The Generation Equality Forum: Meeting Ambition with Action and Accountability

Women Deliver shares its hopes and expectations for the upcoming Generation Equality Forum in Paris.

By Kathleen Sherwin, Divya Mathew, and Lippi Doshi

A gender equality advocate shares why gender equality matters at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference. Photo credit: Women Deliver.

Over the last 26 years, the world has made tremendous strides in shaping a more gender-equal world. Yet, millions of adolescent girls and women still face barriers to realizing their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and no country has fully met its commitments to gender equality. The COVID-19 pandemic has created new setbacks and widened the gulf for girls and women. The upcoming Generation Equality Forum (GEF) in Paris, a multisector global gathering for gender equality, affords a unique opportunity for advocates and decision-makers to come together to make bigger, bolder commitments to advance gender equality and SRHR — and accelerate progress for all.

The Forum comes at a critical time. Earlier this year, Women Deliver, with Focus 2030, conducted a first-of-its-kind international survey that found that the global public overwhelmingly — 80% on average across the 17 surveyed countries — supports gender equality, and a resounding majority, 65%, is ready for their governments and business leaders to take action to bridge the gender divide and do more to promote gender equality in their country.

The Generation Equality Forum has great promise and offers a unique opportunity for stakeholders across sectors to come together to make lasting and positive change for girls and women, in all their intersecting identities, everywhere. A robust list of target actions has been presented across gender equality issues and thematic areas, and we expect impressive financial, political, and programmatic commitments from key stakeholders to be shared over the coming days. However, for lasting, positive change, these ambitious commitments must be matched with action and accountability, as well as the following recommendations:

  1. We must hold spaces to really listen, reflect, and act for those most marginalized, and support grassroots, youth, LGBTQIA+, Indigenous, disability, racial justice, and women-led organizations who are at the frontlines every day. We need to pay better attention to how different groups have traditionally been marginalized in these conversations and bring them to the front and center of our current collective efforts. Processes must include all girls and women, in all their intersecting identities, inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) identities, race, class, disability, Indigeneity, and other identity factors. As noted in our recent endorsement of the statement: “An Affirmation of Feminist Principles,” we believe strongly that gender equality will not be achieved without the realization of the human rights of all trans, intersex, and nonbinary people. We hope to see diverse voices lifted and amplified at the Forum in Paris.

2. To truly advance the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women and for real advancements for gender equality to be made political statements must be met with appropriate funding, transparent implementation plans, and accountability mechanisms that include civil society. Too often, promises and rhetoric do not translate to real impact. We urge decision makers and advocates to jointly develop a framework to ensure commitments and related progress are tracked, have human capital and financial resources in place, and are supported by a cross-sectoral approach which can live outside of the UN hierarchy. The GEF took a process that is normally siloed and opened it up, and it is crucial that it remains this way. Accountability must include civil society organizations and young people, and cannot sit only with Member States and those with traditional power and financing. We have a collective responsibility to ensure we honor commitments and match words with action. This includes applying gender metrics and frameworks in policies and programs to ensure that we measure progress, learn, and adapt strategies as needed. Additionally, we must develop key policy windows/moments for accountability that are outside of traditional spaces like UNGA and CSW, such as COP and G20 later this year.

3. SRHR, as the bedrock of gender equality, must be recognized as crucial to delivering on the ambition envisioned across all of the Action Coalitions, and broadly, as a key inclusion of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and COVID-19 recovery. Gender is still a key determinant of health, and gender inequality leads to increased health risks for girls and women. Girls and women face many barriers to accessing their essential health services, including sexual and reproductive health services. In COVID-19, this has been further disrupted, putting girls and women at higher risk of death, disease, and disability. We cannot achieve UHC without safeguarding and improving access to sexual and reproductive health, and therefore SRHR must be mainstreamed into the greater UHC and COVID-19 response and recovery conversations. And, as SRHR is inextricably linked to many issues, including climate change and economic justice and rights, and acknowledging and working across linkages, will be important in successfully meeting the goals within the GEF Action Coalitions.

4. We must continue to prioritize and resource the collection, use, and access to disaggregated data that accurately represent the diverse needs of all girls and women, in order to build the evidence base, inform policy change, and ensure accountability. To address deep-seated gender inequities, countries need intersectional data to focus efforts and track progress. This means both generating data that doesn’t exist to capture real challenges and progress and ensuring that existing data is usable and accessible. When the diverse perspectives of girls and women are incorporated into data and evidence collection, and then translated into action, the resulting policies and programs are more effective and their implementation can be more effectively monitored. Advocates, academic and research organizations, civil society organizations, the private sector, donors, and governments should advocate for, collect, analyze, and use gender data to build the case for gender equality.

5. Real — and lasting — progress can only be achieved and sustained with the meaningful engagement and co-leadership of adolescents and young people. Young people ultimately bear the consequences of our action and inaction. This is fundamental to the idea of “generation equality,” which prioritized an intergenerational effort to advance gender equality. Young people also have the highest expectations for more government funding in these areas and on gender equality at large. Our public opinion survey also found that over 94% of young men and women are ready to take personal action to ensure their governments and key leaders prioritize gender equality. We hope that the work started through the GEF Girls Advisory Body, Youth Task Force, and the Young Feminist Manifesto will continue and is centered in ongoing progress on the Action Coalition Blueprints, in accountability, and in continued action. It’s time to follow the lead of young people. Young people want to see more clarity on their role at GEF, a shift away from top-down approaches, and the resources to ensure robust youth engagement and co-leadership. Paris presents us all with an opportunity to demonstrate these recommendations.

6. Progress for gender equality will not be achieved without a multisectoral effort that involves all of society. For example, the private sector is a powerful partner in advancing gender equality, with a unique and critical role both as a catalyst for and role model of change. The private sector can make real progress on equal pay, narrowing the gender gap in the workplace, preventing violence and sexual harassment in the workplace and online, ensuring girls and women are equipped to meet the challenges of tomorrow through access to education and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) opportunities, and improving access to accurate online sexual education and sexual health services. We hope that many more private sector partners are brought into this process.

The GEF provides a real opportunity to see concrete change, but only if we remove silos and make linkages across issue areas; ensure inclusive processes that lift and center marginalized and diverse voices and bring in multi-sector stakeholders; and attach financial and accountability mechanisms to commitments to guide us beyond Paris. Governments, the private sector, civil society, and young people all have a critical role to play in achieving a gender-equal world. By turning words into action and embracing accountability, together, we can drive real and meaningful change for gender equality.

Women Deliver an unwavering advocate for girls and women. We believe that when the world invests in girls and women, everybody wins!