A fresh agenda for advancing women’s rights and gender equality

7 March 2017

Women’s rights have undergone dramatic shifts in the last few years. We witnessed some major blows to women’s rights around the world. The United States’ new administration enacted the global gag rule yet again (a policy that blocks US federal funding for NGOs that provide abortion counselling or referrals, advocate to decriminalise abortion or expand abortion services!). And the possibility of Trump overturning Roe v Wade, a landmark case that affirmed the legality of a woman's right to have an abortion under the Fourteenth amendment to the Constitution, seems real. This year, Russia moved to decriminalise domestic violence. The last few years also saw large numbers of women and children being displaced because of conflict in the Middle East, and the rise of extremist radical forces around the world that promoted an explicitly anti-women agenda.

These setbacks have not demotivated people and there have been significant gains made for women’s rights. We have also witnessed women and men coming together to resist these setbacks in local and global spaces. The Women’s March in January 2017 was one such high point. And the way the SDGs were formulated to include gender equity more explicitly, particularly on issues related to unpaid care and women’s full participation in the economy, was a result of tireless engagement by activists and allies inside the UN.

Why solutions lie beyond conventional approaches

Implementing policies and programmes that aim to attain gender inclusive development outcomes is not an easy process. The deepening of economic and political inequalities has led to increasingly polarised societies, where the space for promoting gender equity concerns may shrink. Furthermore rapid urbanisation and migration creates pressures on resource use that means that achieving gender inclusive, sustainable and secure development processes has become more challenging and complex. Apart from political commitment to gender equity, it requires investment in women and girls and systems that have effective feedback and monitoring.

These challenges necessitate outside-the-box solutions; and often need to shift away from using conventional methods and tools for empowering women and girls. Innovative solutions and the development of effective programmes and policies that promote gender inclusive development needs to be supported by robust evidence. This robust evidence can only be generated by rigorous research focusing on how women and men are affected by the rising inequalities, rapid urbanisation and migration processes, as well as the gender impact of increased insecurities due to conflict and climate change.

This means we need to investigate many new questions that we have not looked at in such detail before. We need to explore how women’s economic empowerment can be sustained in contexts where there are high levels of migration. It means understanding how safe cities can be created and gender inclusive urbanisation processes can be promoted in emerging and rapidly changing economies. It means understanding what measures need to be taken beyond gender quotas to sustain women’s political participation and presence in political organisations, communities, policy and digital spaces.

It means identifying how men can act as allies to promote gender equality in communities and within the public spaces. It requires understanding what makes measures effective in addressing and preventing sexual- and gender-based violence against women and girls, particularly in settings of humanitarian crisis. There is also a need to move beyond focusing on gender binaries and including sexual minorities in our research framing, as well as effectively addressing intersecting inequalities that limit women’s choices and opportunities in our programmes and policies.

A new research agenda for change

In light of this, the IDS Gender and Sexuality cluster over the last nine months engaged extensively with partners around the world to co-create a new research agenda for advancing women’s rights and gender equity. This exciting agenda includes many of the key gaps in research on gender and development mentioned above. The four key themes will focus on exploring women’s strategies to negotiate gender roles in economically insecure contexts; generate knowledge on effective strategies to engage men and boys for addressing gendered violence, equalising care work and supporting women’s participation; help grass-root organisations to use and navigate digital spaces safely and effectively; and support sexual and gender minorities to employ strategies aimed at overcoming marginalisation.

We aim to take this exciting agenda forward and plan to continue to engage with our wide network of partners and collaborators to co-create knowledge, innovate and advocate for change.

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