Delphine O, Ambassador and Secretary General of the Generation Equality Forum, answers the Foundation's questions and reviews the Forum's first anniversary.
The Generation Equality Forum was held in Paris in June 2021, and it has been the most important international conference for women’s rights and gender equality for the past 26 years. The last conference of this type was organized in Beijing in 1995. The Generation Equality Forum was co-chaired by two countries, France and Mexico, and brought together many actors: government actors, international organizations but also many civil society actors with NGOs, private sector actors, philanthropic foundations and companies. It was a truly global conference since more than 70 countries were gathered. Several thousand NGOs and companies were also present, as well as most of the major international organisations.
The objective of the Generation Equality Forum is first political: to relaunch a dynamic in favor of women’s rights and gender equality, at a time when it is clear that there is a rise in power of conservative and even regressive forces for women’s rights. Since the launch of the Forum, there have been Afghanistan, Ukraine, the ban on abortion in the United States, but there were already many examples, including in Europe, where women’s rights were violated. We wanted to show that the ground was not only occupied by these conservative movements, but that there were also progressive forces who know how to unite and mobilize.
Our second objective was to raise funds for women’s rights. Over the past forty years, many international texts and conventions have been adopted to protect and promote these rights. However, implementation is more difficult due to lack of funding. During the 3 days of the Forum, we managed to mobilize 40 billion dollars with 1,000 commitments at the time. Since then, we have almost tripled the number of commitments with more than 2,700 commitments from different actors.
The specificity of the Forum is precisely to be multi-stakeholder. It was the first time that we had an international conference that brought together not only countries and international organizations, but on an equal level, civil society, and the private and philanthropic sectors. We succeeded in getting them to work together around 6 themes, called action coalitions, chosen after extensive consultations with civil society. Each of the coalitions has defined its own action plan for the next 5 years.
The commitments were announced at the Forum last year. Since implementation and monitoring are, from the point of view of civil society, often too slow because there are so many needs for women’s rights. But despite everything, we can congratulate ourselves on a certain number of figures and facts.
First of all, as I said earlier, we have seen a tripling of commitments. The Generation Equality Forum as a mobilization platform continues to have a strong power of attraction with 2000 new commitments made.
As an ambassador, I represent the French government. France, meanwhile, had announced 400 million euros for sexual and reproductive rights, which are now under attack from all sides. We obviously see what happened in the United States, but also in Poland. Part of these funds is intended to feed a program of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). France has reallocated 18 million euros per year, in 2021 and 2022. This program is essential: it works in around fifty countries and its mission is to centralize the purchase of contraceptives and to reach the last mile, ie women who do not have easy access to modern contraceptives adapted to their needs.
France has also, for example, renewed its contribution to the Muskoka Fund created 10 years ago. It aims at improving maternal and child health and preventing mortality, by providing both education and care, including post-abortion care.
France has also launched, within the framework of the Generation Equality Forum, the Marianne initiative for human rights defenders. It is a reception program for human rights defenders who are threatened in their country for their militant activities. This year, the first promotion is exclusively female, made up of fifteen women. They come from Burma, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Syria, Iraq… They are welcomed for 6 months in France, all their expenses are covered, and they benefit from training, are made aware of different subjects, and meet many people.
To give you an example, the Support Fund for Feminist Organizations (FSOF) was launched during the Forum by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the French Development Agency, which are also responsible for the selection process. Very concretely, the fund consists of the distribution, over 3 years, of 120 million euros for feminist associations in the South. Already 40 million euros have been distributed in 2020 and 2021 to organizations whose respective themes are “gender and climate” and “sexual and reproductive rights”. It’s direct funding for those organizations that really need it.
More generally, the Generation Equality Forum is a unique and indispensable advocacy platform. It is so for feminist associations everywhere in the world, but particularly for those which are repressed because of their activities in favor of women’s rights, which do not have the right to express themselves freely or in countries where the legislation is contrary to women’s rights. I met many activists, who come from the African continent, from Southeast Asia or from Latin America. They tell me that the Forum has given new momentum and powerful impetus to the associations. He mobilized them, redistributed funding. It is a lever to put pressure on governments so that they adopt legislative or financial measures in favor of women’s rights, by showing them the interest for them to join this platform. It brings them reputation and visibility. To date, there is no other platform that allows a State, an association, or a foundation to engage within the framework of a coalition, to benefit from the exchange of good practices and the experience of other members, and to be part of a collective, international, and multi-actor dynamic.
We wanted from the start not to remain in a purely intergovernmental mode of operation, which is the classic operation of the United Nations and diplomatic conferences. We wanted to involve civil society. The governance structure that took all the decisions during the 2 years of preparation for the Forum, the Core Group, was made up of representatives from France, Mexico, UN Women, but also representatives from civil society and the youth. These representatives had decision-making power and veto power, just like those of counties and nations. It is a first in the system of the United Nations and international conferences, to have put on an equal footing civil society on the one hand, and countries and international organizations on the other.
Governance will continue to be multi-stakeholder, this time including philanthropic organizations and the private sector alongside countries, the United Nations, youth organizations and civil society organizations for the follow-up to the Forum on next 5 years. This governance is found in all the mobilization events that we organize around the Forum, with civil society organizations chosen by UN Women for their diversity and their representativeness of the different groups that make up feminist associations. There are LGBT associations, women with disabilities, women, indigenous people, young girls and teenagers… We have tried to represent all the diversity of women and girls today.
There was both a logistical challenge, a political challenge, and a contextual challenge.
The logistical challenge, of course, was related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We had to postpone the Forum for a year since it was supposed to take place normally in the summer of 2020. There were a lot of uncertainties around the animation of the Forum in 2020-2021. We also had to reduce our ambitions in terms of reception since we wanted to welcome 10,000 people in Paris and in the end, we were only able to welcome a few hundred people. We had to transform the Forum into a virtual hybrid forum which made it possible to accommodate 50,000 connected people, 90 panels, 700 speakers. There was also a political and organizational challenge, which consisted of getting the private sector to collaborate with civil society, which are not used to talking to each other and even less to working collectively on common projects. It wasn’t easy to get these actors to work together, but I think that in the end, we did well. We have been even more successful since we are evolving in a context of political backlash against women’s rights, regression and in particular resistance from certain countries which did not see the holding of the Generation Equality Forum in a good light.
The objective is, of course, to have a positive result in 2026, that the commitments made are fully implemented, whether by countries, international organizations, or the private sector. It is therefore to be effective and to have succeeded in reducing inequalities.
This is a first thing, but our ambition is also that based on this, this dynamic does not end in 2026, but on the contrary, that other countries and organizations take over what has been driven by France and Mexico in 2021. It is an open dynamic, and we hope for new coalitions, new themes, new quantified objectives, and new funding programs. We have over 70 countries, but all countries are welcome to join the coalition of their choice. This is also the case for any civil society organizations, companies or foundations that can join a coalition, even halfway.