Contributing to research on the nature and challenges of gender mainstreaming in international development organisations, this paper focuses on the challenges and opportunities for feminists working as women’s rights and gender equality specialists in the United Nations (UN). From her prior experience as a policy practitioner and a bureaucrat in large international organisations, Rosalind Eyben knows how feminist bureaucrats have difficulties communicating their experiences. Given this, she organised a participatory action research project to provide a safe space for feminists from head offices of multilateral organisations, government aid agencies and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) to reflect upon and improve their practice. This paper presents the accounts of two participants, both from a UN perspective.
The first part is by Joanne Sandler, who analyses the experience of feminists struggling with institutional sexism in the UN, and discusses hopeful pathways to achieve gender equality. She tells the story of the, “unusual confluence of events” that enabled the creation of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), She calls its establishment a victory for women’s rights advocates and a step forward for UN reform; however, she observes the new organisation to be embedded in an unchanged patriarchal and elitist structure. According to her, “That is part of the work that must be taken up by UN Women, with close vigilance from women’s networks worldwide,” which played a fundamental role in calling for its creation.
In the second part, Aruna Rao describes how cross-agency UN Gender Theme Groups (GTGs) worked together through a process of reflexive inquiry to strengthen the gender equality programming of three UN Country Teams – Morocco, Albania and Nepal. Explaining the particular circumstances of each country, she examines: a large Spanish MDG-funded programme in Morocco involving multiple stakeholders; actualising gender equality in Nepal as an outcome in the UN development framework; and working in Albania in a One UN context. She highlights the environment of institutional discrimination, and importance of inter-organisational co-operation between gender equality staff in UN agencies. She recommends an enabling environment for GTGs to organise and develop joint solidarity strategies with government and the women’s movement.
Another paper from this participatory action research project, focusing on international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) can be accessed at: http://www.ids.ac.uk/files/dmfile/Wp396.pdf
Authors: Ines Smyth and Laura Turquet with preface by Rosalind Eyben
Date: July 2012
Title: ‘Strategies of feminist bureaucrats: perspective from International NGOs’
Publisher: Institute of Development Studies
Series: IDS Working Paper 396