I attended the UN Women: The Opportunity of a Generation parliamentary event at the House of Commons today. Given the speakers; UN Under Secretary General (UN Women), Michelle Bachelet, Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, and Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Harriet Harman, my expectation was to leave with a plethora of new insights about the role of UN Women.
The truth is that I took little from the event. Bachelet made no particular impression on me. That said, I absolutely trust her with the not so small task of expanding women’s leadership; enhancing women’s economic empowerment; ending violence against women and girls; bringing women to the centre of the peace and security agenda and focusing national plans and budgets on gender equality. Her achievements prove that she is results-driven and focused on the big picture. My guess is that it’s also therefore that we didn’t witness today that side of the woman who is seen as a superhero. After all what is a quick 1.15hr talk in comparison to the real issues at hand.
As an African, I personally feel it’s of special importance that the inaugural year of UN Women pays attention to the sometimes uneven relationships between women activists. This is crucial because to do work together women campaigners need to be aware of the different backgrounds and ‘herstories’ that they come from as well as the implications of those trajectories. As Bachelet said in relation to another topic, it is necessary to go to the root of the disease. I think it needs highlighting that the aforementioned UN Women goals are not only relevant to women outside of the west. If you look at this video clip, which kicked off today’s event and at the UN Women site of the event host, VSO, it could seem that UN Women is a charity set up to save non-western women from the effects of patriarchy.
For UN Women to truly work, I think the message needs to be that we all suffer from patriarchy, that women everywhere are far from equality.
Don’t you think?