In 1995, the world gathered in Beijing for the 4th World Conference on Women. Governments from 189 countries engaged with feminist activists to agree on a visionary platform to transform the lives of women and girls and advance gender equality. Despite the profile of that Conference, and government consensus on its resulting platform, many of the commitments made in Beijing remain unfulfilled 26 years later. Much of the progress made is facing intense backlash.
The Generation Equality process, co-led by UN Women and the governments of France and Mexico, was envisioned as a catalytic, “civil society-centred” multi-stakeholder push to advance the unfinished work from Beijing. Moving away from a traditional model aimed at achieving government consensus, Generation Equality convened governments, foundations, civil society, and private sector actors committed to working together to advance gender equality. The commitments taken at the Generation Equality Fora in Mexico City and Paris will shape the direction of global resourcing, advocacy, policy, and programming for the next five years. Feminist activists invested a great deal of time and energy in the lead-up to both the Paris and Mexico meetings. Many are asking “did it deliver?”
Here are four key questions we’re reflecting on:
1) Was the GEF successful?
$40 billion was committed in Paris. This is the largest-ever funding pledge to advance gender equality. Governments, private sector companies, philanthropic foundations, and civil society organizations agreed on a Global Acceleration Plan and made commitments to change laws and policies, increase programming, and flow resources to women’s rights organizations and feminist movements. We heard powerful messages from activists about the need for new ways of working and collective effort to advance gender equality. We also saw barriers within the GEF process—financial, technical, and in some cases, systematic—that marginalized the voices of activists, including women with disabilities, sex workers, and youth. Despite the challenges, leaders did convene and commit as a result of the Generation Equality Forum in July. Whether it will result in the new momentum and transformative change that feminist movements hoped for remains to be seen.
2) Are the commitments made at GEF catalytic?
$40 billion is a big number, and new resources are much needed. However, a key consideration is how, and to whom these funds move. Powerful cases were made for the importance of flexible, multi-year funding reaching women’s rights organizations and feminist movements, something that has not happened to date. It will be important to monitor how much of the $40 billion actually flows to the organizations and movements that make a difference for gender equality.
The commitments made at Generation Equality span resourcing, programming, advocacy, and policy. Catalytic impact requires strong action across all these areas. Effort and coordination will be required to ensure the connections are made between new ways of funding and working and an enabling policy environment that protects and supports women’s rights activists, organizations, and feminist movements.
3) Where will accountability sit?
The process for tracking the commitments—including how much money is actually invested, and where—is still unfinished business. Feminist activists and civil society organizations must play a central role in the Generation Equality accountability framework. This should include, at a minimum, opportunities for feminist activists and civil society organizations to engage with commitment makers to learn more about their commitments, regular reporting on progress, and a mechanism for reflection and analysis on what changed as a result. A monitoring and reporting process that holds commitment makers to account is critical to ensure the transition from talk into action.
4) How did Canada show up at GEF?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s remarks during the opening ceremony and the participation of senior government leaders throughout the Paris Forum sent an important signal about Canada’s commitment to gender equality. Canada backed its messaging with a $180M announcement of funding for women and girls, including $100M to support paid and unpaid care work globally. This makes it the largest national donor to the care economy worldwide. The significance of this commitment is strengthened by the links that both the government and Canadian civil society are making to investments in care work domestically. These connections are important. Canadians have a new understanding of the importance of paid and unpaid care work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Aligning the large domestic investment already announced with the commitment to support paid and unpaid care work internationally helps build synergies and awareness of the local to global dimensions of this issue.
Canada also played a central role in launching the design process for the Global Alliance for Sustainable Movements—a multi-stakeholder group that will advocate for and mobilize new resources for feminist movements. The Equality Fund looks forward to contributing to discussions on the design of a Global Alliance that will support and scale investment in feminist movements globally.
With a national election looming there are concerns that the implementation of Canada’s Generation Equality commitments could be delayed or even sidetracked. This would be a blow to global momentum. Canada’s leadership in this space over the next five years is important. As the Prime Minister noted in Paris “this is a feminist generation and it needs feminist governments to stand with it”.
The early decisions made in follow-up to the Paris Forum will offer indicators to help answer these questions. First, will there be commitments to resource the continued participation of civil society organizations? This will be a key signal that the centring of civil society is genuine and meaningful. CSOs cannot sustain the level of engagement they had leading up to the Paris Forum without financial support. Second, will new money really flow to the feminist funding ecosystem? This is essential to the transformative change so often referenced in Paris, but is not a given. Currently, less than one percent of aid focused on gender equality goes directly to women’s rights organizations and movements. Finally, will priority be given to the development of accountability mechanisms? Strong mechanisms are required to send the message that continued urgency and momentum are required by all to address gender equality gaps.
The Generation Equality Forum highlighted the steps needed to accelerate the pace of change on gender equality. At the Equality Fund, we look forward to working with our networks and partners to fulfill our own commitments. We’ve travelled far since Beijing. Progress has not been as swift as was hoped. However, the energy and vision of feminist activists in Paris making connections, demanding to be heard, calling for a future with rights, justice, and dignity was inspiring. The promise of Generation Equality will only be realized if those voices are heard and remain at the centre of the agenda moving forward.