Gender, equity and human rights

“Generation 2.0” of UN-SWAP previewed at WHO Headquarters in Geneva

Group picture of the workshop participants
Participants to the UN-SWAP workshop

22 NOVEMBER 2017 – A 4-day workshop was held at WHO Headquarters in Geneva last week to take stock of progress made in the first 5 years of the UN System-wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN-SWAP 1.0).

Gender parity makes sense. If WHO can’t make headway, then who can?

Dr Tedros, Director-General, WHO

The UN-SWAP, managed by UN Women, is the first unified accountability framework in the UN Common system designed to accelerate and support strengthened gender mainstreaming and gender equality and the empowerment of women results in all functions of UN system entities.

Dr Tedros, WHO Director-General, opening the meeting
Dr Tedros, WHO Director-General, opening the meeting
WHO/Chris Black

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros opened the meeting with Aparna Mehtrotra, Director, UN system Coordination Division, UN Women. “What’s failing is the mindset,” said Dr Tedros. “Unless the mindset is corrected, it will only be a slogan. We have to be honest.”


The UN-SWAP is regarded by many as having reenergized gender mainstreaming, bringing the UN system together around a common framework, and working through inter-agency networks. The initial phase of the UN-SWAP (2012-2017) included 15 common system-wide gender mainstreaming Performance Indicators clustered into six broad functional area and against which the entire UN system is assessed annually (90% of the UN system is participating and reporting). Members States fully support and are engaged with the UN-SWAP work.

UNSWAP 2.0, the next generation of this Accountability Framework for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women – the first of its kind for the UN Common System – will be launched in January 2018 (for five years, until end of 2022). It incorporates lessons learned, strengthens requirements and addresses entity contributions to gender results in the context of the SDGs.

Dr Veronica Magar, Team Leader, Gender, Equity and Human Rights highlighted WHO's perspective, saying “We need to be empowered to defend our rights, tackle discrimination to address biases… pay gaps, missed opportunities, unpaid work…collectively through social movements that inspire us. We also need to share our stories, collectively.”

Illustrator Sebastien Gerbier with the graphic narrative of the meeting
Illustrator Sebastien Gerbier with the graphic narrative of the meeting
Allan Easton

One of the innovations of the UN-SWAP group was to draw on the power of the arts to underscore the need to remove cultural barriers to stem violence against women as a human rights issue. Through pre-premiere of the documentary play “Seven” on the workshop’s second day, participants were reminded in a strong and gripping way of the drive behind this work to accelerate gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Next steps

For WHO, as for all other participating agencies, implementing UN-SWAP 2.0 will mean a new way of doing business. UN-SWAP Performance Indicators include challenging standards and requirements to reach gender equality in staffing and mainstream gender equality and empowerment of women across WHO's programmes. Some, such as championing gender equality and empowerment of women at the highest leadership levels, moved in the right direction with the recent naming of the senior leadership team with women in 10 of 15 posts. Others include regular reporting on progress to Member States and reaching equal representation of women at levels P4 and above.

Telling the story of the meeting in pictures: Day 1
Telling the story of the meeting in pictures: Day 1
Allan Easton

The Gender, Equity and Human Rights team with Veronica Magar and Eva Lustigová, the organizer of the UN-SWAP workshop last week, have already started working with other WHO departments to prepare for a smooth transition to UN-SWAP 2.0. In fact, many staff from other headquarters departments joined the workshop. This will include close collaboration with the department of Country Cooperation and Coordination with the United Nations System to increase awareness and understanding of the UN-SWAP at the country level, as well as contributions by country offices to WHO's UN-SWAP performance. WHO's UN-SWAP performance, which continues to be “holistic”, also addresses mainstreaming equity and human rights throughout WHO's Programmes. This approach will be reflected in the implementation of the new UN-SWAP 2.0 Performance Indicator “Gender-related SDG Results” which specifies that the main strategic planning document include “at least one high level result on gender equality and the empowerment of women which will contribute to meeting SDG targets, and reference to SDG 5 targets.” Another example will be focused efforts for WHO's panels at meetings/conferences to have a gender-equal mix of female and male presenters/speakers.

Activities commencing learning programmes to change the mindset, including preventing unconscious bias, will be organized across the Organization. In this regard, these will tap synergies and draw on existing materials in the UN-SWAP network to optimize resources.