Carolyn Hannan

on Wednesday, 09 May 2012. Posted in Leadership Interviews

Carolyn Hannan
Director for the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women in New York (2001-2009)

Associate Professor Carolyn Hannan was born in Goulburn, Australia, and received her education in Hillston, Wagga and Sydney. She worked briefly as a teacher in Australia before moving as a volunteer to work with women’s groups in Tanzania in East Africa in 1972. In 1976 she moved to Sweden where she received her BA and PhD (Social and Economic Geography) at the University of Lund and became an Associate Professor in 2000. 

After working as a researcher in Sweden in the 1970s-80s, she became the  Gender Equality Programme Officer at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) office in Tanzania. On return to Sweden, in the 1990s she worked as the Senior Policy Advisor on Gender Equality at Sida in Stockholm.

She was a member of a Gender Mainstreaming Advisory Group – a group of experts advising the Minister for Gender Equality on gender mainstreaming in the Swedish context. From 1995-1997 she was the Chairperson of the Gender Equality Network at the Development Assistance Committee in the OECD in Paris. She moved to New York in 1999 to take up the position of Principal Officer for gender mainstreaming  at the United Nations. In 2001, she was promoted to Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women in New York, a post she held until her retirement from the UN at the end of 2009.

She currently works as Associate Professor at the University of Lund in Sweden, teaching and carrying out research on gender equality, in particular in the area of gender mainstreaming, women, peace and security and the girl child. 

Interview with Carolyn Hannan

What have been some of the telling moments in your life which stirred and interest in gender equality issues?            

Growing up in a family of nine girls in a small rural town in Australia certainly contributed to my interest in gender equality issues.  As my father travelled a lot in his work, my mother, a ‘live-in’ great aunt and the nine girls made up a very self-sufficient household of women. There was no such thing as “boys’ work” and “girls’ work“ in our family - of necessity, everything had to be done by girls. I can remember being confused, and later annoyed, at suggestions that girls should not do certain things. For example, when I was told in Third Grade that I would not pursue my ‘chosen career’  as fire engine driver because I was a girl; and when, at about age 10,  I heard a family friend expressing disapproval that I had to chop wood- on the grounds that this was boys’ work.

Episodes in my life where my potential development and achievements were questioned on the grounds of gender strengthened my commitment to equality.  I remember being disappointed at the negative attitude of our parish priest towards girls. After it was announced that I had top marks in Grade 6, the priest commented that, while I had done well, it was only a matter of time before all the boys in the class would be doing better than me, since boys inevitably perform better than girls.  I remember feeling completely “let-down” by the priest and was determined to prove him wrong. 

The older I got and the further I moved from home the more gender-based constraints I met - which I was increasingly determined to overcome. The fact that I went to an all-girl boarding school for high school from age 12 was positive in the sense that I was able to concentrate on my studies and my capacity and ambitions were encouraged.  On the other hand, the school was very gender-stereotyped and limited in terms of career aspirations for girls. Girls were channelled gender-inappropriately solely into areas of work that were traditionally considered ”female”. This was a significantly constraining factor in my initial career development as, encouraged by my teachers, I moved first into nursing and then on to teaching, despite the fact that I had excellent academic results, with openings at university level.

One of the defining moments for me in terms of interest in gender equality was the years I spent at a small women’s hostel in Sydney while attending teacher’s college. The opportunity to interact with strong women of different ages working in a range of careers, and all interested in equality issues, only amplified my conviction that women could do anything and everything and that gender bias and discrimination should be opposed. The inspirational discussions and debates on gender equality, social development, politics and culture were critical for my career development and my decision to focus on gender equality.

Strong individual women - outspoken, ambitious and career-oriented – played a big role in further defining my interest in and commitment to gender equality. A Nurse Tutor from Canada made a particularly strong impression on me during my nursing training years. She was exceptionally self-confident and ambitious - to an extent I had never seen in women previously –she was opinionated, combative and completely disrespectful of the aura of importance with which most male doctors liked to surround themselves.  She was probably considered by most as very “unwomanly” but it was exciting to interact with such a “different “woman.

A particularly defining moment was my decision to work as a volunteer with a women’s group in Tanzania in East Africa from 1972-74. This introduced me to international gender equality issues which became a particular focus in my career. It also highlighted for me the specific problems faced by women in developing countries, which influenced the choice of subjects for my academic studies – social anthropology, development studies and social and economic geography, and led me to work with gender equality in bilateral development cooperation contexts and later in multilateral contexts in the United Nations.

Which career experiences do you see as pivotal in shaping your role in the United Nations?

My experience in the field in Tanzania – as a volunteer with a women’s group from 1972-74.  a researcher on gender equality at the University of Dar es Salaam (1981-85) and a gender equality officer with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) (1985-88) - was pivotal in strengthening my focus on gender equality in international development cooperation and  linking me to the work carried out by the United Nations. Through this work in the field, I became aware of the importance of global policy and norm development for progress at national levels, as well as the need for effective advice and support for Governments to ensure that they can live up to global agreements. The practical focus of my work during this period influenced my objectives and approaches in my later work in the United Nations. I remained very interested in the impacts of norms and policies on the ground.

During my time as a researcher at the University of Lund in Sweden (1976-81)  and at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania (1981-86) I focused on gender equality in developing countries - in particular on the support needed in terms of strategy and methodology development. This brought me into direct contact with the work of the United Nations – both the normative and policy work , as well as the programmes on the ground.

My work in the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) – both in the field as Programme Officer for Gender Equality in Tanzania (1985-88) and at headquarters in Stockholm, including as the Senior Policy Advisor on Gender Equality (1988-98) - was instrumental in providing further knowledge on the work of the United Nations on gender equality and the empowerment of women, as well as in awakening an interest in more direct collaboration with the United Nations. During this period, I was an Advisor on the Swedish delegations to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (1991-98) and to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) (1996-98) which gave me important direct insights on the work of the United Nations on gender equality.

From 1995-97, I was the Chairperson of the Gender Equality Network in the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD/DAC) in Paris. During my tenure, the Network developed a policy on gender equality for bilateral development cooperation, as well as a statistical instrument for measuring the impact of interventions for gender equality and practical guidelines. The Network also did important work on gender mainstreaming which I was able to continue when I moved to my new role in the United Nations. The OECD/DAC Network had close contact with the network of focal points for gender equality in the United Nations – organizing common workshops and meeting formally and informally to exchange information..

In addition, I had the privilege to attend three of the four United Nations World Conferences on Women. In 1980 I attended the second World Conference in Copenhagen in my personal capacity as researcher on gender equality. I represented the Sida office in Dar es Salaam at the third World Conference in Nairobi in 1985. At the Fourth World Conference in Beijing in 1995, I attended as the representative of Sida and also represented the Network on Gender Equality of the OCED/DAC. Participation in these conferences provided a unique opportunity to learn more about the normative and policy work of the United Nations as well as the practical work at national levels. It also linked me to many important NGOs at global, regional, national and  local levels which was a critical asset in my work at the United Nations.

What was your vision as Director of the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women in New York between 2001 and 2009?

My vision during my time as Director for the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women in New York (2001-2009) was twofold: firstly to contribute to positive norm and policy development on gender equality and, secondly, to support the implementation of these norms and policies at national level. A range of different strategies were utilized to ensure the achievement of this vision.

My work involved responsibility to service and support intergovernmental processes producing and following up global norms/policies, including in the Commission for the Status of Women, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the General Assembly. The work involved strategic activities such as preparing reports of the Secretary-General,  organizing inter-governmental meetings, and providing advice and support in negotiation processes. These activities provided potential  to push policy development and promote new issues on the policy agenda.

The development of appropriate working methods and work programmes in the Commission on the Status of Women was important to ensure the relevance of its work both globally and at national level. ‘Menus’ of possible themes were proposed to the Commission to ensure relevant topical issues on the agenda. Strong focus was placed on strengthening the Commission’s role in following-up national-level efforts to achieve gender equality. This was achieved by promoting interactive events in the annual programme of the Commission in order to increase exchange among Member States on national-level experiences. Panels with expert were organized to provide States with access to globally recognized expertise on critical gender equality issues. Expert meetings were held to bring diverse actors together  - practitioners and activists from all regions - to provide alternative perspectives on themes addressed by the Commission.

The work of my Division included the substantive servicing of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), a Committee of 23 independent experts responsible for following up and monitoring implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This provided the opportunity to guide and support the Committee in its work on reviewing State Party reports on implementation, holding constructive dialogues with States Parties on the basis of these reports; holding discussions with NGOs; and preparing recommendations for action at national level – on the basis of the reports and dialogue - to ensure full implementation of the Convention. 

In addition to providing opportunities to contribute positively to global policies on gender equality, the support to the Commission on the Status of Women and the CEDAW Committee provided potential for enhancing impact  at national level. While implementation of both instruments leaves much to be desired in all regions, they have proven indispensible to work on gender equality at national level and are increasingly recognized by governments as critical instruments.

To enhance understanding of the relevance and important of these global frameworks at country level, outreach activities were undertaken. Information was disseminated broadly, in accessible forms, through publication, brochures and websites. Training programmes were organized and expert meetings convened to promote implementation.  The recommendations arising from the annual sessions of the Commission were, for example, produced in an accessible brochure form in all six languages of the United Nations and widely disseminated to promote effective use at national level. United Nations agencies with programmes at national level were encouraged to support implementation, for example through supporting participation at global meetings, disseminating information on the themes and outcomes of the meetings, reminding States of their commitments, and using global policies in programmes/projects on the ground.

Throughout my work as Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women I also promoted understanding of and commitment to the strategy of gender mainstreaming among Member States and UN entities. The Division supported the Commission on the Status of Women, the ECOSOC and the General Assembly in following-up and monitoring implementation of the strategy.  Working in a catalytic manner, the Division worked to present gender equality issues in a manner that made them comprehensible and increased understanding among States and senior officials of their strategic importance to the United Nations vision and goals.

What have been some of the challenges you have had to overcome in your work on gender equality?

Like all those working with gender equality, I faced multiple challenges in my work in the United Nations, as well as in other contexts. A major problem was the persistent lack of awareness of the existing inequalities around the world. In many countries in Europe, for example, there is a relatively common perception that equality has been achieved and, as a result, many subtle manifestations of inequality are not recognized and addressed. Gender stereotypes – negative perceptions about what women and men can do and how they should behave - are entrenched in countries all around the world, negatively affecting women’s access to and achievements in, for example, education, employment and political life, as well as their access to essential resources. 

A further serious challenge was the lack of real priority given to work on gender equality in many organizations. While there may be considerable politically correct rhetoric, the reality is often that there is insufficient resources, lack of awareness, commitment and capacity among staff, and, most problematic of all, lack of pro-active support from middle- and senior-level management.

One of the most persistent problems is the continued separateness of gender equality efforts. While most organizations have gender equality policies, not enough has been done to ensure gender equality is systematically incorporated as a goal into overall organizational policies and sector policies and strategies. This creates a serious gap in organizational mandates and results in continued perceptions of gender equality as separate rather than an integral part of work across all sectors.  Many methodologies and tools developed have been unnecessarily complex and not coordinated across the United Nations system, which detracts from their systematic use and contributes to keeping gender equality a marginal issue.

The recent review of the gender equality work of the United Nations highlighted the challenges caused by the lack of priority given to the issue – evidenced in the fragmentation of the work between small, under-resourced bodies and the lack of strong consistent senior-level leadership. The recommendations emerging from the reform process aimed to address some of these challenges by merging the existing four bodies focused on gender equality into one new entity – UN Women; upgrading the position of the head of the new entity to Under-Secretary-General level; and promising significantly increased resources.

Major challenges in the work on norm and policy development, included the conservative political climate in an increasing number of countries from the mid 1990s. This created significant constraints to provision of effective support to inter-governmental processes and made it difficult to maintain policy positions from the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing 1995) or to move forward policy positions on gender equality. Because of clear risks to existing policy positions, for example, there were no negotiations of new policies in the 10- and 15-year reviews of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action held in the United Nations in 2005 and 2010.

The fact that there is not complete agreement among States on all gender equality issues – despite the unanimous adoption of the Beijing Platform of Action and the almost universal ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) - has been another significant challenge. There can be considerable resistance from States or groups of States on particular issues for political reasons. Tensions can emerge between claims of national sovereignty and the universality of global norms and policies, which can seriously constrain negotiation processes and policy outcomes.  Gender equality issues can also be ‘held hostage’ to other controversial political issues. Concepts have also presented challenges at different times since they are not static but are continuously evolving and subject to debate, contestation and reconstruction. Conservative groups sometimes utilized demands for ‘conceptual clarity’ as a means to ‘derail’ important discussions and to ‘water down’ outcomes.

Weak follow-up by States to agreements and commitments made in intergovernmental processes creates other challenges. There is a significant failure to implement global commitments at national level and little that can be done at global level to ‘force’ action. For this reason, collaboration with NGOs is an important strategy since many national-level NGOs are actively involved in developing means to hold States accountable for commitments made in global arenas. States may also fail to follow-up on agreements on changes needed of the work in the United Nations. This has the effect of reducing inter-governmental agreements to mere rhetoric.

Significant  challenges were experienced in finding effective ways to spread information on the normative and policy work  of the United Nations and engage women’s groups and networks at national and local levels. Many such groups and networks will never attend sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York but could benefit from access to information and participation in global networks. Such groups and networks make significant inputs towards ensuring effective implementation of norms and policies at national and local levels which enhances the work carried out in the United Nations.

Enhancing the involvement and impact of NGOs in the work in the Commission on the Status of Women was another important objective. While large numbers of NGO representatives attend the Commission each year, experience has shown that not all have capacity to participate fully and many do not take back relevant information to national level, which limits the impact of their participation. While there are strong advocates for enhanced NGO participation among some Member States, such participation is not without contestation.  A significant number of States actively oppose increased NGO involvement.

Which countries do you regard as having succeeded in creating enabling environments for gender equality and can be said to be ‘role models’ for others?

The importance of an enabling national environment for gender equality is well recognized. To establish such an enabling environment, States need to, among other things,  ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and work to ensure its full implementation; develop strong gender equality legislation and policies;  provide the resources necessary to implement gender mainstreaming; develop competence and capacity for working with gender equality among all government personnel and staff in other critical bodies; and carry out advocacy campaigns to reach the general public with information and incentives.

The UNDP World Development Report from 1995 established that no country in the world had achieved gender equality. This still holds true today.  No country today has fully developed all the elements in a national enabling environment for gender equality. A number of countries have, however, made good progress on some elements and can provide interesting lessons learned and promising practices. These countries can function as role models for these areas but still need further development in other aspects of gender equality..

The value of exchange of experiences, lessons learned and promising practices is acknowledged in the United Nations. For this reason, there has been a strong focus on interactive events and expert panels in the Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission provides an important forum for exchange between States on national-level experiences. The fact that States increasingly provide information not only on achievements and promising practices but also on persistent gaps and constraints is a very positive trend. The regular 5-year reviews of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Actionrequire States to systematically report on progress made.  These reports, as well as the reports to the CEDAW Committee, are public documents available on the United Nations website, and provide important information on progress made by different States in specific areas.

In all regions of the world, NGOs at local and national levels have played important roles in holding governments accountable for their global commitments. They have brought new issues to the global arena, including violence against women and the issue of women in conflict and post-conflict situations.

It is difficult to separate out individual countries since most countries have made progress in many different ways. Some trends can, however, be highlighted.  The following only provides a few examples in a limited number of areas. Many other States in all regions have done innovative work and developed promising practices..

In the area of political participation, for example, the Nordic countries have traditionally taken the lead, with representation of women at around 50 percent in both the legislative and executive branches. In recent years, Rwanda has become the country with the highest representation of women in parliament, thanks to positive attention to gender equality in the post-conflict reconstruction process.

The Philippines has shown leadership in the area of mechanisms for the promotion of gender equality. Philippines has also shown positive commitment in the area of gender-responsive budgeting, as has South Africa and Germany. In the area of gender mainstreaming, Sweden has demonstrated some positive commitment, including in terms of providing training to top-level managers and leaders in all policy areas. 

The Republic of Korea has done impressive work in ensuring that women have access to new information and communication technologies (ICT) and all the benefits these can bring.  Norway has taken a leading role in increasing the representation of women in corporate boards and a number of other countries have followed their lead. Many countries in Latin America, for example Mexico and Brazil, have taken positive initiatives to increase the commitment of the private sector to gender equality, including through the provision of training, the development of awards and the encouragement of gender equality standards.

Important work on violence against women has been done in countries in all regions. The work of Netherlands and France globally as well as at national level can be noted as good practice.  Norway has taken a leading role in pushing issues of women in armed conflict – both ensuring adequate attention to these issues within the country and promoting attention at global levels. Some countries have done excellent work on disseminating information about CEDAW at national level, and actively following up the reports of the Committee, including in Parliaments and with NGOs. Netherlands provides a good role model in this respect.

How optimistic are you that politicians will develop gender-responsive budget processes? Can you give examples where this is happening?

Over recent years there has been increased focus on the importance of resources for gender equality. Despite a growing body of evidence demonstrating that gender equality makes good economic sense, adequate resources have not been systematically allocated to gender equality. The gender mainstreaming strategy, endorsed by the United Nations in 1995 has, for example, never received the financial resources required for its successful implementation. Work on promoting gender equality has never been adequately costed. Gender equality policies, strategies and action plans are developed without attention to the costs of implementation or the possible sources of funding. The Commission on the Status of Women therefore focused on “financing for gender equality’ as its priority theme in 2008 and adopted recommendations on ways to ensure consistent and adequate flows of resources for work on gender equality and empowerment of women.

One of the strategies recommended to increase the flow of resources to gender equality is implementation of ‘gender-responsive budget processes’. This is not something new.  Such processes have been implemented in countries around the world for the past 10-15 years. A large number of countries (estimated to be around 70) have made efforts to influence budget processes from a gender equality perspective. Initially the initiatives were called "women's budgets". More commonly used terms today are "gender-sensitive budgets" or “gender-responsive budgets”. The objective of these initiatives is not to produce a separate gender equality or women’s budget but to mainstream relevant gender perspectives into existing budget processes, in order to ensure that all resources are allocated and utilized in a gender-responsive manner.

At the basis of all the initiatives undertaken is the need to make national budget processes more accountable from a gender equality perspective, as well as to ensure that policy, programme and budget decisions take the needs, priorities and contributions of both women and men into account, and that policies and commitments on gender equality are matched with adequate resource allocations. A related objective is to increase women's participation in economic processes and contribute to the economic empowerment of women.

Gender-responsive budgeting is not a panacea for ensuring more attention and resources to gender equality. However, if carried out effectively such initiatives can have a very positive impact. Unfortunately many of the initiatives carried out so far have not been fully adequate. Many early efforts focused solely on analyzing budgets already formulated, with an exclusive focus on expenditures. Some initiatives were focused on securing funding for targeted activities for women, as opposed to ensuring that all resource allocations were based on the priorities, needs and contributions of both women and men.These initiatives did not bring about the required changes in overall  resource allocations. Many initiatives did not involve critical stakeholders and therefore ‘died away’ or were discontinued. Experience has shown that the involvement of a range of actors is needed for successful gender-responsive budget processes, including  ministries – especially ministries of finance/planning, national machineries for the advancement of women, NGOs,  academics and parliamentarians.

The identified failings in earlier approaches have been addressed in many recent initiatives. There has been a clear shift of focus to the formulation processes. Some initiatives today attempt to influence budget reform processes across the whole budget cycle. An increasing number of initiatives seek to use budget speeches, budget call circulars and budget guidelines as entry-points to facilitate the formulation and implementation of budgets. There has also been a move to focus on revenues, including taxation. A range of different activities have been identified as critical in effective gender-responsive budgets, including research and data collection; development of guidelines and manuals;  development of training programmes;  promoting “budget literacy” among the general public; and strengthening lobbying techniques among women’s groups.

Further efforts are needed to ensure a shift from analysis to implementation, to broaden the focus to include both revenue and expenditures and to ensure the full involvement of all critical stakeholders. Serious inadequacies in measurement of resource allocations for gender equality need to be addressed before gender responsive budget processes can achieve their full potential.  Ways and means to systematically and effectively measure progress through public finance processes, such as public expenditure reviews, need to be developed. Further development of sex-disaggregated data and indicators is also required to make gender responsive budgets a more effective instrument.

Do you think enough is being done to shape the views of youth on gender equality so that the future they develop will be equitable for all?

I don’t believe enough has been done to engage younger generations in gender equality work. Their engagement  - awareness of remaining inequalities and commitment to eliminate them – will be critical for moving forward on gender equality. One sometimes hears complaints that younger generations are not interested or think that equality has already been achieved. It is clear that a strengthened dialogue between those currently working on equality issues and younger generations is needed. One only needs to look at the leadership structures of many gender equality organisations to realize that more needs to be done.

It is essential to recognize that we need to engage both young women and young men. Gender equality is about both women and men and if men are not aware and committed to gender equality progress will not be made. There are significant variations in awareness of gender equality issues among different generations of men. A growing number of strong allies for gender equality can be found among young men and we need to find ways to engage them more effectively.

Creating environments for real dialogue between different generations requires openness, creativity, respect and empathy. Young people may have difficulties understanding the specific contexts of older women and men. Similarly it can be difficult for older women and men to understand the goals, priorities and concrete situations of youth today. Younger generations need to recognize the critical work carried out by earlier generations, but those in leadership positions today need to open the way for younger women and men to take over leadership roles. At the basis of intergenerational contact and collaboration must be acceptance that each generation has unique contributions to make. It is very clear that young women and men can provide fresh insights on some of the critical gender equality issues we have been struggling with for decades.

In situations where younger women are not engaging and playing active roles in women’s movements, we also need to be honest in assessing why. Ways and means of allowing for diverse leadership roles, apart from the management functions, need to be developed to provide a broader framework for all members of groups and networks to influence goals and strategic directions. Ways to ensure younger members can be given more active, responsible roles and opportunities for developing both their management and leadership capabilities need to be developed.

Women’s groups and networks, and the individuals within them, have always been appreciative of the positive gains of working together – i.e the value-added of exchanging, sharing and networking. It is often an enriching experience at a personal level for individuals. This value-added can be enhanced by ensuring close contacts and collaboration between generations so that the perceptions, experiences, priorities of all generations of women are fully shared. Hopefully, in the future, we will also be able to include all generations of men, and the different positive aspects they can bring, in the continuing struggle for gender equality.

It is positive that gender equality issues are increasingly taken into account in curricula and teacher training in primary school, and even at pre-school levels, in an increasing number of countries. Gender equality training is offered to students at secondary level. Gender studies have been introduced in universities at both graduate and post-graduate levels. Much more could and must be done, however, to ensure that coming generations are aware of the importance of gender equality and committed to working to achieve it.