In the thirteenth episode of the UN in China podcast, UN Resident Coordinator in China Siddharth Chatterjee sits down with Smriti Aryal, Country Representative of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in China, ahead of International Women’s Day.
“Learning is something that I feel is part of my journey...”
— Smriti Aryal, Country Representative of UN Women China
Ms. Aryal, a Nepali national, was the eldest child in a family of three daughters. Growing up in a simple middle-class background, she was instilled at an early age with the belief that she and her sisters could achieve anything in life through hard work and perseverance. As a good student, she also credits her parents, who were both well-educated. After completing secondary education, she was encouraged to follow in her father’s footsteps as an engineer to study chemical engineering in the United States. However there, her time spent first taking up a sociology elective opened her eyes and prompted a shift in major to the social sciences.
While at university, she recalls closely following the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. The Conference, which took place in 1995, saw the participation of former First Lady of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who famously expressed that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights”. Inspired by this and her studies in international development, Ms. Aryal, after graduation, returned to Nepal to join a team undertaking a situational analysis of persons living with HIV. Here, she had close interactions with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. This was followed by a role as a consultant for the United Nations Children’s Fund. Later she joined UN Women, with whom she has served for the past eight years, eventually joining the UN family in China in 2019.
In this episode, Ms. Aryal outlines how the mandate of UN Women, founded in 2010, promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment globally and in China, by supporting intergovernmental bodies, such as the Commission on the Status of Women, in their formulation of policies, global standards and norms, by helping Member States implement these standards through suitable technical and financial support along with partnerships with civil society, and by leading and coordinating the UN’s work on gender equality, promoting accountability through regular monitoring of system-wide progress.
During the conversation, Ms. Aryal highlights UN Women’s work in China to promote the equal participation and leadership of women and girls in all aspects of life. She raises ongoing partnerships, including work with the International Fund for Agricultural Development and relevant government stakeholders on a rural revitalization project in Hunan Province, reaching over 300,000 beneficiaries, which half of them are women and girls. Similar partnerships also include UN Women’s work with the private sector, through involvement with over 400 companies in China on capacity building, development of standards, and other issues following Women’s Economic Empowerment Principles (WEPs). Also discussed is the need to bring in men and boys, as allies and agents of change in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Together with the Resident Coordinator, the two discuss other challenges and opportunities in the years ahead, particularly in the green and digital economy, the urban-rural divide and in transforming traditional gender norms and expectations, as well as UN Women’s work in China to leave no one behind and contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, as part of the UN system in China.
About the Podcast
A podcast series that brings you the stories behind the representatives of the UN family in China hosted by Siddharth Chatterjee, the UN Resident Coordinator in China. Listen to more episodes [here]
Siddharth Chatterjee took office as the United Nations Resident Coordinator in China on 16 January 2021 and is the designated representative of - and reports to - the UN Secretary-General. He presented his letter of credence to the President of China on 14 April 2021. Chatterjee has more than 25 years of experience in international cooperation, sustainable development, humanitarian coordination and peace and security in the United Nations and the Red Cross movement. He has served in many fragile and war-torn countries all over the world. A 3 times TEDx speaker, he is a regular opinion contributor on humanitarian and development issues for a range of journals which includes Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, Reuters, Huffington Post, Forbes, CNN, Al Jazeera, the Guardian and as of late has also published in mainstream Chinese journals. Chatterjee holds a master’s degree in public policy from Princeton University in the United States of America.
Smriti Aryal took office as the Head of UN Women China on 27 July 2019. She is the first Head of the office to China at the representative level, appointed by UN Women. Aryal is a national of Nepal and brings over 22 years of professional experience in international development and humanitarian assistance, which she has acquired at the United Nations and externally.
Prior to arriving in China, Smriti served as the Head of the Office in Myanmar (2018-2019), after holding key leadership roles including as UN Women’s Regional Advisor and UNAIDS Regional advisor between 2008-2017 based out of Bangkok and with UNICEF from 2000-2006.
She has worked with a wide range of stakeholders including regional and national governments, CSOs and the UN over 12 countries and brings a strong background in public policy development, strategic planning, and strategic partnership related to a host of international development issues.
She has authored and published numerous documents as well as served as a peer reviewer in several international conferences and journals. Ms. Aryal holds a master’s degree Master’s in Public Health from University College London, UK, and a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Gender Studies from Oregon State University, USA. She is married to a husband and two children, currently living in Beijing.