What has your gender and development work focussed on?
Over the last 15 years I have been working on gender equality and human rights issues across the world. Early in my career I had the terrific opportunity to work as an advisor to Elizabeth Broderick in her role as Sex Discrimination Commission at the Australian Human Rights Commission. Following that I did my Masters in Gender and Human Rights at the London School of Political Science and Economics, worked in the UK on violence against women, and then at the OECD leading the gender and research team developing the global Social Institutions and Gender Index which measured discrimination against women across 120 countries.
I then moved to UN Women where I had the opportunity lead UN Women’s engagement in defining the SDGs. It was a dynamic and fascinating process! The level of participation from diverse stakeholders was so exciting, and it was fantastic to work with the Women’s Major Group and other coalitions of women’s organizations. While we were all fairly happy with the outcome, the real test is now of course the implementation of the agenda in a truly integrated manner rather than cherry-picking what suits, particularly in these challenging times. I was involved in developing the first SDG monitoring report from a gender perspective which tracked progress on all 17 goals, with a focus on gender equality and leaving no one behind.
Where have you seen the most impact from your work?
With research and policy work, the impact is seeing new ideas or concepts being taken up. For me, this has happened in different ways depending on where I have worked. At the Australian Human Rights Commission, it was influencing the conversation about women’s dire retirement savings, and the limits of the contributory system that is linked to paid work. In the UK, it was shifting the focus on eliminating violence against women from responding through services and the criminal justice system to preventing violence before it happens through social norm change. At the OECD, the impact was influencing governments to focus on measuring underlying discrimination against women, for example, discrimination in the family, both as a violation of human rights but also as a driver of poor development outcomes. At UN Women, there was a direct influence of Member States positions around the SDGs, but also influencing global debates to focus more on transforming social, political and economic structures to achieve gender equality, rather than tinkering at the edges of change.
What do you see as some of the big challenges for gender and development?
From a global perspective, there has been important progress on gender equality, for example around girls’ education and increasing women’s access to contraception. However, when we look at the pace of change overall on nearly all economic and social indicators, it has been either slow, where we have even seen regressions in some areas. Women are still concentrated in the more insecure and vulnerable forms of work, the gender pay gap persists, violence against women is pervasive, and women remain significantly under-represented in decision making. Countries have made progressive commitments and on one hand the visibility of gender equality as a priority has never been higher.
However, our systems and policies have been working at cross-purposes to our commitments to gender equality. Simply increasing women’s participation or adding a gender-perspective to existing structures and policy frameworks hasn’t really worked. Women’s increasing labour force participation has not shifted the overall structure of our economies which continue to rely on women’s unpaid care and domestic work to function. At the same time, wealth and resources have become concentrated in the hands of a few, while resources for essential services that are critical for gender equality have diminished. We can see the same in politics, where efforts to increase women’s participation has occurred alongside as the erosion of democratic institutions necessary to advance gender equality. We need policy change to lead to a transformation of systems that work to achieve gender equality, not undermine it.
What are you working on next?
I’m interested in the way in which we can design policies to implement the SDGs in an integrated manner with a focus on intersectionality across the economic, social and environmental dimensions. The 2030 Agenda articulates a vision for a just transition which is about moving to a more sustainable economy while eradicating poverty, ensuring decent work and leaving no one behind. From a gender perspective, this is about bringing together different strands of feminist research and thinking around economy, ecology, social policy and politics to define a set of principles that can inform policies to ensure that policies and systems work in tandem towards our stated goals, rather than working at cross-purposes.
The challenges presented by COVID makes this even more important. We can see huge policy decisions being made to stimulate job creation with significant gender impacts that too often neglected. Even when decisions are focussed on environmental sustainability, for example through announcements of ‘green jobs’, there is very little consideration of the social or gender impacts. There is also huge potential to learn from the important work of feminist civil society organizations as they are increasingly working across silos, striving not only to advance women’s and girls’ human rights but seeing these rights as inextricable from ending other forms of economic, social and environmental injustice. I’m looking forward to delving into these issues in detail through the gender equality and just transitions project at the IGD.