She Leads: Gender Equality

Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi: 00:01 Hello and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World. Where in 15 minutes, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it.

My name is Lama Alsafi host of this podcast. In the world’s poorest communities. Women and girls bear the brunt of poverty. At CARE we believe in bringing people together to end inequality. That’s why we’re making the month of March for women. As part of our #March4Women series, we’ll be talking to four different women across industries with different areas of expertise to learn more about the challenges being faced by women and girls around the world and what you, our listeners can do to make a difference.

In this episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World. We’re speaking with Emily Wiseman, CARE Canada’s Senior Gender Advisor. Emily joins us remotely today from Ottawa. Welcome Emily, and thank you so much for chatting with us today.

Emily Wiseman: 01:19 Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here today.

Lama Alsafi: 01:22 Emily, tell us a bit more about your background and how you came to specialize in gender and development.

Emily Wiseman: 01:27 For as long as I can remember, I’ve really been passionate about gender equality and international development. And when I was in university, I realized that I could combine both of these passions into a wonderful and meaningful career. So this is how I tended to specialize my studies. And then after university, I was really fortunate to find an internship and later employment working for an NGO that was working on gender and climate change. Which really highlighted how women are more likely to be negatively impacted from the effects of climate change around the world. Working on this campaign, it was really eye-opening for me.

And so from here I went on to do further studies in this area and I even got a PhD on Gender Policy and Programming. And then after bouncing around from the United Nations to government and other NGOs, I was really fortunate that about a year or so ago, I landed at CARE as the Senior Gender Advisor here in Ottawa. And so I’m really fortunate because here at CARE Canada I get to work on a number of incredible projects and programming related to women’s equal rights, promoting women’s leadership and decision-making in emergencies and advancing women’s economic empowerment and health.

Lama Alsafi: 02:39 One of the projects that you’ve been working on is the CSW64 conference.

Emily Wiseman: 02:44 Yes, I was working on supporting a group of incredible refugee women, who had formed an organization called Girl to increase the participation of refugee women in, decision-making refugee forums because sadly not only has there been an absence of refugees represented in major decision making bodies, but especially a lack of representation of women. So, um, I was asked to go to sort of help support them, um, as they launched this organization and begin their journey.

Lama Alsafi: 03:17 For those of us who may not have heard of it before. Can you explain what CSW64 is?

Emily Wiseman 03:22 Absolutely. CSW stands for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The number 64 stands for the year, um, the number of years that the commission has been meeting. And so the CSW is the main global policy-making body dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment and advancement of women. It’s an instrument that is used globally for promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women. It meets once a year at the UN headquarters in New York City. So we were supposed to meet every year in the first two weeks of March. Um, and what’s really cool about it is that it creates a time for Member States like Canada to come together, uh, with other Members States as well as civil society organizations to draft what we always hope will be a progressive policy statement on women’s rights and gender equality. Um, and what I like most about it is that it’s, um, an opportunity as well for us to come together to advocate as civil society to pressure, governments and to push for more advancement on gender equality and hopefully hold our governments accountable when they have missed the mark or not followed through on their promises.

Lama Alsafi: 04:42 Right. And this year’s conference was meant to mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform For Action. Can you tell us a bit more about this agreement and why this anniversary is so important?

Emily Wiseman: 04:53 Yeah, so the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted 25 years ago this September. So in 1995, at the fourth world conference on women in Beijing. When it was adopted, it was viewed as a really a landmark progressive document for gender equality and women’s rights. And it was viewed as a, a strong defining framework for change. Um, it made a number of commitments in 12 critical areas of concern, including, but not limited to women in the environment, decision-making, poverty, the economy, human rights of women specifically, and violence against women. And the document really pushes this progressive vision of a world where all women and girls can exercise choice, can realize their rights. It can live in a world where their opinions are valued and heard live free from violence, go to school, participate in decisions, and to earn equal pay for equal work. So really just those fundamental rights that all individuals should enjoy regardless of their gender.

So now 25 years later, this document is still viewed as a really strong, powerful force of guidance and inspiration. Um, but we haven’t seen as much progress on its implementation as one would hope. So every five years there is a review and appraisal of the progress made on the platform. Um, and this five year review this year was to take place at the CSW. Yeah, so unfortunately with the suspension of the CSW this year, that didn’t really happen in the way we had hoped. The session in New York this year was to include an assessment of current challenges that affect the implementation of the platform and its achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women. And we were going to look at how, how we were doing, as I said, against benchmarks, like the Sustainable Development Goals. And so we’d really hoped that we would have made more progress on its implementation, but we have really not seen, as I said, the progress that we would’ve liked to have made. And, and the outcome documents from, from the CSW, um, really reflect this. And so the resolution that was adopted this year at the CSW in a one day session was made, was adopted without the participation of civil society. Um, and it really lacked some key points that we at CARE Canada were hoping to see. We were hoping that this year we would see some acknowledgement, um, from Member States of the UN around women’s leadership and emergencies.

And in particular in humanitarian settings, we were hoping to see some references to an acknowledgement of the tremendous impact of climate change on gender equality and women’s rights. And we were really hoping to see more language around women’s rights more broadly, which unfortunately was really lacking from the document.

Lama Alsafi: 07:46 So Emily, what have been some of the challenges in implementing the Beijing Declaration?

Emily Wiseman: 07:51 Oh, there have been many. Each country is supposed to have a national action plan for implementation. Um, but uh, not every country has moved forward with this or have not always funded these plans. We’ve seen a lot of changes in the world, especially in the last five years. Um, some backward momentum on gender equality, um, from governments in terms of pay legislation or protecting the rights of women to not face violence from their spouses. Um, we’ve really just seen a backslide in a number of places on, on core elements of women’s rights and gender equality and we’ve also seen a lot of attacks on women’s rights organizations and women’s rights activists.

Lama Alsafi: 08:39 Well, Emily, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the CSW64 conference was canceled. Just wondering what steps do you think the NGO community could take to ensure that the outcomes of CSW64 are still achieved?

Emily Wiseman: 08:53 So a lot of things have happened, once it became clear that CSW might be postponed or in fact even canceled as a result of the COVID-19 virus, women’s rights organizations really sprang into action and civil society more broadly. There was a real strong determination to make sure that this crucial rallying point around advancing gender equality and women’s rights was not lost. And so immediately a group of organizations, uh, started putting together a political statement in response to the political statement that came from the United Nations.

So the women’s rights caucus, which is a global coalition of over 200 organizations that are working to advance women’s human rights, internationally, regionally, nationally, and locally. Drafted a feminist declaration on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the fourth world conference on women and that’s been circulated to, NGOs all over the world for signature. And the hope is that with this really progressive document, that we can push Member States of the United Nations and around the world to perhaps, uh, be more reflective and considerate and maybe make a more progressive statement in the future around gender equality and women’s rights and hopefully slow this back sliding that we’re seeing on women’s rights and actually reverse it and really start to push forward, and be more encompassing of, of all women and all of our rights

Lama Alsafi: 10:23 Considering that the conference isn’t moving forward this year. And considering all that’s happening right now with the, with the coronavirus outbreak with COVID-19, do you think it’s, do you think it’s still important to have these conversations around gender empowerment and equality?

Emily Wiseman: 10:37 Oh, Absolutely. We all understood that it was necessary to postpone this meeting for public health reasons. And it comes as at a time where civil society and organizations and individuals all around the world are really feeling a need to coalesce and push against the forces that would like us to move backward on gender equality and women’s rights. The world over, we’re seeing the forces against gender equality become stronger in 2020. The Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum found that it’s going to take another 99.5 years to reach gender equality globally across education, health, politics, and all forms of economic participation if we remain at this current state.

And even with the emergence of the COVID-19 virus, there’s been a lot of conversations around women’s unpaid, care work that there’ll be doing to care for sick loved ones, concerns around domestic violence with people having to self isolate. So there’s a lot of gender dimensions to the COVID-19 outbreak as well that we need to consider. So really the virus is highlighting why gender equality is even more important to, to look at. It’s important that we, in this time where we are becoming a bit more isolated as a result of borders being closed and flights being canceled that, you know, even though we are working from home, that we are not working in isolation, that we are continuing to support each other and support spaces for mobilization support spaces for women’s rights and, and to advocate because we really can’t slow down and we really can’t, take a step backward, we really need to keep pushing forward.

Lama Alsafi: 12:23 Emily, how can someone who’s listening at home right now or in their car take action? What are some simple steps, some simple things that they can do to make a difference in the lives of women and girls around the world?

Emily Wiseman 12:33 There’s lots of different ways for people to become actively involved. CARE has programming all over the world that is active on advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. We have programming and health, women’s health rights, women’s economic empowerment, food systems and resilience, climate change as well as emergency settings. So whatever your passion, whatever your interest, we have lots of programming that we’re doing and there’s a lot of information on our website, about these issues. If people want to learn more or perhaps make a donation or to see how they could become involved.

I would also suggest that individuals can consider taking an active stance by participating in CARE’s #March4Women campaign. We can still virtually, come together. You can sign a petition or you can write to your member of parliament. There’s lots of different ways. Often I think, you know, living in Canada, we have documents like the Feminist International Assistance Policy and it’s safe for us to go out in the streets under ordinary circumstances for International Women’s Day marches. This really isn’t the case in a lot of places in the world. So we need to kind of, as Canadians remember that not everyone has this ability. Not everyone has this right. And so as a global community, it’s important that even in these times that are rather uncertain that we come together and really advocate and look out for each other.

Lama Alsafi: 14:02 Well, Emily, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.

Emily Wiseman: 14:06 Thank you so much for having me.

Lama Alsafi: 14:07 And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. Stay tuned for the next episode in our #March4Women series to be released next week on Spotify and iTunes.