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The Power of the Collective: Collective Power for Gender Equality - An Unfinished Agenda for the UN
Episode 12nd August 2022 • Power Of... • UNU-IIGH
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Episode Title: The Power of the Collective: Collective Power for Gender Equality - An Unfinished Agenda for the UN 


Welcome to the Power Of…podcast series, a production by the United Nations University International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH). In this collection of conversations, we dive into critical, thought-provoking, and contemporary content to stimulate debate and dialogue with the aim of driving gender equality in global health.  Host, Johanna Riha, works at the UNU-IIGH in Malaysia and is passionate that the bold commitments towards gender equality in health must be met with changes to the underlying structural and systemic drivers for true transformation to occur.  


In this mini-series, Johanna focuses on the power of the collective and explores how collective action currently is framed in the UN to advance gender equality and how this could be enhanced. In this episode Johanna is joined by guests Zineb Touimi Benjelloun and Joanne Sandler, who co-authored a think piece on the topic based on decades of experience working within the UN. In their think piece, Zineb and Joanne reflect on the role the UN has played in advancing gender equality through coordination among the different levels UN agencies work on – however the UN has yet to fully utilize its collective power to advance gender equality, especially as it relates to global health. The think piece therefore sets out to stimulate honest and critical discussions on the nature of collective action in the UN and highlight the need to re-think what collective action in the UN should entail, drawing on lessons from feminist principles and action.  


As the episode kicks off, Zineb and Joanne share that the current piece was inspired by their involvement in the UNU-IIGH Gender and Health Hub’s ‘What Works in Gender and Health in the UN' project, which involved interviews across 5 UN agencies (see link below). As Joanne mentions, it was striking that collaboration, coordination and cooperation were rarely referred to or mentioned during interviews, considering the time, tools and investment spent in improving coordination across the UN over the last few decades. This catalyzed their inquiry into why coordination was not more widely reported as a critical ingredient of success despite the millions invested. 


As the episode progresses, Zineb and Joanne reflect on these questions and discuss how coordination is supported in the UN and what impedes this. They describe three enabling factors: (1) a shared vision on gender equality crafted by multiple stakeholders, (2), the pooling of UN non-financial resources and capacities to establish minimum standards for performance on gender equality and (3) the availability of donor resources to support coordinated action. Following this, they talk through five challenges they identified which disrupt coordination: (1) a pay-to-play approach in which competition for funding discourages collaboration, (2) situations where size and status matter more than expertise which results in quality gender experts being excluded despite their technical expertise, (3) a follow the leader approach which runs counter to what is learned from feminist action of collaboration, of horizontal collaboration and accountability, (4) the high cost of coordination, and (5) the UN as a members-only club. Lastly, Joanne and Zineb propose five ideas for strengthening collective action on gender equality, learning from feminist principles and action: (1) Reframe notions of top-down coordination, (2) Re-think notions of inclusion, (3) Re-prioritise what aspects of the UN’s work on gender equality require a collective approach, (4) Resource the UN’s backbone for gender equality to build a world class gender architecture, and lastly (5) is to Re-negotiate ideas about accountability.  

The authors close by reflecting on the role of the UN itself as a colonial, patriarchal and hierarchal structure which creates tensions that members need to navigate as they work towards visionary human rights commitments. Finally, they invite people to come forward with more positive examples of successful collaboration, cooperation and collective impact and highlight the need to invest in learning opportunities to advance collective action to respond to gender inequalities.   

As the episode concludes, Johanna invites listeners to join her for the next conversation with a UN Resident Coordinator and feminist partners on the ground to hear what UN coordination looks like, means at the country level, and very importantly, what UN coordination means from outside of the UN.  


So don’t miss the next episode and keep challenging yourself to think, question, and do more to drive gender equality in global health!  

Please like, share, and subscribe!  



Download: Think Piece

Download: What Works in Gender and Health Report 

Visit the UNU-IIGH website  

Learn more about Johanna Riha  

Check out the Gender and Health Hub website  

Follow the UNU-IIGH on Twitter  

Follow the Gender and Health Hub on Twitter  

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