Take five: “Changing social norms cannot begin without the meaningful participation of women and girls in all forums pertaining to all aspects of their lives”
Date: Monday, September 16, 2019
Author: Anam Abbas
What does it mean to you, as the ambassador, to be a gender champion?
As the EU Gender Champion, I am humbled to take forward the agenda of the EU and the Government of Finland on gender equality and women’s empowerment. I will continue our efforts to place the rights of women and girls at the centre of our work.
For me, the advancement of gender equality and women’s empowerment is possible only in an environment that enables all women and girls to be safe and secure and offers them equal opportunities in all spheres of life. Therefore, as the EU Gender Champion, and beyond that, I will advocate strongly for increasing women’s political and economic empowerment; ending gender-based violence and traditional harmful practices; and lastly, sustaining peace and security through a respect for human rights and the rule of law.
I wish to emphasize that gender equality is not beneficial to women alone but equally to men as well. Gender equality is everyone’s business and everyone’s responsibility. Ultimately everybody wins when gender equality is effectively pursued!
What role can a gender champion play in ensuring that gender equality and women’s empowerment are part of the political and policy dialogue of the Government of Nepal?
Firstly, I wish to recognize that Nepal has taken many steps to address gender inequalities, such as the 2015 Constitution and signing of many international gender-related instruments. However, one of the most fundamental barriers remains the structural discrimination, including the caste system and gender-discriminatory norms. We need a continued dialogue with the government, civil society, academia, private-sector actors and other stakeholders, including those who are discriminated against and excluded.
The discourse on changing social norms cannot begin without the meaningful participation and equal representation of women and girls within all dialogues and discussion forums pertaining to all aspects of life. As the EU Gender Champion, I will take every opportunity to advocate for the inclusion and participation of women at all levels of governance – from the federal to the local.
What are your views on the role of civil society in the new federalized context of Nepal towards advancing gender equality and women’s rights?
Civil society organisations (CSOs) are effective, particularly at the community level. They are one of the key players in programme implementation, advocacy, and linkages with local governments as well as communities. I think the new federal structure is a game changer for providing the right environment for CSOs to flourish. We have been working with a number of CSOs in Nepal through UN-Finnish Cooperation, for example through the UN Women-led Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment (AWEE) programme.
During my field visits I have observed a sense of commitment within local municipalities to address the needs of the public. In particular I also want to cite the work of the deputy mayors, who are mostly women due to the requirement that either the mayor or the deputy be female. Their inclusion into the governance structures is paving the way for the change that we have always wished for.
As a male ally yourself, how can men play a role in changing discriminatory social norms?
As I mentioned earlier, gender equality and inclusive society ultimately fulfil the interest of every individual, women and men. Speaking as a Finn, I believe this is one of the key elements of success in my own country. Finland was the first country in Europe to give women the right to vote and the first in the world to let women stand as candidates for elections. Ever since, Finland has been a forerunner when it comes to women’s rights and gender equality. As I grew up in that society, I understand the value of gender equality and truly believe in it.
Secondly, as an ambassador I have the opportunity to meet and discuss these issues with different stakeholders. I will continue to consistently collaborate with different actors to push the gender equality agendas, both of Finland and of the European Union.
Thirdly, as a man, I may be able to convince individual men and boys by sharing my own experiences, values and beliefs. Hopefully this can help change discriminatory social norms.
What are the priorities for the Government of Finland in advancing gender equality and human rights in Nepal?
Currently, Finland has three key priority sectors in its bilateral cooperation programme with Nepal: water and sanitation, education and gender equality. In all these programmes, Finland emphasizes activities to advance gender equality and human rights. These are cross-cutting themes and apply to all programmes, from basic services to water sanitation, skills and livelihoods, or political empowerment.
Finland funded UN Women Nepal’s 2015-2019 Programme titled Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment. In December 2018, Finland and UN Women renewed their joint commitment to support the implementation of UN Women Nepal’s Country Strategic Note (CSN) for 2018-2022, in an agreement worth 4 million euros (4.4 million dollars, or 514 million Nepalese rupees). The CSN is a framework implemented with the Government of Nepal to realize national priorities and international commitments regarding gender equality and women’s empowerment. It covers the implementation and monitoring of gender-responsive laws, policies and budgets, reforms of social norms, and improved capacities of institutional actors. It includes a particular focus on inclusive governance and leadership, and on women’s economic empowerment.