The Lack of a Gender Perspective




Civil Society, Gender Equality

By Elsa Marie D’SilvaElizabeth Maloba and Cecilia Barja

Every year, members of the Global Diplomacy Lab host a Night Owl session at the Bled Strategic Forum (BSF) in Slovenia to bring a diverse and practical perspective to the political discussion. This year’s forum in early September focused on the topic of “(Re)Sources of (In)Stability”. Elsa Marie D’SilvaElizabeth Maloba and Cecilia Barja were selected to present an interactive session, “Creating a Resilient and Inclusive Future” which included their experiences from the ground in India, Kenya and Bolivia respectively.

The aim of the session was to highlight how we could add a gender lens to our policy-making and our approaches to solving challenges faced by many countries, especially those in the Global South. In order to have a resilient and inclusive future, it is important to include diverse voices such as those of women and youth, who are not represented at the table in many cases. With growing economic inequalities in many parts of the world, democracies are under threat and resources are strained, thus affecting our ability to address current challenges, such as climate change and migration, effectively. Throughout the session, we tried to show the gender impact of climate change.

In many parts of the world, gender inequality takes numerous forms, ranging from violence that is perpetrated from womb to tomb, skewed birth ratios as in India, limited access to education and healthcare and the lack of women in leadership positions in business and government. This has a direct impact on women’s status in society. It affects, how they are viewed, how their contributions are valued and how they can – or cannot – actively participate in critical decision-making. Women are not only resources that can be counted on, but also agents of stability if provided with the right platform. Yet most often they are left out of the planning process and leadership. By establishing links between such issues, our goal was to help policy-makers to think about these complex problems in a holistic manner and to put “gender on the agenda”.

Some of the case studies we discussed are as follows.

Cecilia Barja, a former mayor in Bolivia, is currently an activist working on citizenship and migration issues. From her varied perspective, she shared the importance of political dialogue for change rather than for votes. Cecilia emphasised the need for nano-politics and transformation achieved by engagement at the micro level for the sustainability of democratic processes. She shared the story of Cirina, an undocumented immigrant from Puebla, Mexico. Cirina grew up in a family of campesinos from the northern hills of Puebla, close to Huauchinango, whose hard work growing coffee beans fed and clothed the entire family for decades. But as a small and independent farmer, her father was ill-prepared to withstand the changing weather conditions and warmer temperatures that killed the family’s crops. They had to leave their farm. Her father and brothers moved to the big city to work in informal jobs, while she had to cross the border as a teenager, looking for a better future. Cirina should be regarded as a climate refugee, but because this is not the case, her human rights are infringed and she has to live in fear and uncertainty every single day.

Elsa Marie D’Silva spoke about her work at Safecity in India where crowd-mapping and data visualisation have the potential to bridge gaps and foster accountability in governance, especially on taboo issues such as sexual violence. The ability to crowdsource anonymous stories helps to bridge the data gap that exists due to the under-reporting of sexual violence. Analysing local-based patterns and trends helps to identify factors that contribute to the violence, but also points to possible solutions. Elsa Marie gave several examples where the information was instrumental in getting the police to change their patrol route and policing, whilst communities rallied around the women to take a stand. One example shared involved a hotspot near a tea stall in an urban slum in Delhi, where men would loiter while drinking their tea and intimidate women and girls with their constant staring. When asked what they wanted to change about their neighbourhood, the young girls said that they would like the staring to stop. Safecity organised an art workshop for them, and they painted the wall with staring eyes and subtle messaging that loosely translates into English as “Look with your hearts and not with your eyes”. It had an instant impact in the community and the staring and loitering stopped, thus allowing the girls to walk comfortably, with no stress, to school, college or work, without fear of being intimidated by these men. Transparency of information enables individuals and communities to hold various stakeholders, including government, accountable in achieving SDG 5 on Gender Equality.

Elizabeth Maloba ventured into the narratives surrounding gender and climate change and the framing of these discussions in ways that further progress or inspire defensive responses. Drawing on ecofeminist theory, she explored narratives of patriarchy and the ways in which both nature and women are treated by a patriarchal society, namely as subjects to be dominated for the good of man. Important feedback received from the audience was similar to A.E. King’s criticism of ecofeminism that by focusing only on gender and the environment ecofeminism fails to take an intersectional approach. The audience made it clear that they would have loved to explore the intersectionality aspect of this dialogue in depth.

Our guest speakers Badria, Lilla and Ivan, youth BSF leaders, shared their perspectives as young people driving change in their communities. Badria spoke about examples from her work in Morocco and Benin, where rural women have been empowered to participate in political processes and to become political leaders, thus playing a part in shaping policies and addressing climate change. Lilla, one of the youth BSF leaders from Hungary, spoke about the role of influencers in climate change, and sparked a heated discussion in the audience on how influencers can generate the right answers or adequate responses that could lead to transformation. She asked if we can really go beyond emotional appeals and discuss the issue based on scientific evidence and data.

Given the lack of data, it felt as though hidden figures were masking the enormity of the gender-equality challenge when it comes to addressing climate change or even migration. It disturbed us to think of how gender mainstreaming is still neglected and why climate change is still often ignored.

Finally, if the information were to be made available in a transparent manner coupled with education, would it make a difference to women’s ability to engage and contribute to climate change adaptation decision-making?

We left with more questions than answers, but we are confident that we got people to think a little more deeply about the issue.


About the authors:

Elsa Marie D’Silva is a social entrepreneur with interests in the fields of social and personal development, peace, aviation and mental health, and she is also the founder of the Red Dot Foundation (Safecity), a platform that crowdsources personal experiences of sexual violence and abuse in public spaces. 

Elizabeth Maloba works in cross-sectoral, trans-professional, multi-stakeholder settings, providing support in problem solving and decision making processes and facilitating learning and the exchange of ideas. 

Cecilia Barja Chamas has vast experience in leading political processes and cross-sector alliances in Latin America and the United States and is continuously working on building relationships between races and religions on issues of common concern such as housing and education. 

Published on December 10, 2019.

Photo credit: Tamino Petelinšek/STA

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