In 2018, the Open Government Partnership introduced Feminist Open Government as a theme. The following year, the government of Canada adopted it as their main theme for the OGP summit. We saw countries discussing gender and how they can promote equality and for a while, things looked bright. Then the pandemic hit us all, but women, LGBTQ+ and ethnic minorities the most.
When the dust settled, we saw that women's rights had stagnated and, in some cases, took a turn for the worse. When the US Supreme Court decided to overturn Roe vs. Wade in 2022, it sent a message to other countries that they could do the same and take control over women's choices.
Hang on, you might say, what do reproductive rights have to do with open government? When governments restrict women's choices, in some cases, even when it can hurt a woman's physical or mental wellbeing, they are taking her choice of how and when to take part in civic life as well. The burden of raising children is still on women, and participating in civic life while having children is not easy. Sure, some of us strapped our babies and took them to protests, but not everyone has the privilege to do so. Even more so, most democracies don’t offer maternity leave to their own parliament members, making women think twice if they want to join politics at childbearing age.
As the 2023 OGP Summit in Estonia starts, we thought we could share with you the advances and challenges women still face in different parts of the world. We hope it can spark conversations at the conference and that you can use this blog for referral in the future. Have an example of your own? Share it with us here.
Israel has just submitted its 2-year delayed OGP plan with their first-ever gender commitment tackling the gender pay gap. The commitment looks at the Male and Female Workers (Equal Pay) Law, which is not published on an orderly and uniform platform – making it almost impossible to derive insights from the reports, which are published in PDF with no standardisation. The commitment will help to make the data more accessible for citizens by publishing it on a portal, analysing the data and using storytelling to create better use of it.
However, this commitment comes during a difficult time in Israel where women see setbacks in their status in society - women's faces are being literally erased from the public space by religious groups vandalising street signs and also businesses who decided to cover women's faces from their products; The government has revoked a government order that publishes civil services jobs ads in an inclusive language for both men and women; and a law that was supposed to protect women from their abusive partners has been debunked and replaced by a much softer approach towards attackers.
So, while a gender commitment is welcome, we must dig deeper to look for how OGP can protect women AND make them equal.
Undoubtedly, approving legal access to abortion is one of Argentina's most significant achievements for women's rights since the last OGP Summit. This was a societal victory driven by the women's movement. Law 27,610 was approved after one of the broadest, plural, and most informed debates in the history of Argentine democracy, with a transpartisan consensus to vote in favour of a law recognising a public health problem that focuses on recognising women's bodily autonomy.
Data collected by CSO shows that girls' and women´s health conditions and access to sexual and health services have improved in almost every province. Conservative forces have unsuccessfully attempted to combat the law in the Judicial system. However, Argentines need to remain alert. The winner of the primary elections announced that in the event of becoming president, he will hold a plebiscite about legal access to abortion law. While this proposal is assessed as technically impossible due to constitutional regulations, it is worrisome that a recent poll by the University of Buenos Aires showed that 60 percent of Argentines agree somewhat.
The murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021 is, unfortunately, a reminder that Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a worldwide problem, and in particular, that the police, the body women should trust to protect them, is sometimes the offender itself. Not only was the murderer a serving police officer with known history, but in this case, the police actively went to silence women in civic space. Hundreds of women came to a vigil in Clapham Common in South West London, where the metropolitan police broke the vigil and arrested the non-violent protestors. In addition, a year later, the police also tried to stop women groups from protesting over childcare costs.
Speaking of childcare costs, the UK still has one of the most expensive childcare systems in the world. The government has announced a plan to help working parents with costs, but this will roll slowly and will not assist the underfunded sector that is struggling after years of neglect. This year, we found out that 1 out of 4 women stay at home, not because they don’t want to work, but because childcare costs are expensive. Moreover, 3 out of 4 women who do pay for childcare say it does not make financial sense for them to work.
Lastly, politicians themselves suffer from a lack of maternity leave. While it’s new that ministers can take maternity leave in the UK, parliament members can not, making them have to juggle being a politician and a mum, sometimes straight after birth.
A ray of light in all of this is the flexible work bill, which will allow both men and women to be more flexible and share the load of housework and careers. In addition, the new diversity and inclusion group is starting in the multi-stakeholder OGP forum, which will try to add more equity and equality to future National Action Plans (NAPs).
In February 2023, a nominated Senator, Gloria Orwoba, was kicked out of Parliament for wearing a stained suit. The motion to remove her was brought forward by a fellow female parliamentarian who described her stained clothing as “indecent”. Gloria alleged that the red stain was due to menstruation and took the moment to highlight the issue of period poverty.
To date, a number of girls miss school during their periods due to lack of sanitary towels (pads) - estimated to be 1 in 10 girls by a UNESCO study. The Kenyan government established the National Sanitary Towel Programme with the aim of providing free sanitary pads to girls in public government schools. While this is ongoing, the distribution of pads is irregular, and sometimes, they only distribute enough to last one school term. For students from needy homes, this means sharing their limited pads with their mothers and sisters.
The people who have been trusted to legislate on sexual and reproductive health issues sadly still find these conversations to be shame-filled and “un-African”. The women elected or nominated into Parliament are tied to the same patriarchal way of thinking.
More conversations on sexual and reproductive health need to be held frequently and openly in public spaces.
Kenya is currently drafting their fifth NAP. Previous NAPs barely included gender commitments, and this was also reflected in the milestones achieved at the end of each NAP term. In the case of the government providing free sanitary towels to school girls, for instance, the Kenya OGP community can push for more open contracting and expenditure data from each ministry. The fiscal evidence of the government’s involvement (or lack thereof) in ending period poverty is much needed in advocacy efforts.
Gender-based violence (GBV) was on the rise during COVID-19, and Nigeria was no exception. Data by the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team shows that the total number of GBV incidents reported was 346 in March 2020, and by mid-April of the same year, the number had spiked to 794.
A couple of gender-focused laws and policies have been instituted since. In November 2020, UNDP, in collaboration with the Nigerian Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, established a National Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Data Situation Room and dashboard for prevention and response to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Nigeria. The data management and visualisation tool uses technology to make GBV data easy to access and analyse for government officials, civil society and other policymakers. Additionally, more gender desks were set up at police stations.
In June 2023, the Nigerian Senate passed a bill that mandates the inclusion of preventive measures on GBV into secondary school curriculum.
However, there are also numerous cases of sexual violence on women and girls by armed forces and bandits. A total of 601 cases of sexual violence were documented by the UN Secretary General in 2021 - 326 girls and 275 women.
A look at Nigeria’s latest OGP National Action Plan shows that commitments on gender-based violence that were set in their previous NAP are now missing. The commitment was to establish shelters/temporary homes for women, girls/children who are survivors of gender-based violence in each of the six geopolitical zones of the country.