and gender-based violence, which has prompted the Canadian Mission to be an advocate for the Prevention and Response to Sexual Abuse, Harassment and Exploitation (PRSEAH) within the UN.
During governing body meetings for different Geneva-based UN agencies, this issue has come up many times. The UN is still trying to address sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment (SEAH) within its own organizations and Member States play an important role in advocating for the organization to continue to implement action plans for PRSEAH. There are other Member States who share this priority, and it has been interesting to see how these Member States coordinate and strategize together to push the work forward.
I think it is important to remember that the people who are part of this advocacy work are also people with diverse life experiences. One moment that will stick with me happened during WHO EB when Member States were discussing PRSEAH and a Member State representative stressed the importance of this work and made reference to the reality that many women in the room, including herself, have been survivors of SEAH. It was a humanizing moment. In reflecting upon this moment, I think of words from Audre Lorde who connects the personal to the political, and emphasizes the importance of our identities and lived experiences, in all diversities, to envision and inform political action.
Another way that Canada advocates for gender equality at the UN is through equal representation. UN Women created an UN-Systemwide Action Plan (UN-SWAP) on gender equality and the empowerment of women that has “enabled gender issues to be mainstreamed systematically and measurably into all major institutional functions of the UN system entities”. Part of this plan includes monitoring the implementation of the performance indicators. To provide insight into how Geneva-based UN agencies are doing with UN-SWAP governance-related indicators, I prepared a report that outlined the progress of each UN agency and highlighted areas where UN agencies lacked improvement over the last couple years. One main takeaway from this report was that many UN agencies are considerably behind in achieving the equal representation of women at all levels of the organization. This means that although an UN agency could have fifty percent of men and women, if you disaggregate this data, you will find that there are disproportionate number of men at the highest level of the organization compared to women. It is critical that there be equal representation across all levels, as this indicator itself can have an impact on the achievement of other indicators.
As a young woman here in Geneva, gender and gender diversity have been on my mind. I have been thinking about how gender and gender diversity impacts multilateralism and global governance and what it would mean and look like to have gender equality in Geneva, for instance. During my time working with the health team at the Mission, I did not notice gender during WHO meetings. But, once I shifted and was working on humanitarian affairs, the gender divide became more stark. For instance, I found myself in a meeting for the International Syrian Support Group and the attendees were mostly men. I had learned about the gender divide among sectors during my studies but to see and experience it at the UN in Geneva was interesting. I remember thinking to myself, I wonder if the outcome of these meetings would be different if more women and gender diverse people were included and represented. I have heard the repeated message of the importance of women in peace and security, since studies show that when women are involved in peace-making, the outcomes are improved.
For international women’s day, the EU delegation hosted an event for interns with the theme “Women in Multilateralism”, where there was a panel with Woman Ambassadors and representatives from UN agencies. These women shared what their experiences have been like as women in the multilateral world. While I quite enjoying listening to what these women had to say, I must confess I was disappointed to look around me and to see disproportionately women interns in the audience. Gender inequality is not just a women’s issue, it impacts everybody, and men need to be involved if we want to have meaningful change. More than that, these conversations of gender have not yet fully evolved to be intersectional and recognize women in all their diversity, including gender diversity and sexual orientation.
As a closing thought, I wanted to share that I am at the Mission during a unique time. Currently, the Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN and Disarmament and the Ambassador to the WTO are all women. This marks the first time women are occupying these positions in Canadian history, which is great progress, but representation is just one component of gender equality and much work remains.