Six things to know about GEF
Rule number one of GEF is you don’t talk about what a mess GEF is.
Rule number two – you DON’T talk about what a mess GEF is.
Rule number three – conform to the process and make a commitment.
Rule number four – don’t ask questions – figure it out.
Rule number five – don’t mention money.
For those working in the gender space, the Generation Equality Forum (or GEF – pronounced Jeff ) has taken over our worlds for the last year. If you are confused about what you should do or what’s going on – then you’re not alone.
The WID network is made up of all types of organisations, big and small, global and grassroots, and no one knows what’s happening, including the donors funding it – so take comfort in the collective confusion.
Taking place from June 30th to July 2nd 2021, GEF is undoubtedly a huge moment in the gender equality space. 25 years after the Beijing Women’s Conference, the Forum is billed as THE moment and THE opportunity to collectively build an agenda for transformative change and drive action and accountability towards gender equality.
But before you get your hopes up……
Here are six things to know about GEF:
- What is GEF? It is a civil society–centred, global gathering for gender equality, convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France. This landmark international and intersectoral effort brings together movements, women’s rights organisations, CSO’s, INGOs, governments, private sector, and international institutions to define and announce ambitious investments, plans and policies to progress towards gender equality.
- Making a Commitment: Literally ANYONE can make a “Commitment” – a tangible plan for how YOU will work to advance gender equality. Organisations can make a commitment here>> up until June 18th and it is relatively simple. You have to select an Action Coalition (AC) and specific agenda items you will be advancing and then explain, in your answers, how you will advance them. A selection of these commitments will then be read out within the AC meetings during the Forum. However, from the point of submission….
- The process is opaque. Dogged by limitations brought on by the pandemic, UN Women and other organisers are failing to communicate transparently about their processes for Commitment Maker selection, event selection, deadlines and timelines. The process to get involved is not equitable and there is definitely the feeling that there is a ‘trickle-down’ hierarchy and those with close relationships at top levels are calling the shots.
- The idea is that there will be some sort of accountability mechanism developed to hold governments, donors, the private sector, and all commitment makers to account but what that will look like is anyone’s guess. The lack of framework is starting to cause concern among different groups and the feeling is that those behind the scenes have no clear strategy for making this work. In the lead up to GEF, the WID network has been supporting the Global Count, a global mapping project led by Women’s March Global along with over 60 national and global gender and feminist organisations to ensure women and gender diverse people’s needs are heard in the global and national agenda setting. The poll is one way the Forum could approach an accountability framework that centres gender data as the key to monitoring progress.
- There are a lot of tensions: tensions and mistrust between NGOs and the private sector, tensions between UN Women and the Leadership Structures, tensions within ACs, tensions between feminist movements and other gender organisations. A lot of it centres around money which is to be expected in a sector that has for decades been underfunded. In particular there is concern over the lack of funding for feminist movements and major issue areas for example – Gender Based Violence (AC1). We hear time and again from women and gender diverse people themselves, that this is the biggest issue globally, yet when it comes to funding it doesn’t seem to top bilateral or foundation agendas. Why?
- It’s all a bit of a mess. Every conversation around the forum concludes at some version of this point. Not wholly surprising as a government and UN led process, particularly when you add a global pandemic into the mix. As organisations big and small try to get their head around how this all works and what it means for their future funding opportunities – every partner and donor is encouraging you to conform to an agenda and process that is so overtly flawed you are left feeling ‘managed’ rather than engaged.
Nonetheless, we all scramble to draft our commitments with the uncomfortable recognition of how much this process reflects the bigger issues we are trying to address. Those with power and money are calling the shots. Those without, try desperately to understand the system and follow the process so they have (even the potential of) access to resources and opportunity in the future. Just don’t ask how, and don’t ask when.
It would be interesting to know how much money GEF cost. In Sub-Saharan Africa almost 50% of women’s rights organisations are operating on annual budgets of $30,000 USD or less. How many organisations and how many years of operation could this funding have supported? As always – we need to rethink how we do things, and who should lead.
*WID articles are often written anonymously by those within the community. We are committed to providing a platform for the voices of women working in this space and the issues affecting women in the space.