Promoting Women’s Access to Public Services – 2011 Gender-Responsive Public Service Awards

Date: Thursday, June 23, 2011

Today on United Nations Public Service Day, the United Nations presented the annual Public Service Awards at a ceremony in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Awardees received a trophy and a certificate of recognition. This year's event is highly symbolic and unique as it is the first time in the history of the United Nations Public Service Award that awards were given for gender-responsive service delivery, as well as the first time that an African nation hosted the event.

The award winners presented their experiences and led discussions on how their services can be replicated and tailored to the specific circumstances of other countries. Gender-responsive service delivery awards were given to public service innovations and initiatives that improved services in any of the following ways:

  1. Increased quality and affordability of services for women users;
  2. Responded to particular constraints that women face in accessing services, such as security risks, childcare burdens, limited mobility and financial access issues;
  3. Implemented mechanisms to support women to easily obtain information about government services; ensured that public servants are sanctioned when women's needs are ignored or when women's rights for service delivery are not protected;
  4. Increased the ability of women to observe, monitor and analyse government decision-making and processes, including participatory budgeting and planning processes;
  5. Introduced incentives and changes in employment policies, including recruitment, promotion, training, compensation and career management policies, to increase the number of women in the public sector at all levels, including those in the front line and at decision-making levels;
  6. Introduced a distinctively new approach to promoting the participation of citizens, especially poor women, in policymaking.

Award recipients for this category were selected by the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration. The first-place winners were from India and Egypt, while the second place winners were from Korea (two) and Oman.

The innovation in India was designed to increase access to justice for poor women who are victims of sexual violence. Northern Indian states have a high incidence of violent crimes against women, and victims and their families often face threats and intimidation not only from perpetrators, but also from police. Women face crosscutting discrimination due to their status in a lower caste, a disability or displacement. In addition, these women's testimony in the justice system is often disregarded due to discrimination and prejudice. The innovation of the Swanchetan Society for Mental Health was to develop a 24-hour psychological centre providing trauma counselling to women who were victims of a heinous crime such as public humiliation, lynching and caste-based rape. Providing professional and moral support helped nearly eight thousand women to continue their struggle for justice. The project is the first one in which the Indian Police entered in a partnership with a civil society organization to provide support to victims and is regarded as an important milestone in the judicial system of the country.

The Egyptian winner was a health outreach programme for women. In designing this service, the Ministry of Health was guided by research conducted by the National Cancer Institute in Cairo, which found that breast cancer represented 35.1 percent of female cancers in Egypt with more than 80 percent of such cancers discovered only at highly developed stages. Insufficient efforts have been put towards early detection screenings, and many of Egypt's rural poor do not have easy access to health care and are unable to afford proper treatment. The Ministry of Health partnered with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to expand health care provision to women nationwide by using information and communication technologies (ICT). They developed the “Women Health Outreach Programme (WHOP), a government-funded programme that offers free breast screening and therapeutic procedures for all Egyptian women over the age of 45 within their local communities. Breast health awareness and clinical care delivery are offered at all levels of diagnosis, as well as treatment and post-treatment care.

The first Korean winner was a programme to self-empower young women at risk of prostitution in the Seoul metropolitan area. The core of the programme was to create an empowerment system using education and employment. The programme worked with a late-night street counselling service to identify young women sex workers who might benefit from targeted early intervention programmes. These young women were enrolled in the Self-Empowerment School, and upon graduating could work in the Self-Empowerment Training Shop. Critical to the success of this programme was the cooperation with NGOs, government, and academia in order to build inclusive and sustainable services.

The other Korean winner was an online resource centre for women whose employment had been interrupted due to reasons such as familial or childcare responsibilities. The Gyeonggi Women's Development Centre (GWDC) is dedicated to expanding women's career capabilities and economic empowerment. Rather than solely providing education and training, GWDC focuses on career development consulting and job placement, so as to provide a comprehensive programme aimed at improving women's careers goals and employment. Furthermore, GWDC provided gender-sensitive e-learning by offering high-quality contents and management services that specifically met women's needs. GWDC established the first-ever programme in the country aimed at cultivating women information specialists, and initiated a specialized programme for women entrepreneurs. In order to enhance the success of GWDC, an employability index was created to reflect the actual problems and needs of career-interrupted women. The programme also boosts female confidence and accompanies them through every step of the job application process.

The winner from Oman was an initiative by the National Association for Cancer Awareness to introduce Mobile Mammography Units (MMU) as an alternative to hospital-based radiological facilities. The units were operated by an all-female team of technologists. The project attempted to address the constraints that women faced in accessing breast cancer screening services and cancer education due to travel distance, time, and high costs. Previously, many women in the country were not aware of the importance of screening, nor were they willing to undergo the procedure as they saw it as an intrusion of privacy. The educational information the MMUs provided was critical as was its mobility. The units travelled the country offering free mammography screening and information materials in a time-efficient and accessible manner. The Unit is equipped with a digital mammography machine and a stabilizing system and complies with all WHO regulations.

These five examples show different innovations in improving women's access to health, education and employment services by recognizing different constraints women face, such as discrimination, gender roles, mobility, and low socio-economic status. UN Women urges all governments, public administrations and service providers to take active and decisive steps towards reformulating policies and programmes to address the biases and constraints women face with service access, and looks forward to the 2012 round of nominations for the UN gender-responsive public service awards.

The United Nations Public Service Awards is the most prestigious international recognition of excellence in public service. It rewards the creative achievements and contributions of public service institutions that lead to a more effective and responsive public administration in countries worldwide. Through an annual competition, the UN Public Service Awards promotes the role, professionalism and visibility of public service.