Next week, the Generation Equality Forum (GEF), the largest global gathering of the past 25 years, seeking to advance women's rights, will conclude in Paris, under the umbrella of UN Women.
As the event is co-hosted by the French and Mexican governments, it kicked off first in Mexico late March. The next phase of the GEF is meant to foster commitments and take concrete steps, which will be announced in Paris.
This is a unique opportunity to urge world leaders to live up to the commitments they made a quarter century ago at the Fourth World Conference on Women. They agreed then that "women's rights are human rights and human rights are women's rights."
Today, however, there is no country where women enjoy absolute equality with men, either in law or in practice.
Global Citizen talked to Delphine O, France's youngest ambassador-at-large and Secretary General for the Generation Equality Forum, about the importance of promoting youth leadership to create transformative change on gender equality.
An inspiration for young people, she is responsible, at 35 only, for organizing this key global event, which will take concrete steps to promote the rights of girls and women.Delphine O, Secretary General for the Generation Equality Forum, is France's youngest ambassador-at-large.
Global Citizen : What does this Forum mean to you?
Delphine O: I am a self-confessed feminist. I became aware very early on of the acute inequalities between women and men in every society, including my own. In all my work experiences, I could see that women were not treated like men. But I was not an expert on the subject until two years ago.
When I was asked to become an ambassador-at-large and Secretary General of the Generation Equality Forum, it was an extraordinary opportunity for me to align my values with my professional activity. The GEF has taken two years of my life: two years of meetings with a wide range of actors and actresses committed to advancing gender equality and they have inspired me so much!
What made you want to support gender equality?
In 2013, I went to Afghanistan to intern with an NGO called ActionAid. I worked on Afghan women's participation in local politics and improving their rights.
I would travel across the country from village to village, into very remote areas, to hear the experiences of women who had become "town councillors": they sat on the council of elders – also called shura – and struggled to be recognized as legitimate, even as proper human beings.
For the first time in my life, I experienced sisterhood: that feeling that beyond the major differences between our situations (economic, social, etc.), there was a bond that united us in the very experience of being women.
Years later, in 2017, in another world, I became the deputy of the 19th district of Paris. I came to experience the circles of power, very much male and older than I was. A profile like mine was not the norm and I was reminded of this every day: people thought I was an intern and I was placed at the back of meeting rooms, I was not allowed to speak...
There is no professional or personal environment where gender-based stereotypes are not still entrenched.
You are France's youngest ambassador. Why is it important to involve young people in the decision-making process and in the promotion of gender equality?
The Equality Generation Forum's purpose is reflected in its name. We can no longer make decisions to change the future without involving young people: Generation Equality will be theirs.
To plan and organize the GEF, we collaborated with a number of youth organizations from all over the world. I have been impressed by how mature the discourse of young girls and boys are on equality-related topics. They are much more aware of social issues, such as the need to eradicate violence against women and harassment in all its forms, than I was at their age.
This illustrates that taboos are being broken, but also, unfortunately, that young girls are exposed to such violence from an early age. Young people's demands and commitment to achieving equality are very powerful drivers to change things.
I feel very honored to be the youngest ambassador appointed to this position. I hope to carry their voices forward as part of the mission assigned to me – though, at times, I feel old compared to this generation.
The GEF was envisioned as a civil society-centered gathering. How can a regular Global Citizen get involved in advancing gender equality?
It is a daily job that must be carried out by all of us because equality between women and men is the business of 100% of society, not just 50%, involving women only.
A Global Citizen can get involved by reading [about gender equality] to get informed, deconstruct gender relations and become aware of the stereotypes he or she has internalized. He/she can, in turn, inform those around him/her and support the girls and women around him/her who are victims of discrimination.
We can take action every day to promote equality, even in the simplest of ways: by displaying sisterhood in the workplace, by speaking out against harassment in the public place or by empowering a young girl to gain self-confidence.
A Global Citizen can get involved in grassroots organizations that do an amazing job every day. He/she can also register to attend the Generation Equality Forum and participate in some of the 90 events that will be hosted on our digital platform and meet tens of thousands of participants:https://forumgenerationegalite.fr/en
What do you expect from the GEF?
The last time the international community came together to advance gender equality was in 1995 at the World Conference on Women in Beijing. The ensuing Declaration and Platform for Action are still, today, the benchmark texts for tackling women's rights internationally. However, the countries have not enough implemented these texts and the objectives set 26 years ago have not been met.
No country has achieved gender equality and the COVID-19 crisis has set back the progress made in the past decades.
It was about time to meet to renew our political commitment and set new concrete goals. In Paris, a new plan to accelerate gender equality will be launched and ambitious commitments will be made: the GEF will be a historical milestone and will kick-start a new momentum to foster equality over the next five years.
The GEF marks a new way of doing diplomacy: unlike traditional global summits, governments and international organizations are seated around the same table alongside civil society activists, youth and businesses to make decisions together.
Finally, and most importantly, all the actors involved in the GEF, from the smallest to the largest, will firmly reassert to the world that women's rights are universal: despite increasingly frequent attempts by conservative movements to question them, such rights know no exceptions - nowhere, under any circumstances.
French President Emmanuel Macron has made gender equality a top priority of his five-year term. What is your stand on his policy in this area and how France has advanced gender equality?
For the first time, a government has willingly decided to make this issue a priority and to express it at the political level. A lot has been done at the national level, in particular thanks to the national forum (Grenelle) on domestic violence, and to the efforts made in many areas: sports, culture, industry and the economy, to implement concrete measures to fight against gender-based violence and promote equality in the workplace.
At the international level, France adopted a feminist foreign policy in 2018. In other words, the fight for women's rights spans all of its international activities, namely development, of course, but also protection of the environment and biodiversity, security, trade policy, etc.
It also implies putting gender equality on the agenda of every international summit (G7, G20...), of every negotiation, of every UN resolution, in every forum - making it a mainstream topic, instead of a side issue.
Finally, this entails, of course, making the decision to organize the GEF for UN Women and with Mexico, which represents a significant political, financial and human investment. This investment is necessary because equality cannot wait.