Patricia Morris: ‘Bringing grassroots woman and girls’ priorities to global decision-making forums matters’. Photograph: Women Thrive Worldwide
s A Women’s History Month comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on current efforts to change the course of history for women and girls.
What I’ve learned from more than 20 years working in international development is that we must grow and embrace grassroots development led by women. We should actively look for ways to amplify women and girls’ priorities and solutions for development. We should ensure that no discussion or decision happens without their input. And, perhaps most importantly, we should put money and resources behind their priorities and solutions so that they can lead the gender equality movement and propel anti-poverty efforts to the next level.
I’ve always believed that when women come together, there’s no stopping us. At the fourth World Conference on
Women in 1995, this principal felt truer than ever. The energy coming out of Beijing was electric. I felt lucky to be among the thousands of women who excitedly discussed women’s rights and ways to finally achieve gender equality.
For the first time in UN history, it wasn’t just western bureaucrats crafting the conversation and determining the agenda. Women in every corner of the globe were consulted and our priorities were included in the agenda. Women in the most rural villages in the poorest countries were convened to build the
Beijing Platform for Action (pdf), a global women’s agenda that will benefit men and boys as much as women and girls, when it is realised.
Beijing didn’t accomplish all it set out to, though. The necessary political will and funding did not follow. Now, some 20 years later, that collective diversity of women’s voices is needed desperately. Global decision-making circles are still missing grassroots women’s perspectives, priorities, and solutions, and we’re all losing out because of it.
The millennium development goals (MDGs) are a good example of this missed opportunity. Leading to the launch of the MDGs in 2000, a largely white, western-based group came together with the best intentions to address global poverty. The resulting eight goals set a broad agenda for tackling gaps in education, child mortality, maternal health, and more. But as the MDGs came to a close last year, some
62 million girls remained out of school, 830 women were dying each dayfrom preventable causes related to child birth, and 5.9 million children under age five had died that year alone.
one in three women around the world are victims of physical or sexual violence; discrimination against women persists through laws and policies, gender-based stereotypes, social norms, and practices; women around the world earn 24% less than men for the same work; and women constitute only 22% of the world’s parliamentarians.
We’ve made progress in cutting poverty, combating violence, and reducing inequality. But I believe that the statistics might be different – had women and girls’ concerns and ideas been part of establishing the MDGs. Instead of addressing the symptoms of poverty, we might have rooted out its causes.
The process of getting to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) was better. Those who developed the new global goals listened to and engaged with women from developing countries, including those in communities most affected by gender disparities in education, health, and employment.
In part, the SDGs are more inclusive and representative than their predecessors because grassroots women collectively pushed decision-makers to create goals that are community-led and -driven. Civil society organisations ensured that
goal 4: quality education, for example, was based on real-world issues facing teachers, parents, students and community members.
In some ways, the SDGs feel very close to the Beijing Platform for Action. Both inherently understand that gender is integral to health outcomes, education gaps, environmental needs, armed conflict, and just about every other global development challenge. Both were built by a diverse coalition of perspectives, attitudes, and world views. Both have mobilised millions to advance the cause. And, at the foundation of both, is driving out inequality.
Bringing grassroots women and girls’ priorities to global decision-making forums matters and the results are policies and policy priorities that are stronger because they are built by diverse voices and ideas.
As the global community moves to financing the SDGs, my hope is that more resources will go to the grassroots women and advocates who will ensure the new global goals are implemented effectively and who in a real sense will be responsible for their success. The money and the political will must follow. Anything less and we know what will happen because we’ve seen it before. Without women, there will be no development.