This opinion piece is part of a broader, week-long MJPS Online series in collaboration with IRSAM’s delegation to the United Nations. Click here for other components of the series. The views expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies, or the Political Science Students’ Association.
The year 2020 marks the 64th session on the Commission on the Status of Women and the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPA). The BDPA is a United Nations (UN) resolution adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women and was designed to coordinate a global commitment to gender equality. As the world celebrates the 25th anniversary of such an influential resolution, the MJPS sat with McGill’s Youth Delegation to 64th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW64) to appraise global progress on gender equality and discuss the critical role of youth in addressing systemic inequality.
The International Relations Students’ Association of McGill (IRSAM) is a student-run, non-governmental organization focused on youth empowerment and advocacy. As one of the only student-run NGOs with consultative status to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, they champion youth perspectives at diplomatic events such as the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). This year, despite interruptions to NGO briefings at CSW64 due to COVID19, the delegation has been working to advance youth-centered policy recommendations on a global scale.
According to Sabrina Gill -a youth delegate and U3 student pursuing a major in International Development, and a double minor in Communications and Field Studies, the biggest challenge to the actualization of gender equality are the global power dynamics that operate in a circular system.
She argues that across almost all societies, male-identifying individuals have occupied positions of power. Those with power can set social, social, economic, and political norms. As a result, she explains it became the norm for men to achieve careers in STEM, take hereditary monarchical power, and make decisions in global affairs. This cycle persists as a patriarchal society will, either consciously or unconsciously, choose and encourage men to exist in positions of power.
Sabrina notes that this cycle is not only pertinent to gender dynamics, but also visible across race, ability, and various other layers of an individual’s identity. The global challenge to the actualization of equality of any kind is breaking the cycle of perpetuating power and institutionalizing equity. According to Sabrina, it is important to consciously create space and opportunities for women to access education, employment, healthcare, and civil liberties. As women take up leadership roles, she argues this will create a snowball effect in the actualization of gender equality.
Eyitayo Kunle-Oladosu – another CSW64 delegate and a U2 Honours History and International Development student, defines gender-based analysis as an analytical tool codified in the UN BDPA, that acknowledges women, men, and non-binary people will experience issues and policies differently. This approach has been widely adopted, as gender -and its intersection with other aspects of an individual’s identity such as race, ability, and economic status, can influence the success of policy interventions. Gender-based analysis also places lived experiences at the forefront of policymaking and urges officials to deliver initiatives that are responsive to real-world issues.
With regards to public health, for example, Eyitayo highlights studies that indicate gender norms around domestic roles, community status, and stigmatization can affect the risk of infection for certain tropical diseases. Such studies also point out that gender norms impact treatment-seeking behavior as well as the level of community support for patients.
Eyitayo also argues gender-based analysis goes beyond advocacy and should be more than another development buzzword. As we devote more resources to gender equality and women’s empowerment- one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, she emphasizes that programming must build efficacy by being inclusive.
Major aspects of this include collecting disaggregated data to quantify how gender intersects with health and economic indicators as well as adopting organizational approaches to address gaps in access to health care, financial capital, and political participation.
According to Iyanu Soyege -a youth delegate and U2 Honours student enrolled in Political Science and African Studies, there is a significant amount of power in allowing our personal and professional experiences to influence our policy development. However, the delegation also acknowledges personal experiences are not representative of all youth and do not stand for the entire group they are aiming to represent.
In the process of developing policy, Iyanu explains the goal was to be informed by the struggles of all youth, in conjunction with acknowledging personal experiences. Iyanu’s policy memo focuses on decriminalizing Black Hair worldwide. The issue of hair discrimination disproportionately affects Black women in the labor force and the educational realm. She explains developing a policy affecting women located at the intersection of marginalized identities (i.e race and gender) required her to situate herself within the issue in order to be well-informed about the complexities associated with discrimination on the basis of hair.
As an individual who has experienced this type of discrimination in various forms, in different parts of the world, Iyanu explains she found value in reflecting on her personal experiences to fully capture the necessity of taking action at the global political level.
As a youth group seeking institutional change in a space with such powerful stakeholders, a question remains around the role of politicians, government representatives, and community leaders, in the actualization of gender equality.
According to Shuchita Das – a youth delegate and a U1 International Development and Psychology student, the power and resources possessed by such stakeholders should be leveraged to make institutional changes to empower women and children. She argues youth should use their platforms to hold these powerful stakeholders accountable. To achieve this, Shuchita points out recommendations must be strategically presented to stakeholders such that it applies to their interests.
For example, in advocating the importance of supporting women near foreign military bases, Shuchita’s policy recommendation highlighted the economic benefits of empowering women. As numerous politicians and governments move to prioritize the economy, she presented the allocation of funding to girls’ education as an economic opportunity to improve livelihood prospects within a community and expand the domestic economy. By doing this, Shuchita argues powerful stakeholders would be more inclined to get involved.
Regardless, community involvement and action from national leaders is critical as the implementation of institutional change requires funding and resources that world leaders can provide.
This opinion piece is part of a broader, week-long MJPS Online series in collaboration with IRSAM’s delegation to the United Nations. Click here for other components of the series. The views expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies, or the Political Science Students’ Association. Questions regarding this series can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Sabrina Gill