The 2nd edition of the Regional Expert Consultations against Gender Stereotypes was held on 18 January with a focus on Asia and the Pacific. It served as a meaningful exchange and powerful tool to discuss and tackle the deeply rooted harms of gender stereotypes through the lens of history and a critical evaluation of the status quo.
As part of UNESCO’s Flagship Programme against Gender Stereotypes, this is the second edition of a series of six regional expert consultations that aim to take stock of the current challenges and solutions and draw a roadmap for UNESCO’s upcoming efforts to address the issue of gender stereotyping. This series targets decision-makers, the academic and scientific communities, NGO communities, international civil society, media and private sector.
Gabriela Ramos (Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences of UNESCO), opened the session and presented UNESCO’s new Flagship Programme against Gender Stereotypes. In tackling the prevalence of discrimination and adverse conditions faced by women and girls around the world, in particular in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, she highlighted the relevance of addressing the gender biases that many women and men still condone and reproduce, although they are harmful to all, in order to achieve meaningful social transformation.
The consultation welcomed 230 participants from across the world, including : Afghanistan, Albania, Andorra, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of Tanzania, Romania, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United States of America and Zimbabwe.
It was moderated by Tim Shand (Co-founder and Director of ShandClarke Consulting Ltd), expert in women’s empowerment, masculinities, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and consultant for UNESCO’s new Flagship Programme. Aishwarya Sehgal (Associate Programme Coordinator for the Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO Cluster Office in New Delhi) concluded the session by presenting UNESCO’s efforts and initiatives in the field.
Ashwin Chandrasekhar (Co-host of “The New Manifesto” Podcast) highlighted the importance of engaging men in the discussion, alongside the need for more gender transformative political decisions. He noted that this has long been an incredibly difficult conversation and recognized how both privilege and inaction reproduce inequalities. He stressed the need for an equal, inclusive and collaborative system of information that is infused with adequate language and principles and delivered through influential media to tackle patriarchal messages.
Elsa D’Silva (Founder & CEO of Red Dot Foundation, President of Red Dot Foundation Global, Founder of SafeCity) emphasized the role of representative data and critical dialogue and discussed how her organization encourages people, most especially women, to anonymously share their stories of violence through an online app. She cited the harsh reality that many women often do not recognize what has happened to them as a crime because of the normalization of violence. She discussed the need to confront our own implicit and unconscious biases to create safe spaces for critical dialogue.
Nani Zulminarni (Founder of PEKKA Perempuan Kepala Keluarga, President of the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education), underlined how the stereotyping of women has led to significant limitations in the labour market including low paying jobs and unpaid care work, among others. In this regard, she underlined the need to transform power relations within family structures, including by educating children with a new value system. She advocated for supporting women’s leadership in decision-making.
Nathalie Lourdes A. Verceles (Director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, University of the Philippines) stressed the crucial role of critical consciousness raising on gender issues, as well as novel approaches that target the cognitive and affective to foster compassion and empathy. She advocated for intersectional approaches beyond gender and the need to understand and tackle unequal gender relations and systems of oppression as harmful. Social justice demands transformative action and this process must involve the valorization of traits seen as feminine.
Sandy Morrison (Associate Professor at the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies, University of Waikato) emphasized how global leadership has been influential in reinforcing or combatting gender stereotypes while noting the need for a gender-sensitive approach to rebuilding economies. Inequities have been exacerbated and Indigenous women are disproportionally affected. Capturing and promoting traditional tribal stories and examples in which women are fierce tribal champions can bring these positive values back into contemporary society and serve as powerful media to build on tribal philosophies.
Kyoko Kusakabe (Professor, Gender and Development Studies, Asian Institute of Technology) stressed that the unequal access to services between men and women during COVID-19 and other adverse conditions reflect the prevalence of gender-based discrimination in societies. Elderly women, among which many live under the poverty line, experience increased hardships and yet these ‘hidden women’ have been neglected in current discussions. She also underlined the need to promote stories on the importance of care work to change mindsets.