On the evening of Monday 10th August, the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA), with ANU students amongst its ranks, hosted a discussion on gender equality in post-2015 development policy at Parliament House between prominent diplomats.

Speaking at the event were the Pakistani High Commissioner, HE Naela Chohan; Ambassador of the EU, HE Sam Fabrizi; and Deputy Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Ewen McDonald. The event was chaired by the Hon. Sharman Stone, Chair of the United Nations Parliamentary Group. In attendance were diplomats, parliamentarians, students and interested members of the public.

Fabrizi spoke on the importance of gender issues to the EU’s development agenda, stating that “gender equality and women’s empowerment is important for sustainable development” and was central to EU foreign policy. He expressed desire to raise spending on gender equality projects to between 0.15% and 0.20% of the EU’s gross domestic income. He said that “gender equality remains one of the greatest barriers to development in any country, rich or poor”.

Chohan followed, echoing Fabrizi’s statements, saying: “Gender equality is not only an end in itself but an essential means for achieving sustainable growth.” Elucidating Pakistan’s official policy on gender equality, she reiterated her country’s commitment to international law on gender discrimination at national and provincial levels. She underlined attempts to empower women through government and civil society, especially given “the growing feminisation of poverty globally”.

McDonald, giving DFAT’s perspective, affirmed the importance of the UN’s sustainable development goals, and highlighted the need for women in peacemaking and statebuilding projects. He felt that ending violence against women was an economic imperative and necessary to increase women’s participation in public life. He mentioned that $50 million was earmarked for gender projects this financial year and $320 million over ten years would be dedicated to women’s development in the Pacific.

Diplomats and UN professionals, including the British High Commissioner, joined in the conversation. The speakers discussed impediments to achieving global gender equality, and the obstacles of funding and data collection on abuses were emphasised. The discussion then moved to the difficulty of empowering women in conflict zones, and the question of practical steps forward.

Afterwards, Chohan told Woroni that she felt that Pakistan’s position on women’s empowerment was similar to other countries in the global South.

“These thoughts resonate all over the developing countries. The challenges are the same; intensity may be different in different levels. But our position is the position that most developing countries have, so it’s a strong one.”

She thought that “it was very important” to speak about gender equality in developing countries, “because those in the developed countries have a different prism to see the world through. They don’t see the sufferings that are on-the-ground realities. So when you talk in platforms like this, you are reaching out and creating awareness of what you’re dealing with, and I try to do that”.

Speaking about the event more broadly, she concluded: “It was a good exchange of views. But we need to continue with [the dialogue].”