Mexico, October 2021 – The Liaison and Partnership Office Mexico (LPOMEX) is one of the leading UNODC Offices in implementing an intersectional approach to gender mainstreaming. This ensures that not only the implementation of the UNODC mandate is accessible and inclusive, but it is also in line with international conventions such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the 2030 Agenda of leaving no one behind. As a best practice, LPOMEX formed a Gender Advisory Group, a group of specialists that combine their knowledge and experiences, to focus specifically on how to mainstream gender effectively into all LPOMEX activities. The UNOV/UNODC Gender Team spoke to members of this group; Violeta Zarco, Gender Strategy Focal Point, Edwin Cantu, Human Rights Specialist, and Maria Medellin, Knowledge Management Specialist, to discuss their experiences of implementing an intersectional approach to gender mainstreaming.
Gender Bulletin – What was the “a-ha” moment when you realised the importance of promoting gender equality in your work and specifically the importance of taking an intersectional approach?
Edwin – In my case, it was while facilitating trainings for police personnel and emergency phone operators working with victims and survivors of gender-based violence. The police and phone operators started to raise questions about violence that specifically target young women, elderly women and trans women. During these discussions they had concerns about what to do for example when a girl is a victim of gender-based violence. To be able give a comprehensive answer we realized that we needed to take age, disability, ethnic origin, gender identity and sexual orientation into account as they all have an impact on the lives of the victims that they encountered.
Maria – I can't pinpoint one particular moment but rather, it was a combination of factors. For me, I noticed that some co-workers still use outdated terms. This was a red flag for me. Secondly, when I started working with the Gender Advisory Group, and we were given the opportunity to explore gender and disabilities even though it is not strictly in the TOR of the group. Thirdly, at a UNV event about volunteers with disabilities, one of the speakers was saying that people with disabilities should not have to go through a different process to become a UNV.
Gender Bulletin – Given that LPOMEX is a UNODC Office with great experience in implementing an intersectional approach to gender mainstreaming, can you give an example of a best practice?
Violeta – The establishment of the Gender Advisory Group is key as it has given us the opportunity to bring together a broad set of knowledge and skill which helped to expand our approach to gender equality. Without it our in-depth intersectional approach to gender mainstreaming would not have been possible.
Edwin – The creation of training manuals or infographics is important. For example, manuals directed towards first responders, criminal justice operators and personnel from the judicial systems, that specifically target different groups of women and addresses how these groups of women face discrimination in the justice system. I believe it is important to put the message out there that our counterparts have begun to adopt an intersectional approach as well. It is also important to participate in public campaigns. We have had tremendous support from our national counterparts, civil society organisations and private organisations in our social media campaigns on gender and human rights. In these campaigns the importance of having an intersectional approach in order to connect with all of groups of women and girls was evident. It allows us to also understand the reality of for instance women from minority groups such as indigenous women or women with disabilities.
Gender Bulletin – Do you believe there are any gaps in the UNODC thematic areas relating to intersectionality, LGBTIQ +, disability and race issues? How would you recommend integrating intersectionality, LGBTIQ +, disability and race issues into the UNODC thematic areas better?
Maria – I do believe there is a gap as an intersectional analysis is not mandatory it is not something that projects commonly include in their problem analysis. Even if an intersectional approach is applied there is no benchmark that programme managers to measure progress. At this stage we really are trying to catch up and to make our programs more inclusive; what we really need is an institutional approach which would enable us to refer people to proper materials made by experts instead of relying only on ourselves.
Edwin – I agree with Maria. Since it is not mandatory, many say “we will do it later” but that later never comes. I also believe that in some cases it is simply because some colleagues do not yet know how to address these topics. Some may say that there are already other organisations working on intersectionality and that it is not really relevant to our work. However, many criminal justice officers reproduce discriminatory behaviour, that ultimately effect victims or survivors, so we need to start focusing and developing solutions to tackle this. We continue to have gaps in our knowledge on intersectionality and we should therefore have an internal update from UNODC on how to protect vulnerable groups.
Gender Bulletin – What challenges have you faced when implementing an intersectional approach? How have you overcome these challenges?
Violeta – It is a matter of lack of knowledge, lack of wanting to, a lack of time and fear of cancel culture. Everyone in the office needs to understand why this is so important and how they can tackle it. However, to achieve this we need to hire specialists on these issues in our project teams. If we are going to change things, we need to understand that gender issues and intersectionality are something that matter to the office and as they matter, we need to have the financial and human resources for it. That is why it is important to me and the group that we don’t just want a seat at the table, but we want to change the whole table. It is important at LPOMEX that we have a feminist approach, not just a gender perspective, but a feminist perspective to transform the way that things are being done.
Maria – Another challenge is that we do not have any women with disabilities working in our office. That for me is something we should really do something about to have their voices heard and represented in the office.
Violeta – Yes, if staff do not work in a diverse environment where people of different ethnicities and backgrounds contribute to the work it is difficult for the output of the office to be inclusive. Therefore, it is important to diversify the recruitment at the HQ and Field offices.
Maria – However, we are adapting the Disability Strategy, and this helps to start the conversation. In my opinion, people take diversity more seriously if we have an institutional approach. That is why putting things on paper really works because we have serious conversations and with the strategy, we can then follow up on it. We call it the Trojan horse strategy. We have a mailing list in the office and in this we try to include disability matters in a ‘pop’ way. We don’t ask for space, but every month we send out information on, for example, an educational book or a podcast on disability matters.
Gender Bulletin – What reasons would you give to other UN staff that explain why they should implement an intersectional approach to gender mainstreaming?
Maria – If we take the rights of all people seriously, then we cannot overlook intersectionality and gender and all the efforts made before us to have this conversation. We need to do whatever we can because there is still a long way to go. It is easy to get frustrated, but Rome was not built in one day.
Edwin – This should not be seen as optional but instead key to fulfilling our mission. Therefore, I see it as an obligation as a UN employee to respect human rights for everyone. We need to keep pushing forward and everyone should have a responsibility to act on these issues.