The Generation Equality Forum — often described as once-in-a-generation opportunity — is perhaps the most important event on gender equality after the Fourth World Conference on Women, which led to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for action in 1995. It has been a quarter of a century since the Beijing conference and despite many successes, women and girls are still demanding basic equality and a seat at the proverbial table.
The problems are well understood and the solutions have been long suggested. And yet, here we are in 2021, with gender equality still a pipe dream. What can be done differently to catalyze action? The design and articulation of the solutions in terms of people-centered justice might be the key to change. Women and girls deserve equality not because we are half the global population but because it is unjust and unfair to ignore or deny us this equality any longer. It is not just about laws or customs; it is not about numbers; and certainly not about magnanimity of the powers that be. It is about justice. And women and girls are done waiting.
The report of the High-Level Group on Justice for Women highlights the existing justice gaps, showcases what works, emphasizes the importance of investing in justice for women and concludes with calls to action. Ahead of the Generation Equality Forum, Pathfinders and The Elders hosted a high-level workshop in February 2021, resulting in calls to action for gender equality and access to justice for women. The Generation Equality Forum’s six action coalitions, described as the world’s roadmap for gender equality, focus on six themes: gender-based violence; economic justice and rights; bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights; feminist action for climate justice; technology and innovation for gender equality; and feminist movement and leadership. Are these six themes justice issues? Undoubtedly, they are.
Justice is not limited to law, rights, and protection but is equally about peace, prevention, and equality. Although it is often equated with resolution of problems, justice is likewise about prevention of problems. The Task Force on Justice in its 2019 report, entitled Justice for All, notes that prevention requires policy makers to, “move from considering only individual justice problems to influence how a population experiences injustice and justice”. Given this, coalition themes on technology and innovation for gender equality or feminist movement and leadership are as much a matter of justice as gender-based violence or economic justice.
If decisions about women’s bodily autonomy and their sexual and reproductive health are made primarily by men, or if technology is used to perpetrate violence against women, or if women’s concerns are not addressed in climate solutions, these are not merely women’s problems. These are justice problems. They must be prevented and resolved. Otherwise, overall development goals will never be achieved, certainly not for those who need it the most. The Justice for All report notes:
For societies, justice is often the missing link in national development strategies. Economies may perform strongly and health and education improve. But without justice, people will fail to reach their full potential and development will be precarious. By driving exclusion and fueling grievances, injustice also increases the risk of political instability…”
Importantly, people-centered justice requires that women and girls must not only be involved in, but should lead the process of devising prevention and resolution strategies. Women must have, not just a seat, but equal seats at the decision-making table. Only then, will we have enough data on women’s justice gap, sufficient funding to design and implement innovative solutions and the political will to see real change. It is about equality and justice. The time for tokenism is over!