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We Named It Break the Roles For a Reason – A Gender and Inclusion Campaign Update

Stephanie Bluma|
When women are equal, contributing members of society, with access to information, health care, education, and work, those societies are more likely to succeed –- and in a more inclusive and sustainable manner. So women need to be bold; we need to be supportive of each other; and we need to be disruptive, recognising that power is not an end in itself but a means to securing a better future for generations to come.”

— Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and current Chair of The Elders


Those were the words of Mary Robinson as she spoke at the 6th Open Government Partnership (OGP) Global Summit — an event where the open government community participated in a deliberate and dedicated conversation on gender and inclusion.  

OGP has recently taken a number of proactive steps to address chronic issues perpetuating women’s inequality. We recognize that it’s not enough to talk about what stands in the way of gender parity — we have to identify and experiment with solutions to age-old stereotypes and power structures. 

Most recently, we launched Break the Roles, a campaign focused on countering the stereotypes that prevent more open and inclusive government.  

In launching Break the Roles, we were intentional in our communications decisions.

We decided our message will be focused on the future we know is within our grasp, while not shying away from the challenges in front of us. 

Our launch video profiles a group of women — activists and elected officials, new voices and experts– who reflect candidly and emotionally on the very real obstacles, and opportunities, of “being a woman” while seeking to break barriers where they live and work. Their collective message speaks to the need for open government to confront how stereotypes reinforce traditional power structures and impact the open government process. (I encourage all to see the recently released Feminist Open Goverment Research findings to explore this topic further.) 

Break the Roles is supported by a coalition of more than 20 partners including the governments of Italy, Afghanistan, Kenya, Argentina, as well as CARE International, The B Team, National Resource Governance Institute, and UNDP. In the coming months, the campaign will also highlight additional voices from men, persons who identify as LGBTQ+, youth, and members of indigenous communities to the conversation. Their perspectives and experiences — and the broader engagement of the open government community —  are essential to drive change. 

Since 2011, 82 OGP commitments that mention women or gender have been made by 34 countries. The most common gender topics are providing  public services with an eye toward gender, developing inclusive and participatory budgeting, and publishing gender-disaggregated data. We need more of these commitments, and need to see more move from pledge to implementation. 

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The initial research, as well as the work of many others, shows that failing to consider the unique needs of women and girls, and include their ideas in the process, impacts all OGP reforms. 

Having worked on campaigns ranging from reproductive rights and racial reconciliation in the United States to helping girls learn, and fighting gender-based violence globally, I know this work is tough. Even the vocabulary we use to discuss this work can be divisive. And, honestly, we aren’t always going to agree and that is okay. A shout out to Open Heroines and others who have been externally and internally pushing us on where OGP can and should do better.

It’s also important to recognize that OGP is not imposing solutions. We want to share and foster gender-smart innovations seen in countries like Argentina, Kenya, and Uruguay. What we have asked is that OGP members be intentional in considering who takes part in the co-creation process, how their reforms might avoid in-built gender biases, and who makes key decisions. We want all of us to be smarter about how reforms impact all parts of society and ensure they better reflect the needs of all of everyone. And, we have asked that we think critically about the ways open government can advance equality on critical issues. 

Which brings me back to President Robinson’s words and the underlying message of the Break the Roles campaign. The goal of open government is accountable, responsive, and inclusive governance. As reformers, we know that to do that we have to challenge traditional norms and power dynamics. If we want to change the rules of the systems we live in to ensure it reflects the needs of all citizens – men, women, and a spectrum of gender groups –  we have to break the stereotypical roles that stand in the way of our collective advancement. 

Having been with OGP for just about two years now, I can think of few communities better positioned to help drive this campaign forward. After all, the type of collaboration needed between citizens, civil society, and government to drive this kind of ambitious change is in our DNA. 

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