What are the UNODC Gender Team’s main objectives, and why is it important to acknowledge gender within UNODC activities?
UNODC launched a global gender equality and women empowerment program in 2017. The goal is to ensure that all UNODC activities are gender mainstreamed; this means considering a gender perspective across all UNODC-mandated areas, policies, and practices. We aim to ensure that we are addressing the needs of the whole of society so that nobody is left behind, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Gender has a high priority within the SDGs; one standalone goal promotes gender equality and women and girls' empowerment, and it cuts across all 17 SDGs. For the activities under 'Listen First,' for example, SDG 3 would focus on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for boys, girls, women, and men.
What does it mean to "gender mainstream"? Does "gender" refer to women and girls?
There's a misconception that when we talk about gender, we are talking about women's issues. But gender does not apply just to women. It's not a binary approach that looks at one sex versus the other. We want to ensure that girls and boys, men, women, and diverse groups have equal rights and opportunities. When gender mainstreaming, we must conduct a thorough gender analysis. We’re critically analyzing the differences individuals face in society based on gender roles, the needs, opportunities, rights, and the entitlements—they have or don't have. Our interventions are evidence-based, and they seek to address the gaps. We consider the instances where women, girls, or other parts of society have been disadvantaged and left behind. And we know that historically and, in the present, men are primarily the ones who have had access to resources and hold leadership positions. Therefore, we need to ensure that we're considering these aspects in our research and gender analysis. People always ask, why is there a focus on women and girls? The answer is that data repeatedly shows that women and girls are still disadvantaged in most places worldwide. They still live in extreme poverty. As a result, their needs must be considered, including in substance use prevention initiatives such as 'Listen First.'
How does gender play a role in substance use prevention?
According to the 2022 World Drug Report, most drug users worldwide are men. We also know that male and female drug users have different experiences, depending on their vulnerabilities and backgrounds, and they have different reasons for using drugs. Women and girls also tend to suffer differently from drug use disorders. For example, when women or girls start using drugs, their consumption rate increases at a much quicker rate than men and boys. Some have psychosocial problems and needs, for instance, and are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Therefore, one must tailor interventions and recovery differently. It is also essential to take into account the issue of gender-based violence. Women and girls who use drugs also tend to have experienced childhood adversity, which can lead to drug use or substance abuse for self-medication.
How has the UNODC Gender Team been involved with 'Listen First'?
The UNODC Gender Team was consulted during the early development of the materials, and we have published 'Listen First' as a gender mainstreaming resource on our website. We're always happy to review resources to ensure they're gender-sensitive and inclusive and take an intersectional approach to gender mainstreaming. It's crucial to ensure that stereotypes perpetuating gender inequality in society don’t continue. The excellent materials and tools of ‘Listen First’ could be useful beyond UNODC for other UN organizations, such as UNICEF or UN Women. Therefore, we will also share them with the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality.
And how do you think 'Listen First' has dealt with gender?
The 'Listen First' videos are inclusive; they do not represent the stereotypical family. They avoid typical gender biases where women do all the caretaking, cooking, putting the children to bed, or reading bedtime stories. Instead, they take an inclusive approach to parenting, which is very important. They also represent different family types and people from various races and ethnic groups.
Another interesting aspect is that they focus on teaching and learning. Girls are still under-educated in most parts of the world. For instance, in Afghanistan, there is evidence that in areas where they cultivate opium poppy, there is a powerful culture of gender inequality. As a result, it is more likely for girls not to have access to schools in areas with opium poppy cultivation. With 'Listen First,' people with access to the Internet, irrespective of location, can read or brief themselves on how parents and practitioners can support girls and boys. I also found it an excellent approach that the videos have not included language, but they use universally understood emotions and gestures.
Finally, 'Listen First' challenges stereotypical gender norms, for example, by showing a father cleaning and girls doing sports. In some parts of the world, girls cannot play sports; it is perceived as something only boys do. Advancing gender equality requires addressing the root causes of discrimination. ‘Listen First’ is designed in a way that addresses gender stereotypes, and in a sense, it is empowering women and girls!
Marian Salema is a Programme Officer working with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in the Office of the Director-General/Executive Director. Since 2017, she has been involved in supporting and coordinating the development and implementation of a comprehensive approach to promote gender equality and women's empowerment in UNOV and UNODC, including the development of institutional gender equality strategies. Marian has over twenty years of work experience, of which ten have focused on international development and cooperation. She holds an advanced university degree in Policy Studies (MSc), a university degree in Social Policy (BA Hons), and a Master's Degree in Human Rights and Law.
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