Struggling, Adapting and Growing – My Gender Journey with UNDP
By Shoko Noda
Every year on the International Women’s Day I publish an op-ed. This year I wrote “Reaching beyond the glass ceiling”, and shared my personal experiences in facing the glass ceilings and walls in school and at work in Japan.
“This is an article our daughters should read and mine, growing up, certainly will”, read an email. Indeed, a lot of colleagues and friends reached me out to say how encouraging my piece was and that it resonated in their daily lives. While pleasantly surprised, I felt frustrated that many continue to face similar experiences every day both at home and at work.
Are we getting there at all? While there is still a long way to go, I believe we have overcome many hurdles and made giant leaps towards our goal. And I am proud that I joined UNDP to ride this journey.
After completing my first year in a Japanese company, I knew that as a woman my career progression would be limited in my own country, and revived my original dream of working for the development sector. I believed that an international organization would give me a better chance to explore my potential and dedicate myself to development work. Two years went by since then, and I landed in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, as a junior programme officer in UNDP in 1998. I was excited to be assigned to a “Women in Development” project.
For the next two years, I poured all my energy and my heart into the project and its staff. We provided micro finance for women to start small businesses. The first scholarship programme was initiated for female students from remote areas. Female political leaders were provided with various training. When I visited Tajikistan a few years later, I was delighted to learn that the project had transformed itself into a non-governmental organisation and has been positively impacting the everyday lives of Tajik women. Including Tajikistan, to date I have worked in 7 country offices of UNDP, and gender related work was always close to my heart. I witnessed first-hand how interventions aimed at empowering women can create a ripple effect and bring transformative change to a community.
For the past twenty years in UNDP, I have seen my organisation struggling, adapting and growing in its efforts to ensure gender is placed at the core of everything we do. As part of expanding the organisation’s efforts towards advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, UNDP started to move towards integrating gender in all aspects of our work.
Soon I realised that it is critical not only for gender focal points but every single colleague in office to practice gender equality in their daily work. Back then, many saw it as an ambitious task and found it hard to relate. I had colleagues commenting “how can you mainstream gender aspects into our operations work?”
We continued to seek new initiatives to address this universal challenge. UNDP introduced a pilot certification programme called “Gender Seal” to provide a new approach to integrate our efforts towards gender mainstreaming. The Gender Seal is designed to score every aspect of what we do for gender mainstreaming both at the programme and operations sides. By providing a gold, silver or bronze seal, it creates a healthy competition among country offices for the good cause.
The second call for applications of the Gender Seal opened in 2013. In UNDP Nepal, we wanted to prove ourselves, and decided to go for it. It was a long process with lots of work. As the Country Director, I made it my priority and provided all the guidance and support to meet the Gender Seal requirements. The result was announced three months after I left Nepal. The office received a “High Silver”. Having led the Gender Seal process myself, I firmly believe that the certification programme is an extremely effective tool to walk the talk about gender equality in our programmes as well as work place.
Recognising the importance of the private sector’s role in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UNDP started to expand the Gender Seal programme to companies. Working together through the certification process, we support them to deepen their understanding of gender equality in the workplace and its linkages to the products and services they provide. In the Maldives, where I work now, we are slowly engaging the private sector to advocate for gender equality at the workplace. I am very excited about this new aspect of our work.
It has been a rewarding journey. Like UNDP itself, I have struggled, adapted and grown to address the multiple challenges of gender equality in each country. Are we getting there? Yes, I believe so. To close the persistent gender gaps, we must continue to challenge ourselves and do ‘business as unusual’.
Shoko Noda is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in the Maldives. She has previously worked in Nepal, Mongolia, Pakistan, DRC, New York, Yugoslavia, Kosovo, and Tajikistan. She is a passionate advocate on gender, climate change, disaster risk reduction and peacebuilding.