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Great Ideas for OGP Action Plans: Open Government For Whom? Committing to Women

Laura Neuman|

This post is part of a blog series we are running over the next few weeks to highlight core open government issues and give you ideas to consider as you develop your new action plan. Last week, we focused on open budgets. On International Women’s Day, Laura Neuman from the Carter Center takes a look at open government through a gender lens to highlight how action plans can engage women’s voices and ensure gender-sensitive commitments. 

-The OGP Support Unit

 

As we celebrate the 102nd International Women’s Day, there is no question that huge advances have been achieved. Yet, incredible opportunities to positively engage women and to direct efforts to assure gender-sensitivity and inclusion too often are missed.

Although women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, they continue to form the largest block of the world’s 1.3 billion people living in poverty.   Economic opportunities for women remain limited, social service delivery continues to be inequitable, and more than 2/3rds of the world’s illiterate are women.  The Open Government Partnership provides an important opportunity to highlight the inequities facing women and to promote greater inclusion, better service delivery for women, accountability and voice.  But to date, this possibility has been largely ignored.

The Open Government Partnership’s mission and goals state a vision “that more governments become sustainably more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of governance, as well as the quality of services that citizens receive. This will require a shift in norms and culture to ensure genuine dialogue and collaboration between governments and civil society.”  While on its face this statement is gender-neutral, experience and research have demonstrated that if we are not intentional in our engagement, these laudable goals will not reach women. In her keynote address at the Global Summit in Mexico last year, Samantha Power spoke of the importance of the “practice meeting the promise.”  

For women around the world, this has not been the case in practice; women often are excluded from meaningful participation, unable to fully engage in dialogue efforts (particularly related to resources), and are more adversely affected by lack of transparency and corruption. Serious inequities exist in information flows and the exercise of the right of access to information. Though there have been effective efforts to highlight gender in some sectors, such as gender-responsive budgeting, these successes have not been sufficiently replicated in other OGP focus areas. A study recently completed by The Carter Center on women and access to information in Liberia, Guatemala and Bangladesh clearly demonstrated the perception that women are not able to access information with the same facility (frequency, ease and rate of success) as men.  Nonparticipant observation, where researchers observed what happened when a woman sought information in a public agency versus a man, largely supported the study findings.  Continuing failure to engage in gender-sensitive policy making, entrenched cultural mores, lack of engagement from women’s civil society organizations, and information flows that exclude women have all played a significant role in creating gender asymmetries in areas of information, participation and voice.

OGP, as the leading platform for openness, transparency and participation, seeks to assure that “real change is happening on the ground . . . and that it is benefitting its citizens.”  However, at present less than 25 of the thousands of national commitments mention women, gender or equity.  For the second-round of action plans, only two national plans had commitments specific to women—less than 5% of all action plans. And in a survey that I conducted last October relating to women’s participation in national action plan development, in the responding countries, less than half of the participants were women. In 25% of the countries, women comprised less than 30% of the national committees.  In other words, women are not fully represented in the development of the national commitments, and the commitments being made are neither gender-sensitive nor reflect the need to intentionally and creatively assure that women are able to benefit from the advances sought by more open, transparent and inclusive governments.

The Open Government Partnership is at a critical moment in its development.  There are over 50 countries in the process of crafting new national action plans, thus affording these OGP members a unique opportunity to assure more equitable representation of women. However, simply issuing a call for CSO engagement may not be sufficient. Government Points of Contacts should proactively seek out organizations that represent and address women’s issues, including explaining the ways in which OGP can support their constituencies and advance their agendas. Once women are at the table, they must be provided the same space and chance for meaningful engagement as their male counterparts.  Too often we hear of women being invited to participate and then ignored or silenced.  This is antithetical to the tenets of OGP and measures should be actively applied to assure that women’s voices are heard and respected.

Moreover, consistent with Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), OGP commitments should be developed and reviewed through a gender-lens to assure that there is no discrimination in principle or practice.  Additionally, OGP member countries should consider specific commitments to benefit women, such as:

  • assuring that information reaches women, particularly through proactive publication and creative information distribution methods;
  • encouraging greater participation of women in determining use of extractive resources revenue;
  • facilitating women’s access to one-stop service centers;
  • improved digital literacy for women; or
  • capturing and disaggregating data by gender.

The OGP places important emphasis on accountability and inclusiveness. For these laudable goals to be achieved, I urge all of us to be more intentional and creative in meaningfully engaging women’s voices and ensuring gender-sensitive commitments. That would be the true mark of the relevance and reach of OGP.

 

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