Public-public partnerships help redistribute power, wealth and opportunities

At yesterday's UN Multi-Stakeholder Hearing - Accelerating the Realization of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of all Women and Girls, Misun Woo of APWLD, reminds us of the call to for actions made in Beijing, and in particular to “expand ‘public-public partnership’ to realise governments’ human rights obligations as duty-bearers and people’s sovereignty as right holders.”

The multi-stakeholder hearing takes stock of the outcomes and recommendations of the 25-year review processes, including the sixty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The hearing provides an opportunity to exchange experiences, lessons learned and good practices among different stakeholders, through inter-active dialogues, to advance the full, effective and accelerated implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

A real partnership lies with women and their communities with power to affect changes from local to the global levels.

Misun Woo from the Asia Pacific Forum of Women in Law and Development (APWLD), spoke about examples of successful partnerships between actors to accelerate the implementation of gender equality commitments and how collaboration is evolving in the light of new challenges and opportunities in the COVID-19 recovery process.

"While there has been progress in laws and policies to advance human rights there has maybe not been enough implementation or accountability”, she says, “[because] to implement those laws and policies, there still has to be power that can be held by women to design how it has to be implemented with adequate resources, to really liberate women and tackle systematic systems of oppression. One of the ideas of enabling multilateralism is to bring the power back to the collective people’s movements and realise people’s sovereignty. Public-public partnerships have to be interpreted in a wider way and be clear on the role of the states as the duty bearers and women and people as rights holders."

"This is not a new notion", she says, "as it has been something that has been educated by the trade unions, especially public sector workers."

Women’s human rights and gender equality is a question of power. Partnership and other initiatives must aim at shifting power relations, for women and girls in all their diversities to hold power inherent to them as right holders, to make decisions over their own bodies, communities and the planet. For any partnership to work, it requires courage and critical reflection to recognise our own power within, to exercise and to impart that power to others. There needs to be recognition of historical and systemic oppression, exclusion and marginalisation of others, and action to redistribute power, wealth and opportunities.

A real partnership lies with women and their communities with power to affect changes from local to the global levels.

Following a recommendation from the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (para 258 (b)), women in Asia and the Pacific have been using Feminist Participatory Action Research (FPAR) as a tool to build movements. The essential ingredients for any partnership are consent, engagement and trust of women and their communities. Genuine partnership only exists and can work where we exercise solidarity with shared vision. With FPAR, women have challenged patriarchal norms and become recognised as leaders. They have

  • influenced electoral processes

  • amended laws on inheritance, property and divorce rights,

  • organised protest actions for decent work, social protections and maternity benefits,

  • secured public market spaces from privatisation,

  • put women with disabilities’ agenda at the core of local government’s development plan,

  • successfully suspended coal power plant plans, and led resistance against mega hydro power projects that could erase the livelihoods of indigenous women and their communities.

FPAR has also revealed partnership between communities and governments to realise energy democracy: remote communities do not need corporations to provide electricity, they can set up and manage nano or micro sustainable energy systems.

The Asia Pacific Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism (AP-RCEM) has shown the power of organised cross constituencies and movements. With a shared vision and commitment to Development Justice, and led by feminist movements, AP-RCEM generated the recognition of structural barriers to sustainable development, and institutionalised civil society, particularly grassroots participation in SDGs processes.

Civil society partnerships with women journalists can change public narratives by amplifying the voices, experiences and solutions of women and challenge existing tropes.

Democratic systems of engagements, consultation and accountability must be shaped and agreed upon with active participation and leadership of diverse women and their communities.

In this context, the biggest challenge COVID-19 poses is to women’s organising work. Arbitrary restrictions, surveillance and new security laws to suppress dissent are in force, while neoliberal forces continue securing power and profits.

I remind us of the call for actions made in Beijing, for governments to exercise regulatory power over corporations, to reject public-private partnership which has been promoted under the guise of multistakeholder partnerships, and to expand ‘public-public partnership’ to realise governments’ human rights obligations as duty-bearers and people’s sovereignty as right holders.

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