Feminism and “Constructive Impatience”: The Mood for Change, for a Change

International Women’s Day is done and gone for the year. But Women’s History Month marches forward into its twilight days until the 2018 version comes around, one of further change, but the issues, concerns, and obligations arise year-round. Also, here’s a bad segue:

What a Wonderful World’ was a great song by Louis Armstrong – 26,000,000+ views, wow. Anyway, this song – lyrics and tune – were running through my mind when I came across a phrase recently by the executive director of United Nations Women (UN Women). I thought, “What a wonderful saying.”

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the UN Women under-secretary-general and the executive director of UN Women. She made a statement at the 61st Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61). I loved it. Mlambo-Ngcuka called this “constructive impatience.” I’ll explain in a bit. But I loved it because I hadn’t thought about that before. Maybe not “thought about that before,” but ‘thought about in that way before.’

It was about a week ago on March 13. Mlambo-Ngcuka spoke in front of group of distinguished internationals. She noted that the Commission included a series of reviews on the progress made for women and girls.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Image: Flickr.

These are ‘barometers’ “of the change – of the progress – we are making on achieving a world that is free of gender discrimination and inequality,” she said,”…a world that leaves no-one behind. It will help us measure achievement of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

2030, as far as I know it, is the date set for the 50-50 world agenda set by the United Nations (UN). It seems ambitious, and doable, but, gosh, that’s a lot of work. Just take the World Economic Forum (WEF), with its Gender Gap Report, these are annual reports on the equality of women.

I suggest even a skim of them. It is rather remarkable. It’s not a total equality metric, though. Why’s that? Because if women surpass men by more than 50% in a given domain, this is taken as equality, even if the domain is dominated by women at 95%, say.

But given the massively tipped scales against women on numerous metrics, then the analysis from the WEF in the Gender Gap Reports can provide comprehensive, relatively fair, representation of the situation for women, and by implication men.

And by the WEF estimation, the gender gap will not close until 2186. Not much for to do then, so two options: pick up the pace, or make this a legacy project (or both). I like the third tacit option. We need to hand the torch at some point, but can do much, much better than now.

According to the Secretary-General report on the CSW61 session, the “priority theme” was “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work”. That means economies inclusive of women in ways that can break the cycles of poverty. Women appear to be a linchpin in the inclusive, and I would add sustainable, economies.

In the statement, she continued, “Currently, in the gender equality agenda, we see progress in some areas, but we also see an erosion of gains. The much-needed positive developments are not happening fast enough. We also need to work together to make sure we reach a tipping point in the numbers of lives changed.” How many, and how quickly? That’s her emphasis.

I am paying attention, and in a Canadian context – work with what you know, and try to set an example here-ish and now-ish to give legitimate grounds for changing the world the better outside of my maple syrup wonderland.

Mlambo-Ngcuka talked about the Sustainable Development Goals for a wider vision and renewal of that image for those, especially at the bottom of the global strata. And as you know from a second’s reflection are mostly women and girls.

Young women affected by violence around gender, even sexual harassment in the workplace. And with the recent “Global Gag Rule,” we can be sure the restriction of what Human Rights Watch calls “first and foremost a human right.” So there are examples of the restricted equitable access, which isn’t equitable at all, to abortion and reproductive health services.

“Intersection” is an overused term, almost stripped of meaning and left bereft of substance. But it seems popular, so why change? I’ll use it for sake of ease. The intersection of the sexual harassment, workplace discrimination, varying degrees of inequality seen in the provision of abortion and reproductive health services, and the extrapolation of 2186 as the year for equality by the WEF Gender Gap Report lead to the consistent, if not conclusions then, themes.

She spoke to the additional, specified concerns of other minorities within minorities based on “sexual orientation, disability, older age, race, or being part of an indigenous community.”

These various intersections, even intersections of these intersections – see, fancy and academic – as statistical tendencies might be grounds for more often real rather than perceived mild to major discrimination in these arenas of professional and public life.

Now, what was the phrase in context? Here:

We need swift and decisive action that can be brought about by the world of work so that we do not leave women even further behind.

Excellencies, let us agree to constructive impatience.

The Sustainable Development Goals give us a framework to work for far-reaching changes. In this session of the Commission we will be able to bring renewed focus to the needs of those who are currently being left behind and those who are currently furthest behind. [Emphasis added.]

The Commission was organised around the needs of women. CSW61 was a high-level international event through the UN with specific emphasis on UN Women. Mlambo-Ngcuka said, “Constructive impatience,” because of the continual denial of human rights to women.

Of course, these rights are newer than, say, the divine right of kings. But how long is reasonable to wait? Millions of women’s lives are adversely affected, so girls and children and families, each day. Change needs to happen. And outside moral, and health and wellbeing, arguments, we can reflect on the economic benefits, which Mlambo-Ngcuka covered in her statement.

Much of the information I’ve learned, or reviewed, in the process of researching and writing this article come from the comprehensive statements by her.

“Investment into the care economy of 2 per cent of GDP in just seven countries could create over 21 million jobs. That would provide child care, elderly care and many other needed services.” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

Women are left behind economically. When women are deprived of the equal access to the jobs market, or the training for the jobs market, and I mean this emphatically, societies lose. Maybe, that’s another tacit takeaway, or even explicit, from the extensive statement by Mlambo-Ngcuka.

A modern problem without a single solution, which needs a multipronged approach. The relatively developed and the undeveloped, and outright failed, states in the early to middle 21st century might be the ones, most else considered, that provide the implementation of women’s rights through advocacy followed by empowerment. It feels good.

It sounds easy, but, quite frankly, it will very much be a difficult road ahead of us. How do we move ahead and change the situation? How do we forge a new path into a world worth preserving? Identifying the problems – somewhat done, and staking out evolving ideals seems reasonable – more or less accomplished. Solutions, anyone?

I see predictive statements tied to a bunch of “ought to” or “should.” ‘Such, and such, a series of measurements in national performances correlate positively with the health of a nation and the empowerment of women’ – but then I think about it.  What does this actually mean? And I kind of know.

These measurements are the basis for confidence in furtherance of women’s rights through these means without specification on the exact means in each case – cultures differ, histories differ, economies differ, and educational and literacy levels differ.

So within the statements by Mlambo-Ngcuka, I feel as though this means the specific solutions within ‘such, and such’ a set of boundaries will improve the economic performance of nations, which happen to, at the same time, improve the implementation of women’s rights. It’s moral if you want moral reasons. It’s economic if you want economic reasons.

But the trend lines are clear.

“More than half of all women workers around the world—and up to 90 per cent in some countries—are informally employed. We cannot ignore them. This sector is just too big to fail.” Mlambo-Ngcuka said, “…Lessons from countries already making change are important to share. For this Commission, 35 countries have provided input on the review theme of how lessons from the Millennium Development Goals are being reflected in national processes and policies.”

That’s an incredible wealth of information and is sincere reason for hope for finding specific general solutions to pervasive problems surrounding women’s rights within the international community.

“At the same time, over the last two years, a resounding global gender equality compact has been accumulated, through the Beijing+20 Review, Agenda 2030 itself, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the New Urban Agenda and the New York Declaration on Migrants and Refugees.”

It’s not only an outstanding reason for hope; it’s an outstanding achievement in motion towards equality by the stated 2030 goal, if not the comprehensive by 2186. And the right attitude can always be good start. So how? Well: “constructive impatience.”

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