This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

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Corinne Kitsell

Ambassador and UK Permanent Representative to IAEA and CTBTO

Part of UK in Austria

8th March 2024 Vienna

Gender equality is non-negotiable

Ambassador Corinne Kitsell

Almost a decade ago, the world agreed that by 2030 we must achieve gender equality and empower ALL women and girls.

But, in 2024, we are nowhere near achieving this.

Why?  Rather than countries coming together at the United Nations to make progress, a vocal minority are actively trying to undermine gender equality through the UN.  This group, led in Vienna by Iran and Russia, digs in and tries to remove gender equality language from UN documents.  The same pattern is being seen in the UN Offices in New York and Geneva.  The approach is coordinated and happening in multiple negotiations, but the UK – like most other countries – believes gender equality is not up for negotiation in the 21st Century.

As a female diplomat, it is particularly frustrating to have to negotiate with male Ambassadors who show blatant disrespect for the female Ambassadors sat across the negotiating table.  But beyond the personal insult, the language we agree in UN texts matters because it gives the UN its mandate, in other words, our resolutions tell the UN both what to prioritise and how to do it.

To give one example, at the last IAEA annual General Conference, Iran wanted to change “gender equality” to “gender balance”.  This might seem minor, but in the UN’s work these are two very different concepts.  Gender equality is about treating people the same, whereas gender balance is about having merely equal numbers of women and men, rather than making sure they have the same rights which would include protection and empowerment of women. The UK, along with delegations from all regions, spoke against changing the language but even with this concerted effort, we eventually (at 2am on a Friday night!) had to compromise to reach consensus.

For me and my female colleagues it is disheartening that some countries don’t believe that we are entitled to equal treatment.  On the one hand, we feel shocked that gender equality is seen as a threat by certain countries.  But on the other, there is a renewed sense of unity and energy – from countries across the globe – to work together on this common goal which affects all of us.

Despite these challenges, it is important to acknowledge where we have made progress.  In the Vienna UN Offices, the UK co-founded a ‘Group of Friends on Gender’ to work with other countries to protect gender equality.  And the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has its own gender team doing fantastic work.  In December, UNODC saw its first resolution on the importance of gender issues in tackling corruption, successfully tabled by Ghana – a great achievement.  And the UK recently funded the implementation, alongside Canada, of the Toolkit on Mainstreaming Gender and Human Rights when tackling transnational organised crime.

I am proud to work with many fantastic female colleagues and male allies who are flying the flag for gender equality.  It is inspiring to see increasing numbers of female Ambassadors here in Vienna and elsewhere – quite a change from when I was starting out in diplomacy back in the 1990s, and something I reflected on a couple of years ago in this interview.

Meanwhile, a year ago the UK Government published the International Women and Girls Strategy which sets out how we will remove the barriers that hold women and girls back.  We are working to put this strategy into practice in Vienna and make a difference – domestically and internationally – to overturn gender disparity.

I call on all countries to work together and make 2024 the year we speed up progress towards delivering our collective commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 5 to Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls.

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About Corinne Kitsell

Corinne Kitsell was appointed Ambassador and UK Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) in Vienna in October 2020.

Corinne Kitsell was appointed Ambassador and UK Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) in Vienna in October 2020.