New York is a busy place this week, as heads of state and other notables converge on the UN for the General Assembly meetings and the de rigueur Clinton Global Initiative. Despite a schedule packed with sessions mostly focused on the challenging situation in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made time to announce a new initiative, the Equal Futures Partnership—yet another effort to promote the role of women in the world.
At the launch event, she had by her side leaders from the twelve countries that, in addition to the United States, have made non-binding pledges to increase women’s participation in economic activity and politics. Also at the launch was Jim Yong Kim, the new president of the World Bank. After thanking Secretary Clinton for getting him his new job, Kim noted the particularly hard challenges many women face around the world in business and politics. The World Bank will help track progress made on the Equal Futures Partnership, figuring out valuable lessons learned and what might be applicable elsewhere.
It is heartening to see that two countries from the Middle East, Tunisia and Jordan, are participating in the Equal Futures Partnership. Tunisia’s foreign minister, who was at the launch event, mentioned how proud he was that Tunisia is a founding member of the Partnership and stressed Tunisia’s pledge to promote woman’s rights. Given concerns about the new Tunisian government’s commitment to gender equality, most recently with respect to controversial language in the draft constitution referring to women as “complementary” to men, it’s good to see the government making such public statements. Tunisia, which implemented a quota for women in its last national election, and now has almost 27 percent female representation in its parliament, will no doubt have some insights on the effectiveness of such quotas at enhancing women’s political participation. Part of its commitment is also to focus on ending domestic violence–another challenging issue in need of thoughtful leadership.
Jordan’s objectives are both aspirational and measurable. Besides working to increase women’s influence in politics and government, Jordan also intends to raise women’s participation in the workforce to 25 percent from its current 14.7 percent over the next three years, with a special emphasis on female university graduates. Jordan, like various other countries in the Arab world, enrolls more women than men in universities—but you wouldn’t know this from looking at workforce statistics.
Some countries’ Equal Futures Partnership pledges build on good work already being done. Senegal’s gender parity law has already revolutionized the composition of that country’s parliament: as of elections in July, approximately 45 percent of Senegal’s parliamentarians are women. For its participation in the Equal Futures Partnership, Senegal intends to offer training to new female members of parliament and to make the gender parity laws feasible at the local level prior to local elections in 2014.
As admirable as the Equal Futures Partnership is, I wondered why the State Department—and not UN Women—is leading it. Michelle Bachelet, director of UN women, was at Clinton’s press conference to cheer it on, but isn’t this type of international initiative exactly what UN Women is supposed to be doing? Troubled from the start by a lack of money and power, UN Women still has not figured out how to punch above its weight.