IOM takes strides on gender

In 1963, Merry Lepper was the first woman who set a world record in the marathon with a time of 3:37:07, the same year Leonard Graves Edelen set a world record of 2:14:28. The difference of speed between the fastest man and women was 1 hour and 23 minutes. Today, the current world record difference is 12 minutes.  The question we have to ask is, what happened in the last 50 years that reduced this gap?

A recent workshop on gender issues at the IOM Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific looked at this and other relevant issues, during the first of nine Gender Audits that will be implemented by the IOM’s Gender Coordination Unit.

In the 1960s, some thought that the reason why men were faster than women were biological differences. However, this isn’t the case. The reason for the large variance relies more on access to services, training possibilities, and social prejudices rather than the actual, physical capability of the individual. 

In the past, sports have often been associated with men and masculinity. Phrases which have been used more in a demeaning way, “you play like a girl,” clearly show loaded and demeaning gender constructs. But what happens when gender equality is studied and questioned inside an intergovernmental organization?

The main objective of a Gender Audit is to promote awareness and learning at the individual, work unit and organizational levels on how to effectively implement gender main-streaming as well as on gender specific programming.

“The idea is to identify the things that are not working, recommend and advise on how to improve these situations. It started with a desk review, that included a survey and interviews, and is being completed with observations from the staff,” explains Sylvia Lopez-Ekra, former Head of the Gender Coordination Unit of IOM. 

This initiative aims to promote gender equality and provide the opportunity for constructive discussions. There still are many areas to improve, to openly discuss and incorporate into our programmes and policies despite having a gender policy since 1955. For example, gender balance hasn't improved in the last 10 years at IOM. In low-level positions there continue to be more women than men; while at higher grades there are considerably more men than women. Even more worrying is that none of the targets designed to tackle this issue have been met completely, almost 60 years on.

That shows that there still things to study and review. That’s the mission of the Gender Coordination Unit and the purpose of the Gender Audit. What is taken for granted now was different in the past, and at present in other parts of the world, things are changing because some people crossed the line and made the change.

As IOM Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Andrew Bruce stated, “We need to discuss gender issues, we cannot live in a bubble pretending that everything is equal for both men and women.”

Another tool available to the formulation of gender-sensitive programming is the reactivation of a network of Gender Focal Points in IOM Missions and Headquarters, who currently number over 102 persons. These staff members volunteered to devote between 5 and 10 per cent of their time to further the understanding of gender issues in IOM.

It is important to remember that gender does not only affect women but involves everyone. For example, now the Gender Coordination Unit are for advocating a paternity policy with extra weeks for men and work is in progress for single people, not just parents and families.