Gender equality is central to UNDP’s support to countries in implementing and achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. At the Country Office level, gender equality features prominently in Malaysia’s Country Programme, where it is identified as a key strategy for enhancing inclusive growth and sustainable development. Given the critical role we play in pushing the frontiers of gender equality for development programmes in Malaysia, it is important that gender equality is mainstreamed in all aspects of our work. This also requires us to be equipped with the knowledge and expertise to integrate gender perspective into programme design and delivery.
As we move toward a new country programme cycle, it was time to refresh our collective, cross-portfolio understanding on gender issues. So, we held an internal, two-day retreat on the UNDP gender mainstreaming framework to explore the integration of gender equality into all streams of development.
The retreat was designed to encourage us to put on our thinking hats. In case studies, we considered hypothetical—but very realist—programmes that aimed to improve gender equality outcomes. And, we were reminded how limited project scopes, competing priorities, and too-narrow project indicators can easily lead to subpar gender outcomes. We were challenged to do better by bringing a more critical eye to the way we design our interventions.
What is equality and how do we move towards achieving gender equality?
According to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the concept of equality is traditionally understood to mean "the right to be equal to men". This becomes problematic if it is taken to mean that women must be treated exactly like men to gain equality with men. This misunderstanding of CEDAW obscures the ways in which women are different from men and how they are disadvantaged when treated according to male standards. Rather than a "one size fits all” approach, initiatives for the realisation of women’s rights need to compensate for or cater to differences, disparities and disadvantages.
Gender mainstreaming can help us integrate gender perspectives into all aspects of our work. By putting on a gender lens, we gain eyes to see gender inequalities and gender gaps. Only then can we effectively work towards developing policies and practices that address these inequalities and gaps and change the mechanisms and attitudes that created them.
Here are our top three key learnings from the gender retreat.
1. We have to be able to identify gender issues and gaps in order to find solutions. The first step toward change is to know why these issues and gaps exist. Otherwise, our remedies will fail to address the roots of problems.
2. Women’s empowerment is key for achieving gender equality. Women are more likely to than men to experience discrimination. Therefore, there is a need to focus on women’s development. Malaysia has achieved gender parity in health and education, but significant gaps remain in economic participation and political empowerment. Targeted, gender-specific interventions, such as addressing unpaid work, are necessary to removing structural barriers to women’s economic empowerment. We need to support and secure spaces that promote women’s participation and leadership in all forms of decision-making and policymaking.
3. Creating opportunities or entry points for gender equality is important. Equality of access to opportunities means targeted efforts to include women. Equality of results in a successful project means that both men and women are equally able to participate in decision-making and enjoy benefits from the project.
The internal gender retreat was a good opportunity for us to renew our commitment toward a gender equal world. We invite you to put on your gender lens and find out more about advancing gender equality in Malaysia here.