Generation Equality: Building a New Normal after COVID-19

Madeleine Brecher, ICJW’s UN Representative to the Committee on the Status of Women in New York, attended a virtual inter-generational discussion, billed as the Beijing +25 Civil Society Town Hall, to discuss building a better future for women and girls.

On 19 October 2020, UN Women held a live-stream 90-minute webinar with polling and Q&A features for dialogue with over 600 women and men from across the globe. The session was held on the side-lines of the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly and was billed as a wake-up call to remember our commitment to act together for the benefit of women and girls. It was fascinating to note how interconnected COVID has allowed us to become even as it caused so many other disastrous challenges.

All of us had joined the call in solidarity to build resilience, build-back better and build-back transformed from COVID-19. UN Women colleagues monitored the chat box and Q&A forum for shareable inputs and it included closed captioning and multilingual interpretation. And I thought it was one of the most exciting interactive sessions I attended in my 16 years representing ICJW at the United Nations

The agenda included reflections from the Deputy Executive Director of UN Women Asa Regner on the high-level Beijing + 25 high level meeting that was held on October 1st with 60 heads of state and 70 ministers. While it is true that there are now more girls in school and there is a lower mortality rate among women, the shift of power to equality between men and women has not happened. Yes, there are more laws on the books re: violence against women and some discriminatory legislation has been removed, but still the political will for implementation and funding is lacking. UN Secretary-General Guterres has set a fine example by working to implement the findings from his report on Security Council Resolution 1325 but member states are falling far behind.

Following a half hour Q&A with civil society, the Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka responded with reflections on people’s comments. Could it be, she said, that the gender issue is losing out to the current focus on racism? Gender must not be seen as slowing other critical global issues. Intersectionality, defined as the interconnected nature of social categorizations, i.e. race, class, and gender, must all be considered when addressing discrimination or disadvantages of any one group. She said the gap must be closed between the UN, government and civil society as we seek a strategic approach. “Perhaps member states would consider a binding convention on ending violence?” she mused.

We heard from Leila Hessini at the Global Fund for Women who oversees its strategic grant-making, movement-strengthening, and advocacy efforts. This important organization provides over $10 million per year in grants to women’s initiatives through a network of 43 women’s funds. She explained what she deemed critical for any initiative to achieve success in finding funders:  interconnected collaboration, technology which offers safe and secure platforms and does not discriminate, strategic actors who will advocate for the issue or initiative, intersectionality, and inter-generational leadership.

Another interactive dialogue followed with excellent questions posed about where to go from here. What challenges do we face today compared to 10-25 years ago? How do we perceive gender justice as it intersects other identities? What power do local organizations hold in advancing gender equality? What are the gaps in the Generation Equality Forum that you would like us to address?

There was overwhelming agreement that including the following concepts in our strategic plan was crucial to achieving the 2030 sustainable development for women and girls: accountability, intersectionality, inclusion, leadership, and money!  For me personally, the success of this virtual discussion with over 600 participants was another remarkable outcome of this town hall.  In the spirit of Beijing + 25, 600 activists were galvanized today to ensure a “new normal” of equality, peace and justice!