Can action coalitions advance the gender equality agenda?

Source: UN Women Kenya

The Generation Equality Forum (GEF) 2021 marked an innovative, ambitious movement towards global gender equality. Action Coalitions were formed to advance work on six central themes: gender-based violence (GBV); economic justice and rights; sexual and reproductive health and rights; climate justice; technology and innovation; and feminist movements and leadership. 

Governments, the private sector, philanthropic organizations, and civil society convened and set ambitious financial and policy-based commitments within the Action Coalitions. This was meant to provide a road map for reducing gender-based injustice and inequality through multi-stakeholder action and tracking accountability. Can this framework provide opportunities to  hold macro-institutions accountable and fill in existing advocacy gaps? Can it help track progress on gender equality while ensuring that power is restored to marginalized women and girls?

According to UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Danai Gurira, now is a  time “where our participation is crucial to ensure that all women and girls, no matter where they live, where they grow up, or where they work are in a world where their potential can be fully actualized; a world of true equality.” While the Action Coalitions’ work to mobilize resources and implement policies and programs to achieve its ambitious blueprint might seem daunting, their role in catalyzing collective action towards gender equality is more than evident. The Action Coalitions  demonstrate how diverse stakeholders can amplify their impact by actively working to equalize power in decision-making and spark conversations between generations and across communities in order to provide resources, lead advocacy, implement law and policy change, and establish programs to help make global gender equality a reality.

The Kenyan government has illustrated the critical role of Action Coalitions as the co-lead of the Action Coalition on Gender-Based Violence and by committing to a 5-year roadmap for the elimination of all forms of GBV. This includes responses to female genital mutilation, child and forced marriage, and intimate partner violence. 

This ambitious plan requires multi-stakeholder involvement from start to finish. According to the Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), a Kenya-based women’s rights organization, the Kenyan government has worked with  civil society organizations and other non-state actors to co-create a work-plan, a resource mobilization strategy, and monitoring and evaluation tools that foster accountability and transparency. It has also positioned various actors to promote change at the state level via national steering committees and working groups. 

Through multi-stakeholder action, Kenya has also established a dedicated court for GBV cases and Policare, a National Police Service with integrated responses to GBV, which include service providers like foreign investigators, healthcare providers, magistrates on call, medical-legal professionals, gender experts, and correctional personnel. 

In addition, the government has committed to establish state-owned shelters to support survivors of GBV. All of this, in turn, is done alongside the constant research, activism, and mainstream media coverage led by civil society organizations. In short, Kenya’s success is the result of a combination of civil society efforts and the government's years-long plan as well as the springboard provided by the Action Coalition on GBV. It shows that significant progress is possible through this vehicle.

Considering that in August 2022 a new government will come into power, it means that CSOs must re-strategize, and create and build new alliances within the new government to push for the implementation of the commitments made by the previous government. Therefore, it is paramount that CSOs are well-resourced to conduct follow-up interventions and advocacy.

Civil society actors can draw on the Kenyan example to secure action and accountability from their governments. Following the GEF, the SDGs Kenya Forum, a coalition of over 350 civil society organizations across the country, has launchedCampaign TIMIZA (Towards and Beyond Commitments), which aims to create awareness about the government’s commitments to eliminating gender-based violence and female genital mutilation.

While the Kenyan government is making headway, it is crucial that other countries likewise make commitments and accelerate their work. Kenya should share its experience working to tackle GBV with other countries in the continent. 

Considering that in August 2022 a new government will come into power, it means that CSOs must re-strategize, and create and build new alliances within the new government to push for the implementation of the commitments made by the previous government.

Regional blocs across the continent could, moreover, establish policy and programmatic commitments to advance action beyond their previous declarations and protocols (for example, the African Union’s Maputo Protocol). They could look to the European Union for inspiration, as the regional bloc collectively made significant financial and policy commitments at the Forum. 

Finally, state actors must use an inclusive lens, interrogating the power dynamics that currently prevail in the formulation and implementation of  gender responsive mechanisms. These dynamics can and should be redressed by including women’s rights activists, youth, and grassroots organizations in decision-making platforms to co-develop relevant roadmaps and implementation mechanisms.