Interview with Ms Aparna Mehrotra
Officer-in-Charge, Coordination Division and Focal Point for Women in the UN System, UN Women New York
Can you briefly describe the role of your Coordination Division?
UN Women was given a mandate to lead, promote and coordinate accountability for the work of the UN System as concerns gender equality and the empowerment of women. This governs the work of the Coordination Division. We work to bring greater coherence to the work of the UN system on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Coherence makes our system stronger and the work we do more effective.
How has UN Women, created in 2010, been able to influence gender equality within the UN (internal gender mainstreaming, better programming in working with stakeholders, beneficiaries, etc.)?
First and foremost, the establishment of UN Women has elevated the space that “gender” occupies within the UN system. This is very important. In a hierarchical set up, the occupation of space is determined to a significant extent by the level of its leadership. UN Women is headed by an Under-Secretary-General, whose level gives UN Women an independent and authoritative voice. We are now in places and spaces we were not in before. This strengthens our voices and those of the voiceless, and gives more meaning and dedication to the cause – to make gender equality and empowerment of women and girls a reality.
UN Women continues to support gender mainstreaming throughout the UN system. We have contributed to capacity building with the creation of an introductory e-module on gender equality: ‘I Know Gender’; and guidance on gender mainstreaming in development programming. As UN Women we have supported and driven 75 per cent of UN entities to develop and promulgate gender policies – an increase of over 50 percentage points in about three years.
At the country level, UN Women also supports gender mainstreaming in the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF). There too we have driven more UNDAFs – maybe even doubled the number – since UN Women’s inception in 2010.
Finally, we cannot forget that positive change requires the engagement of men and boys. They must become partners for gender equality. UN Women is assisting the engagement of men and boys everywhere, including in the UN system through its HeforShe campaign launched by the Secretary-General.
Your division has rolled out the UN System-Wide Action Plan on gender equality and women’s empowerment since 2012. What are the results and where do the current challenges lie?
The UN System-Wide Action Plan for gender equality and women’s empowerment, commonly known as the UN SWAP, has effectively created a harmonized and unified framework to both measure and propel progress on work on gender equality by UN entities. It sets common and well-defined standards which all entities must meet and towards which they may aspire. In essence it not only says, annually, where an agency stands but also where it can reach. It monitors 15 indicators clustered into six functional areas – which together essentially cover all the major functions of any institution.
The UN-SWAP gets the system to work on the same track. If you think of it as a train, the different entities of the UN system are like its different wagons - they might be at a different place along the same track, but they are nonetheless on the same track, moving in the same direction and with the mutual aspiration of arriving at the same destination – which in our case is of course gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
Today, what would you consider to be the most critical issues to focus on for gender equality and women’s empowerment?
Realizing gender equality and women’s empowerment is so completely multifaceted that it is very difficult to say which are the most critical. All aspects are important. However, if one had to choose, I would say that elimination of human rights violations against women, and in particular violence against women, which is the most universal and pervasive violation of human rights anywhere, must be the first priority. We have to eliminate this scourge - it undermines human dignity and the realization of the full potential of women and girls. To succeed, all societies need to maintain their dignity and reach their full potential.
Once we restore and preserve this most fundamental aspect of their person, their dignity and productive potential, then we must empower women and girls and ensure conditions that allow them to expand their choices and assert them meaningfully. For this, empowering them economically becomes fundamental. It provides a platform for independence, and it allows women to exercise choices in ways that they otherwise could not. It also allows them the possibility of occupying decision-making positions and expanding their sphere of influence. This too is important for the transformation and betterment of society everywhere. It allows the perspectives of both men and women to be fully represented and, as studies repeatedly show, this leads to better outcomes for women, for men and in fact for all.
So, if I had to choose, I would say that two fundamental pillars of work for gender equality include the imperative to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls – to ensure their potential and humanity is not compromised, and the economic empowerment of women that allows that same potential and humanity to then find full expression, to be realized, valued and rewarded. It also allows for a more just paradigm – a hallmark of value. It is a value proposition towards which everybody and every society must strive. It is a win-win.
Can you tell us what the critical targets in SDGs are relating to gender equality and women’s empowerment?
Agenda 2030 consists of 17 goals and is powerfully imbued with gender perspectives. Goal 5 is a stand-alone goal that deals exclusively with cross-cutting issues of gender equality and the empowerment of women - it basically exhorts the world, societies and institutions to eliminate violence against women, to ensure equality of women in decision making and to economically empower women. In addition, and equally importantly, 11 of the 17 SDGs also have gender equality dimensions imbedded in the goals, indicators and targets. Essentially, therefore, what we have today is a blueprint for the future, which is so far more engendered than any blueprint to date.
From your discussions with our Director and HRS, what suggestions might you have on the role of the Centre in supporting SDGs and gender in terms of capacity building?
The ITCILO has a prodigious mandate, especially in its link with the ILO and the world of decent work, which as you can imagine, must have as a very strong component gender equality and empowerment of women. The Centre, because it is a knowledge hub, and attracts people within and outside the system, serves as an effective platform to generate and disseminate knowledge and awareness of policy and practice with a direct bearing on gender equality and the empowerment of women worldwide. This also requires, however, that the ITCILO itself enhances and expands its own expertise in this very important area. We hope, therefore, that the ITCILO will strengthen and intensify resources dedicated to gender equality expertise. To meet its great potential and capitalize on its standing and outreach, a minimum modicum of expertise in gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are absolutely critical for the ITCILO.
Frankly, you simply cannot implement the SDGs and arrive at a world where no one is left behind - the explicit goal of Agenda 2030 - without incorporating women fully in the process and everywhere, and without making gender equality and the empowerment of women a central focus of any work in which we engage.
How do you view the future, i.e. do you have a positive view of the advancement of women?
I am convinced that there is no choice except to be hopeful. Hope is the foundation of progress; if we lose hope we eliminate the seeds of progress. So yes, I have a very hopeful view of the future. Yes, we all need to do more as so much remains to be done. Yet, it is equally true that we have done more than we ever did before - as a UN system and as an entity mandated to support the achievement of gender equality everywhere and always.
I feel for example that the fact that there was negotiation and agreement on a blueprint as broad, ambitious and visionary as Agenda 2030 is in itself a statement that supports this type of hope. It is both a political and moral imperative, and gender equality is central to it. The world is full of so many problems; we are living in very difficult times. Yet, not only do I believe in hope, I also believe that incorporating and integrating women equally at all levels and everywhere offers the world its best hope. It is just a matter of giving the paradigm of true equality a chance.