Stitching a New Garment for Gender Equality
This was supposed to be a year of celebration for women. In the United States, it is the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. And globally, 2020 is also the 25th anniversary of a landmark agreement that granted unprecedented rights to women all over the world.
That landmark agreement was the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPfA), the most visionary agenda that set out how to remove the systemic barriers that hold women and girls back from equal participation in all areas of life.
To commemorate this anniversary, the UN will today (October 1, 2020) hold a High-level meeting at the General Assembly, where Member States will confirm their political will to advance women’s rights and will commit to strong measurable actions to do so.
UN Women recently launched the Generation Equality campaign, sparking the engagement of a new generation in the fight for gender equality. This generation of young people are at the forefront of change. One of those activists is Maria Alejandra (Majandra) Rodriguez Acha, a climate justice and queer feminist activist from Peru and a member of the Generation Equality Youth Task Force that UN Women set up to ensure that young people are at the center of the Beijing+25 process.
Photo Credit: Francisco Angulo
CircleAround caught up with Rodriguez Acha to ask her about how climate change inordinately affects women; the "build back better" movement; and how we have the opportunity to "stitch a new garment."
CircleAround: You were born only a few years before the adoption of the BDPfA. Why should this document be relevant to you and the women of your generation?
Maria Alejandra (Majandra) Rodriguez Acha: The BDPfA is a one-of-a-kind global agreement: the most widely adopted multilateral declaration on gender equality to date. It is a baseline, so to speak, that governments around the world have signed on to — something that we can hold diverse political leaders accountable to, on a wide and local scale, in the midst of ongoing violence against women and entrenched patriarchal systems and practices.
It is not a fully comprehensive or up-to-date document, as there are issues that are a key part of movements for gender justice that are not encapsulated in the BDPfA — such as trans rights, climate justice, and digital security — but it has been and continues to be a tool that feminist movements around the world refer to in their struggles for justice, especially as they work to hold their national governments to account. It itself is the product of feminist organizing — the BDPfA is something that feminist organizations and activists who engaged in the multilateral arena at the time fought long and hard for.
Photo Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown
CA: What does Generation Equality mean to you?
MRA: Generation Equality — and I would also say Generation Justice, Generation Self-Determination, Generation Flourishing for all — speaks to the transformation that can happen within a generation. To the legacy — both positive and negative — that older generations have left us, and to the deep change that must happen within the current generation. Generation Equality is a moment to revisit the goals and the vision that were set in the multilateral space a quarter of a century ago; and to take a long, hard look at what has changed since then, and at what remains to be changed at a deep structural level, and in terms of norms, attitudes, beliefs and practices.
We are in a moment of reckoning with the unjust systems that reproduce racist violence, extreme class inequality, xenophobia, homophobia, lesbophobia, transphobia, and many other forms of oppression that are deeply intertwined with gender equality. In this generation, we are increasingly taking on an intersectional view, rejecting siloed thinking and restrictive categories.
CA: This was supposed to be a year of celebration for gender equality — the 25th anniversary of the BDPfA, as well as some other significant milestones; instead, the pandemic could set women’s rights back by decades. In this context, youth is at the forefront of global action for change, both in responding to the pandemic and in working to address the systemic inequalities that the pandemic has unearthed. What does "build back better" mean to you?
MRA: A quote by Sonya Renee Taylor comes to mind: "We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal, other than it normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature."
Build back better means refusing to accept inequality and injustice as "normal,” and believing that change is something that we can bring into being — right here and right now. Care and the sustainability of life must be at the center of our societies, organizations, communities — not greed, individualism, fear, or hatred, which have led us to the current crises we're now facing, from COVID and its related impacts, to the climate crisis.
We need strong social support systems, well-compensated and recognized care work, to recognize access to health as a human right, sustainable systems in our cities, indigenous rights and respect to their land sovereignty, and to work for the implementation of gender laws and regulations that merely exist on paper. We need to take care of each other, of our communities, and of the natural world that we are a part of.
CA: Why is climate justice important for gender equality and vice versa?
MRA: Climate justice and gender equality are interdependent: we cannot have one without the other. Conversely, gender injustice and the climate crisis are also intertwined: climate change exacerbates existing inequalities and puts the lives of those who are already living under oppression — such as indigenous women, refugee women, trans people, black communities — at increased risk.
The economic system that has created the climate crisis, which is based on the relentless extraction and exploitation of natural goods to sustain the dominant lifestyle and industrial mode of production, relies on the exploitation of people and their territories, as well. This includes indigenous people living in oil extraction areas, such as the Amazon rainforest, communities of color living in polluted industrial zones, or rural communities living by mining sites.
In our misogynistic and patriarchal societies, it is not a coincidence that women in these communities are among those most impacted, and with least access to decision-making spaces. At the same time, it is diverse women — trans and gender non-conforming activists, indigenous women land defenders, black women community leaders, women-led environmental activist groups — who are also leading fights for their communities, lands, water, soil, and their very lives, and building healthy, sustainable, just alternatives.
There are infinite ways in which change is already happening, led by young women and young feminists: local environmental awareness and community education, policy advocacy and political participation, direct action to protect forests, rivers, and more, mass mobilizations, research and writing, local alternative economic practices and initiatives, artistic and cultural work that help us question the status quo and imagine other ways of living, and so much more.
To learn more about Generation Equality and to take action, visit here.