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OCHA Women and Men: Working Towards Gender Equality
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OCHA Women and Men: Working Towards Gender Equality

Turning policy into practice is one of the greatest challenges of institution building and engagement—from UN mandates to municipal laws and local customs—and gender is one of the areas where we at OCHA are working to turn policy into practice. Gender mainstreaming and gender balance are the two major pillars in reaching gender equality. Gender balance strives for equal numbers of men and women on OCHA staff and ensuring equal participation of women and men in various areas of OCHA’s work, such as in training opportunities, participation in deployments, and on needs assessments and contingency planning exercises. Gender mainstreaming works towards ensuring that the needs, concerns and contributions women and men, boys and girls are fully and equally addressed in all of our humanitarian actions.

Why is having equal numbers of men and women at OCHA important? Women and men bring different beliefs, values, ways of thinking and other socially and culturally derived attributes to their jobs. They can also access and have dialogue with men and women in different ways, whether they are displaced populations, local leaders or national authorities. Such access is crucial for getting the complete picture of a situation and ensuring that humanitarian aid is equally available to all members of the affected population. For example, in certain cultural situations a man may be better placed to speak with a warlord while it is almost always advisable for a properly trained woman to speak with a female survivor of sexual violence.

The benefits of gender balance have been recognized at the highest policy levels of the UN, with the Secretary-General setting a goal of 50/50 gender distribution in the UN and reporting annually to the General Assembly on progress made. In 2003, the General Assembly expressed concern that there had been a slowing of progress towards achieving equal representation of women in the professional and higher levels. By mid-June 2005, 37.1 percent of UN professional staff were women.

OCHA has made major strides in the equal representation of women and men and women now represent 50.3 percent of all OCHA staff. At the professional level, 40.5 percent of OCHA professional posts are held by women, with parity between men and women achieved at both headquarters. Delving into the issue a bit further, however, one finds that gender balance at the field level reaches only 31 percent of professional posts being held by women, and that the higher up the professional ladder one looks the less balanced the picture becomes.

The issue of access to opportunities for training and field deployments is another important part of the picture. While all professional staff have access to training opportunities, women have taken less advantage of advanced training than male staff. A 2005 study found that while 50 percent of OCHA men at the P4 level and above have taken OHRM offered management training, only 26 percent of OCHA women staff have taken it. Anecdotal information indicates that they are “too busy” to fit the training into their hectic schedules. The deployment of staff on assessment missions also is more often male dominated.

Another key aspect of gender equality is the work OCHA does to ensure men and women are more equally represented in substantive areas of work. For example, for many years OCHA has encouraged an increase in the number of women as active members of UNDAC national teams. Member States have been encouraged to nominate more women for training as well as for deployment. As a member of OCHA’s FCSS team notes, having a mixed group of women and men on UNDAC teams is preferable as each brings a different perspective to the task. As of July 2005, however, seventy-nine percent of UNDAC national members are men. Examining the regional breakdown, the Pacific and Americas regions have the highest percentage of women with 26 percent and 25 percent respectively. Asia, Europe and Africa have 22, 18 and 13 percent respectively. Efforts will continue to encourage Member States to increase the representation of women in UNDAC training and UNDAC deployments. Strengthening the content of UNDAC training from a gender perspective is planned for 2006.

Turning now to the issue of gender mainstreaming, OCHA employed its first senior gender adviser in 2005 and reissued its policy on gender equality. A review of the achievements in the implementation of OCHA’s 2005 action plan on gender was undertaken and a plan for 2006 was developed. A network of OCHA gender focal points was initiated and a gender toolkit was compiled to support OCHA’s implementation of its policy. All of these documents can be found on the new OCHA Online Gender Equality homepage.

OCHA’s gender adviser, working in tandem with the co-chair WHO, increased support to the IASC Taskforce on Gender and Humanitarian Assistance, which produced the IASC Guidelines for Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings. Humanitarian Coordinators will be called upon to provide oversight to the implementation of the guidelines.

The Taskforce, spearheaded by OCHA, is now developing along with the cluster working groups a handbook, accompanied by a CD-Rom, on how to mainstream gender in humanitarian situations. Surprisingly, this tool is the first of its kind and will provide actors in the field with guidance on gender analysis, key actions to ensure that the needs, roles and responsibilities of men, women, girls and boys are considered in all aspects of response, and indicators of success in easy-to-use checklist formats. The guidelines will focus on the main sectors and issues in the early response phase of emergencies.

As stressed by the ERC in his launch of the OCHA policy on gender equality, “promoting the goal of gender equality is an important and shared responsibility of all OCHA staff”. Ensuring that OCHA and the work OCHA supports has a face that includes both women and men is an important part of this shared responsibility.