By Giulia Zaratti, Gender Consultant; Nandini Harihareswara, Senior Advisor and Lead Focal Point on Gender Equality; and Samina Anwar, Programme Manager, IncluCity
What is the Generation Equality Forum?
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted more than 25 years ago, in 1995. Promises had previous been made to close the gender gap. However, previous goals have not been complemented by successful implementation, and women worldwide are still facing discrimination in many fields, ranging from economic participation to public leadership, as reiterated by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report 2021.
The Generation Equality Forum (GEF), convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, represents a unique opportunity to change the status quo. Why? Because of its inclusivity and focus on practical results, financing, and bold commitments.
First, the forum gathers not only international organizations, foundations and governments, but also stakeholders that have often been excluded by international treaties and agendas, such as civil society organizations, the private sector and feminist movements. In the words of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, “The Generation Equality Forum marks a positive, historic shift in power and perspective. Together we have mobilized across different sectors of society, from south to north, to become a formidable force, ready to open a new chapter in gender equality”.
Second, the goal of the forum is ambitious, yet concrete and achievable: to catalyze collective actions through strong pledges and drive increased investments. How? The Forum is organized into six Action Coalitions (AC), which represent six categories of pivotal issues to be addressed: (1) Gender-based Violence; (2) Economic Justice and Rights; (3) Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; (4) Feminist Action for Climate Justice; (5) Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality; and (6) Feminist Movements and Leadership. The leaders of the coalitions, after a year of comprehensive negotiations and research, have established a set of actions and tactics that will be implemented in the next 5 years.
The Forum culminated in July in Paris, where the action-oriented agenda proposed by the six ACs was received so favorably that governments, philanthropic organizations, civil society groups, youth organizations and the private sector made commitments worth more than $40 billion to advance the agenda’s operationalization. This pledge demonstrates a major step-change in the path towards women’s empowerment; the lack of dedicated financial resources is commonly recognized as the major reason for slow progress in implementing the Beijing Conference agenda.
UNCDF’s role in and commitments to the Generation Equality Forum
In 2020, UNCDF was chosen as global leader of the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Women’s Economic Justice and Rights (EJR). UNCDF also plays a pivotal role in supporting the work of the Technology and Innovation Action Coalition (T&I). The operational approach of UNCDF is rooted in strengthening local systems, capacities, policies, and institutions to address persistent systemic gender inequalities through technology, innovative forms of financing, technical assistance, and product design. To do so, UNCDF values strong partnerships with international organizations, civil society groups and the private sector organizations, these stakeholders are all members of the GEF. In turn, there is a strong alignment between UNCDF’s mission and the agendas of the EJR and T&I ACs.
As highlighted by UNCDF’s Executive Secretary Preeti Sinha in her remarks provided at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, UNCDF’s vision is to create Equal Economies by working to achieve two sets of commitments: Gender Finance Gap Zero; and Red Tape Zero. Through the first commitment, Gender Finance Gap Zero, UNCDF pledges to narrow the finance gap that contributes to unequal opportunities for women’s advancement across societies and economies. The second commitment, Red Tape Zero, represents UNCDF’s commitment to address the deep-rooted systemic biases as well as market and agency constraints for women that often serve as literal and figurative “red tape” to inclusion and participation.
Moreover, UNCDF is strengthening its programmatic approach and partnership by joining two collective commitments. First, UNCDF has joined the 2X Collaborative, through which we will promote gender lens investing in emerging markets using innovative blended finance solutions and partnerships with capital providers to develop new financing mechanisms to support women-led and gender responsive SMEs. Second, UNCDF joined the Digital Literacy Equity Outcome Fund in partnership with the Government of Finland, UNICEF, and Volta Capital, through which we will continue our work to advance innovative financing as a means to close the gender digital divide.
How do we move from commitments to action?
UNCDF’s unique mandate to bring public and private sector capital to the world’s least developed countries positions us well to support the blueprints of the EJR and T&I Action Coalitions, as well as several collective commitments. You can find highlights of the areas of focus for both Action Coalitions below the graphic.
Now, as we move towards implementation of the agreed Global Acceleration Plan for Action Coalitions, the most urgent next steps for UNCDF are to effectively and robustly connect our assets – innovative financing mechanisms, financing capability, technical expertise, in country presence – to the work of other partners to help realize the ambitions of the Generation Equality Forum in order to catalyze change and accelerate the closing of the gender gap.
Our work will support partners in the emerging and less developed regions around the world in their ambitions to lift millions of women and men out of extreme poverty. Our actions will specifically contribute to addressing discriminatory practices and reducing gender inequalities by promoting women’s economic empowerment. UNCDF aims to support this work by focusing on the following key priorities:
Gender Gap Finance Zero ( UNCDF will specifically contribute towards actions that will increase the volume of financing available for gender equality commitments in target LDCs.
- Serve as the United Nations’ flagship financing agency for the LDCs to co-create innovative financing solutions to overcome the barriers to gender equality
- Leverage UNCDF’s loans, guarantees, grants, blended finance instruments and technical assistance to increase investments in women-led businesses and gender responsive local economic development projects.
- Increase financing for infrastructure and essential services in cities as well as growing urban areas to promote equal economic opportunities and safety for women, youth, slum dwellers, minorities and other marginalized groups.
- Expand dedicated funds such as the WE Fund! and guarantee schemes (e.g. with Bangladesh Bank) in partnership with local partners to increase financing for local women-led SMEs/MSMEs, including those affected by Covid-19.
- Utilize UNCDF’s WEE financing tools including the Women’s Economic Empowerment Index , which integrates gender equality priorities in the investment agenda and helps to identify the most viable investment projects with maximum impact for women.
- Leverage our partnership with 100 Women in Finance (100WF) to support women in the finance industry and expand access to mentorship, leadership resources, and networking for women in Africa through initiatives such as working to provide young women around the world access to mentorship, membership in 100WF and role models of successful female leaders in finance.
- Support digital, transaction history credit scores, crowd funding, peer2peer lending and other forms of non-collateral based lending mechanisms to unlock capital for women-led MSMEs.
- Address the financing challenges holding back the gender digital divide, including women’s digital literacy, phone ownership, internet access and energy access.
Red Tape Zero (addressing the deep-rooted systemic biases as well as market and agency constraints for women that often serve as literal and figurative “red tape”)
- Co-lead of “Reaching Financial Equality for Women” A 10-point Action Plan for Reaching Financial Equality was launched through a partnership between the Better than Cash Alliance, UNCDF, UNSGSA, UN Women, Women’s World Banking, and the World Bank for governments and businesses to rebuild stronger after COVID-19 by prioritizing women’s digital financial inclusion. The associated advocacy campaign featured 20+ CEOs and Ministers committing to one or more of the 10 actions to advance women’s digital financial inclusion.
- Address gender based discriminatory practices and norms, as well as strengthen economic policies, budgets, plans and governance structures by providing technical support to local partners through the use of the comprehensive training course for local governments on WEE.
- Utilize toolbox on WEE financing to support a comprehensive bottom-up approach using gender responsive local economic assessments to promote WEE that cuts across policy and regulatory support and local financing solutions. Measure the inclusiveness of digital economies, especially for women in digital economies through the Inclusive Digital Economy Scorecard in 20+ LDCs and addressing the identified market constraints for gender equality with the help of the Inclusive Digital Economy & Gender Playbook
- Implement with the G7 Partnership for Advancing Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa, policy and advocacy support to increase women’s digital financial inclusion and women’s leadership in the financial sector in 15+ African countries.
Both our Gender Gap Finance Zero and Red Tape Zero commitments will help us make Women Builders of Inclusive Digital Economies in 28 countries as well as build Inclusive Cities by transforming urban areas into spaces of equal opportunities for everyone, especially those who are vulnerable and marginalized.
As Executive Secretary Sinha concluded in her remarks, these commitments will “impact women and their families in the LDCs, allowing them to have equal access, equal agency and equal leadership in their societies and economies.”