FES: The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) is present in almost 100 countries in the world. Your individual offices in the various regions work on the issue of gender according to the particular situation in the area. By contrast, what is the task of the Global Policy and Development section here in Berlin?
Cäcilie Schildberg: Among other things, we follow UN processes at a global level. For example, we support the Women‘s Major Group (WMG), one of the nine new civil society groups which have consultative status at the UN and as a result of which are involved in the advisory and negotiating processes. It is important right now that new goals for sustainable development are formulated at the UN level. Our priority is that these goals take into account the concerns and realities of the lives of women. Socially just and ecologically sustainable development can only be achieved if gender equality is recognised as a central issue.
FES: We are now taking stock of the previous Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed in the year 2000 and which were to be achieved by 2015. How has it turned out with regard to women?
Cäcilie Schildberg: There was some progress. At a global level, we have more women in politics – they are better represented than 15 years ago. More girls are going to school. But the almost 450 NGOs represented in the WMG still criticise the fact that there is no coherent gender strategy in all areas. Instead, major resistance from liberal-conservative trends against the realisation of women‘s rights at an international level have been confirmed. The major fear is that we might fall back behind the progress achieved at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.
Against the backdrop of current debates on development financing, economic and sustainable development and changes in the labour market, gender-related inequalities obviously have a role to play too. Feminist economics puts forward an issue that we too, prioritise: what would a gender-balanced economy look like? How can unpaid or underpaid work done by women be made visible and have more value placed on it? Ultimately, our economy, to date, has been based on two invisible columns: care work and nature. Both have simply been dismissed as unproductive and are therefore not included on economic balance sheets. But to do so is simply shortsighted because then, neither sustainable development nor sustainable economic growth is possible. We are trying to promote this perspective at an international level – as well as the necessity of achieving legal equality for women and girls and fighting all forms of violence and discrimination against women.
FES: Is it possible to summarise what you‘re doing as integrating gendermainstreaming into these goals?
Cäcilie Schildberg: Yes, absolutely. But in addition to the challenge of taking gender aspects into consideration in all areas, the stand-alone goal of the development of women must remain. This requires concrete proposals which include civil society in the process. For example, one of the major fears of the WNG is that the role of the private economy becomes overemphasised, and states feel released from the obligation to implement the goals. We must make it clear that we are addressing the state. It is a matter of human rights, and the state is required to guarantee them.
Another goal is to acknowledge women as „agents of change“. All too often, women and girls are simply viewed as the victims of discrimination and injustice, who need to be „helped“. Or they are seen as a means to an end. The latter happens, for example, when improved access for women to the labour market is justified on the grounds that it generates economic growth. That is not strictly speaking incorrect, but it fails to recognise that women have the same right to economic independence as men. To actually be in a position to avail of the right to equal opportunity, participation and development, comprehensive structural changes are required, and these demand many civil society groups, not just the WMG.
FES: The Global Policy and Development section is of course part of the International Development Cooperation department (IEZ). How is it possible to integrate gender beyond your section into what is a relatively large department?
Cäcilie Schildberg: Gender is taken into consideration in the IEZ planning processes right from the start – we have „mainstreamed“ it, so to speak. There is also a system of gender checks in place: this is to ensure, for example, that during an event, a discussion, or in an expert report, gender aspects are reflected and women‘s interests are taken into consideration. Like anywhere, sometimes this works out better than other times.
In addition, in each overseas office there is one person responsible for gender who maintains contact with local women‘s rights campaigners. Across our offices internationally, we instigate discussions in various regions and enable a global exchange of ideas. So, for example, we have developed a draft paper on the subject of the caring economy in which the term „care“ is expanded on and connected to the principles of ecological sustainability. Through this we are attempting to connect political debates on the sustainable economy with feminist debates on the recognition and redistribution of care work. This connection is still very new, but will become more important in the future. Important partners in this are the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) as well as feminist experts from other areas. But at the moment, these discussions are mostly taking place among experts. The aim is to bring it to other areas – into the trade union environment and into politics.
FES: What‘s next?
Cäcilie Schildberg: In the future we want to deal more forcefully with the issue of international campaigners: how are international women‘s movements faring? What are their concerns? How can we support new feminist trends? There will also be a department-wide project on the subject. This will be important, particularly in terms of the implementation of the new development agenda and the shaping of social-ecological transformation processes. In addition to the international trade union movement, the international women‘s movement will be a central player in the implementation of social justice and ecological sustainability. For this we need new alliances and ideas.
Author: Heide Oestreich
Gender-related doctoral projects