Hope for Change – Reflections on the Paris Generation Equality Forum 2021
21 September 2021
by Panthea Pourmalek
Every time a fellow advocate, grassroots organizer, peacebuilder, mentor, or elder shares with me that they were present in Beijing in 1995, or the adaptation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, I cannot help but feel immense awe and astonishment.
This International Peace Day, I am reflecting. It’s been over two months since I attended the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) as a youth participant and speaker, and I’m still thrilled to think about it. It was an exciting and empowering experience! After the end of the Forum, I am left wondering if, in a handful of years, I too will be able to proudly share that I was present for a powerful turning point that forever changed progress on gender equality.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented regression in women’s rights issues and gender equality across the globe, creating alongside it a ‘shadow pandemic’ of gender-based violence. The Paris Generation Equality Forum took place during this crucial moment, bringing together gender advocates and peacebuilders, civil society, policymakers, academics, international organizations, and the private sector to reinvigorate action on gender equality by 2026. As a young woman participating in the Forum, I am filled with hope for a just, resilient, and gender-equal recovery and a re-affirmed belief that I – among all others – play a crucial and indispensable role within it.
The Forum was partly born out of frustration with the slow and stagnant pace of progress in gender equality despite numerous international policies. Therefore, the Forum created an environment for intergenerational and multi-stakeholder collaborations toward more ambitious and concrete commitments to gender equality. The Paris Generation Equality Forum took place from 30 June to 2 July 2021 as a follow-up to the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico held in March of this year. The Mexico Forum served as a launching point for six thematic ‘Action Coalitions’ that form a Global Acceleration Plan for Gender Equality. These Action Coalitions include:
- Gender-Based Violence
- Economic Justice and Rights
- Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
- Feminist Action for Climate Justice
- Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality
- Feminist Movements and Leadership
The Paris Forum encouraged all stakeholders to announce their commitments and actions within this framework. As a symbol of ambitious, collective, and collaborative effort, the Paris Forum concluded with an announcement of over US$40 billion in investments in accelerating global progress on gender equality over the next five years, including:
- A $2.1 billion commitment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance women’s leadership, reproductive health and economic empowerment;
- An investment of $1 billion into supporting programs to end gender-based violence by the United States Government;
- The expansion of the Global Alliance for Care to include over 39 countries and the commitment of $100 million toward addressing inequalities in the global care economy by the Government of Canada;
- A commitment from the Malala Fund to provide $20 million in feminist funding for activists working on girls’ education.
The WPS-HA Compact
As a young peacebuilder, I spent my three days at the Forum attending events related to Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) and Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS). I was especially interested in events that provided a platform to young women and girls active at the grassroots level. For me, the biggest highlight of the Paris Forum was witnessing the launch of the Women, Peace, and Security – Humanitarian Action (WPS-HA) Compact.
The Compact seeks to drive a global inter-generational movement to carry out existing WPS and Humanitarian Action commitments. All stakeholders, from Member States to women-led organizations and beyond, can join as signatories to the Compact and contribute to concrete and coordinated action in the field.
Unlike the Action Coalitions, the Compact was not an original component of the Generation Equality platform. However, due to the advocacy of over 150 organizations worldwide, WPS and YPS were integrated into the Forum in the form of the Compact. I am proud to say that the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) leads the global advocacy for the creation of the Compact. Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, the CEO and founder of GNWP, reminded us of the core and origin of the Compact at its GEF launch event:
“The Compact on WPS-HA is a result of civil society advocacy. Like the ground-breaking UN resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security that was advocated for and co-drafted by civil society, we also co-drafted the Compact framework. At the core of the Compact are the voices of women and young women who live through violent conflict and humanitarian emergencies every single day. Many of them cannot be in Paris, or in front of a computer or mobile phone to join us today… The lack of recognition, support, and enabling conditions for local women and young women to take their rightful seat in all places where decisions on peace and security, humanitarian action, gender equality, and politics are made – this is why GNWP and hundreds of civil society groups fought for the intentional integration of WPS, YPS, and Humanitarian Action in the Generation Equality Forum.”
I genuinely believe that women and youth peacebuilders should not be regarded as passive observers in high-level decision-making. The creation of the Compact serves as a shining example of our innate agency and ability to assert our place within important conversations.
Youth in Action
Another highlight of the Paris Forum was the inclusion of a diverse range of young voices. 101 youth-led organizations created commitments across the Action Coalitions, and youth voices from across the world spoke in various events.
I had the opportunity to speak with Wevyn Muganda, the Cora Weiss Peacebuilding Fellow at GNWP, about her experience speaking at the GEF side event titled “Understanding the Triple Nexus through a Gender Lens”. Organized by GNWP, Austrian Development Cooperation, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and CARE Austria, this dialogue between women and youth activists, humanitarian and peacebuilding organizations, and development partners emphasized women’s leadership, expertise and innovation in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. This response to COVID-19 is an example of integrating gender in the humanitarian, development and peace triple nexus.
For Wevyn, the commonalities between her work in Kenya and her fellow panelists’ work in Palestine uncovered the solidarity across movements despite geographic distance and cultural differences. Wevyn left the GEF feeling that the Forum has made a significant contribution to progress in gender equality, primarily through providing a non-tokenistic platform for grassroots voices. She shared the importance of this approach by explaining:
“The Forum has provided a chance for grassroots voices like mine to be heard– because our experiences are valid. When you look at it, all the six Action Coalitions and the Compact, all these documents, and all these nice laws and policies – when we wake up every day, we don’t think about them. We think, ‘Do we have food to eat today?’ ‘Are we safe?’ ‘Can I go out and walk safely as a young woman?’. Including grassroots voices like mine validates the aim of it all: it doesn’t matter how beautifully we put gender equality or how beautifully we describe the Generation Equality Forum. It has to match our reality. And that’s the only way it’s going to be sustainable.”
I echo Wevyn’s sentiments on grassroots youth participation wholeheartedly. I had the chance to organize and moderate a youth-led side event of my own, where several Indigenous and racialized young women spoke on their experiences with activism within spaces such as the Forum. I hope that other young women and girl activists and peacebuilders who had the chance to attend our side events left the forum with a renewed sense of agency and assurance that they belong in such spaces.
After the first segment of the Generation Equality Forum, we cannot help but wonder – what’s next? This question, however, seems to carry a different weight from previous events. In a way, the GEF was the answer to that very question, posed after conferences and gatherings that ended with bold statements, words, and written agreements, but failed to deliver action and change. Through the Forum, all actors active in the arena of gender equality have committed to concrete actions and accountability. It is up to us to seize the next five years to harness the tools this collective process has produced, and create meaningful and lasting change.
For me, words shared by Shantel Marakera, founder of the Little Dreamers Foundation, at the very start of the Forum encapsulate the perfect vision of this change:
“Right now what we need is transformative change. Change that is visible to everyone – not just those in this room or those participating in the Forum virtually, but those who have no idea about the GEF. We want women, and girls, and gender-diverse individuals from every part of the world to notice this sudden shift in the air, and start questioning ‘Wait, why is there a noticeable shift in racial justice, in economic justice, in education?’ And then, we’ll be there, standing proud, and we’ll be saying ‘WE did that!’. That intergenerational, multi-stakeholder process did that! It is our process.”
 Panthea Pourmalek is a Research and Advocacy Intern at the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders. She supported GNWP’s work on the establishment of the WPS-HA Compact and coordinated advocacy efforts around the Paris Generation Equality Forum.