AC6 Action 3: Advance gender parity in decision-making and leadership
To better understand how to advance gender parity in decision-making and leadership, we must ensure a culturally appropriate lens. While Western countries’ general understanding of leadership is on a professional setup, we must be informed that this is not the case for many women across the globe. An article by Cătălina Radu highlighted that for many women, ‘leadership’ is not about a paid, authoritative role, but it is about being able to be respected as members of society and afforded the same dignity and autonomy as men.
When asked what progress for women’s human rights would look like in 10 years, respondents highlighted the need to change decision-making and leadership as key solutions to advancing women’s rights.
In one example, a woman from Kitwe, Zambia identified ’Economic and Workers’ Rights’ as a major issue affecting her and the barrier to advocating for this issue as ‘political’. Women’s human rights for her meant something very simple: “Equal representation in parliament.” According to a WomenDeliver report in 2017, only 31 countries in the world had 30% or more women ministers and roughly 23.8% of parliamentarians globally were women in 2018. This woman’s call for equal representation in parliament speaks directly to sub action three under Feminist Movement and Leadership which notes the need for policies and laws in place to advance gender parity, including gender representation. Furthermore, as she selected ‘political’ as the biggest barrier to tackling economic issues, this shows how important political representation is, as for her it impacts wider issues.
Another woman from Zambia had different views on what women’s human rights meant to her. She wanted “Equal top position jobs for both men and women qualifying for the job. A world where women take on jobs and careers known to be manly, I want to see more women engineers, pilots, politicians, surgeons, sports personalities etc.” Leadership for this woman meant challenging social stereotypes, being able to do what society had dictated she was not capable of doing. This points to the need for actions on leadership to not only focus on quotas or numbers but to challenge cultural understandings of who can lead and to ensure women have the tools to become leaders in whatever sector they choose to go into.
In another example, a woman from Harare, Zimbabwe picked ‘Ending Violence, Harassment and Abuse’ as a critical issue and ‘cultural/social’ as the major barrier. Responding to the question, ‘What does progress for women’s human rights look like in 10 years?’, she responded: “A woman is an independent, respected unit of society who has the right to control her own body, has the right to vote in all spheres, equal to a man, and is also protected by the state from violence (both moral and physical) and insults associated with her gender.” Leadership for this woman meant to be able to uphold her dignity, to be respected by the society and accepted for who she was. To truly say we have advanced gender parity means this woman is able to live with dignity in her community.
AC6 action 3 intends to challenge existing norms by addressing harmful stereotypes and gender norms to ensure decision-making power and leadership for feminist activists, organisations, and movements. In order to support culturally relevant change, we must ensure motivations are bespoke to the societies in which the solutions are applied. What is acceptable in one society may be interpreted as an ‘abomination’ in the other. This is evidenced on LGBTQIA+ and abortions rights; in some countries like Sweden, abortion and same sex marriages are legal, while in some countries, like Egypt, both can be punishable by death sentence. This is why grassroots and community-based solutions are important as they hold the best knowledge about culturally appropriate solutions.
AC6 action 3 has a mammoth task in changing norms and challenging harmful cultural practices. Culture is an ever-evolving conversation, with particular challenges coming from generational gaps. The GC can be impactful by providing insight into the ever-evolving conversation. Young people have been leading the way in changing harmful socio-cultural ideologies such as ending child marriages and female genital mutilation. In the next section, we will demonstrate the need to support adolescent and youth movements so that they can strengthen advocacy on such issues.