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Time to stand the narratives of division on their head

Kristen Cordell, at the end of her first visit to the CSW, sees little hope for progress without research being taken more seriously, an end to bureaucratic divides, a pooling of resources and real collaboration between NGO's and the UN.
Kristen Cordell
13 March 2009

"Issues of gender equality have international attention and even the possibility of resources- but do we (the UN Interagency and NGO community) have the crucial infrastructure and capacity to manage that? And in the case that we are simply creating that capacity as we go along- are we doing so effectively?"

Going into my first CSW I posed the above questions to myself, it was quite auspicious to think that I might be closer to an answer after two weeks of meetings on a wide variety of subjects effecting women all over the world. I will do my best, to give those findings I did gather, as well as some unexpected lessons learned as well.

Much of my work this week focused on the need for greater data collection and analysis at the UN. This universal goal is applicable to all the priority themes: HIV AIDs, Gender Based Violence and Economic Empowerment. We have in fact reached a crucial turning point where our research has furthered the impact of our advocacy work. The only way to continue to benefit from these gains is institutionalize and build continuity and capacity for research as a priority.  One way I suggested doing this is to engage with key external partners to build such capacity (including the results based initiatives projects.)  Sharing resources for continual research and development will strengthen the knowledge community, and allow all programs to grow in influence.

Another innovative solution I addressed is the GEAR project. However, I was surprised as I met with my colleagues within the UN system how few of them are aware of the exact tenants and goals of the project. I believe this originates from the fact that GEAR has done most of its development within the member state community.  The fact that the UN is a conglomeration of member states, this strategy does make sense, however it alone will not suffice. Should the GEAR project gamer success, it will have to align itself with the relevant UN agencies. I think that there is a bit of nervousness about coming together with the very agencies you want to reform (in some cases make obsolete) but it makes perfect sense. These agencies have the knowledge, resources and best practices that are necessary to creating a new gender apparatus. Without unity on this effort, it will fail.

The problems that divide the UN Gender apparatus (and UN writ large) are continually spilling in to the NGO community as well. This is perhaps even more distressful. Regional and thematic NGOs benefit if they address the issue de jour, and are quickly forgotten when the debate moves on to another hot topic. The competition for what are incredibly limited resources is NGO infighting and competition. Collaboration and coordination remain in short supply. For instance, the secretary generals campaign to UNITE against gender based violence may move us together for this goal- prioritizing those communities that work on the topic- while completely forfeiting relationships with NGOS that focus on other vital subjects. And what about that nexus where the NGO and UN community meet? Well my friends, it doesn't really exist- at least in my short experience- UN meetings and NGO meetings remained separated. In choosing future priority themes I look forward to a discussion of unification of efforts, an issue of desperation, not necessitation.

Having studied various women movements from all over the world, including the Balkans, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and Iraq I have found that advocacy is most successful when common bonds are forged which turn the narratives of division on their head. It has been achieved under the most difficult and violent of circumstances- illustrated through women standing hand in hand with their supposed enemy along dividing lines in their community. Shouldn't we expect no less from ourselves- in the calm and relative ease of the developed world to come together across resource and bureaucratic divides? We should expect more, require more, and act in the process of achieving more. Any less will be our downfall.

 

 

 

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