Ensuring women’s rights through better public services


Around the world, complaints about the quality of public services are a common refrain—from the many hoops one has to jump through to get a license for a new business, to difficulties in accessing public health services and clinics or simply trying to re-enter the workforce. However, several Governments are making concerted efforts to improve the quality of their services and make it easier for all citizens to have access. These efforts are making bureaucratic processes less complicated, encouraging participation in decision-making, and improving living conditions in many countries.

The United Nations Public Service Awards, the most prestigious international recognition of excellence in public service, recognize the critical need of citizens to have good and accessible public services. They reward the creative achievements and contributions of public service institutions that advance effective and responsive public administration in countries worldwide. Through an annual competition, the best models are recognized on International Public Service Day, 23 June. This year, the award ceremony will take place at the UN Public Service Forum in Bahrain, from 24 to 27 June 2013.

As part of its efforts to promote better services for women and girls who often face greater difficulties in accessing them, UN Women has been supporting a special category of the UN Public Service Awards called “Promoting Gender-Responsive Delivery of Public Services.” With innovative services that respond to the needs of women and girls, the 2013 top winners of this category are from Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, Morocco and Pakistan. For a full list of award winners in the Gender Category, click here.

The top winners in the Gender category:

Morocco has been prized for implementing a successful reform to address the weak representation of women in decision-making at local levels. The Moroccan Ministry of the Interior developed a plan to support local authorities and increase women’s participation. More than 100 activities were undertaken, including trainings for women, visits from gender equality experts to guide local groups, and activities to strengthen women’s civil society groups – reaching more than 8,000 Moroccan and African women in the process. The project resulted in the creation of several networks to advance women’s political participation and leadership, including of locally elected women from the Maghreb region, Mauritania and Morocco.

“This international recognition means that we are on the right track with a concrete and active commitment in favour of the empowerment of women at the local level,” says Najat Zarrouk, Governor, Director of Training for Morocco’s Ministry of the Interior.

Egypt was awarded for a programme that brings critical services to women, many of whom used to be unable to access services for the early detection of breast cancer. The “Women’s Health Outreach Programme”is the first Government-funded Egyptian National Breast Cancer Screening programme.

“The multidisciplinary breast cancer clinic is a one-stop clinic where women with suspicious mammographic findings in the Egyptian Breast Screening programme receive diagnostic and therapeutic services free-of-charge, thus shortening the period between diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer,” explains Dr. Rasha M. Kamal, of the Women’s Health Outreach Programme. Through this women’s health project, 106,000 women were screened for breast cancer in Egypt since the programme began in 2007. Their clinic has provided further diagnostic investigations to more than 2,000 women over 200 women have completed their surgical interventions and post-operative care at the premises.

Germany is another top winner in this category. Unlike their male counterparts, many German women interrupt their own careers in order to raise a family or care for relatives. In response, the Government developed the Aktions programm Perspektive Wiedereinstieg initiative, meaning “Prospects for re-entering the workforce.” It has provided some 17,300 women with information and resources, nearly 5,000 of whom have taken part in intensive coaching programmes, while others have been coached on how to re-enter the workforce.

“The programme is the first initiative of the Federal Government that supports both women and men who took a family-related career break of several years, providing them with favourable prospects for reintegrating into the career world,” says Sabine Christen, Senior Expert at Germany’s Federal Ministry for Families, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. “The systemic approach of the programme is the key factor to success: women are supported throughout the whole process of re-entry by intensive coaching on one hand, and tailored continuing vocational training,” she adds.

In Ecuador, to ensure that budget allocation is inclusive and meets the needs of women and men, the Ministry of State Budgets created a Gender Unit to promote awareness and capacity-building among staff in the Ministry of Finance and other public institutions. The public service initiative which began in 2005 has made a significant contribution towards ensuring that national planning and budgeting processes incorporate a gender perspective and has been recognized as a good practice that should be emulated in other countries in Latin America.

In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of women work in small-scale industries making bags, clothes, scarves, and toys for export. Many of these industries, such as textile, leather, metal and pharmaceutical factories, have been operating in Pakistan without any legal obligation for workers’ occupational health, safety and social protection. Pakistan’s award-winning initiative supports women workers’ rights and safety. Women now have the right to form unions through which they can take on leadership roles.

“The Gender-Responsive Labour inspection toolkit is a path for women to join the formal track to the world of work. [It] provides a 360-degree capacity-building and assessment tool for the employee, employer, labour inspectors and policymakers,” said Mr. Tahir Manzoor, Deputy Director of the Gender Unit, Department of Labour, Punjab.

As a whole, these initiatives are increasing access to services and promoting greater gender equality.

“Equitable public service provision to women and men continues to be a great challenge around the world,” says Begoña Lasagabaster, UN Women Chief of the Leadership and Governance Section, reminding that “efforts to promote gender-responsive service-delivery and accountability for gender equality commitments in general must be strengthened, in a context where austerity measures, conflict and challenges of various types threaten to stall or reverse progress on gender equality.”