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Changing gender norms to empower rural women and girls

Time (GMT +00) 15:00 16:30


Dr Anju Malhotra is the Principal Advisor, Gender & Development at UNICEF providing leadership on gender equality including policy, programmes, and research.  Ms Malhotra has led the development of the ground-breaking Gender Action Plan 2014-2017 and is currently overseeing its implementation, including the monitoring and reporting of the plan’s impact on the lives of children. Prior to joining UNICEF in 2012, Ms Malhotra was Vice President Research, Innovation, and Impact at the International Center for Research on Women.  

H.E. Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason is the Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations and currently serves as Chair-designate of the Commission on the Status of Women. Prior to her appointment, Ms. Nason was Ireland’s Ambassador to France and Monaco from 2014 to 2017.  She previously served as Second Secretary-General in the Department of the Taoiseach from 2011 to 2014, with responsibility for European Union affairs, the Economic Management Council and the office of the Tanaiste. 

Dr Caroline Harper is Principal Research Fellow and Head of Programme, leading ODI’s work on Social Development, with a focus on gender, age and exclusion. She specialises in poverty and exclusion related to childhood, adolescence and gender with the aim of building a critical and policy relevant knowledge base and empowering researchers and activists with skills, evidence and capacity to act on findings locally and globally. Her focus over the last four years has been on adolescent girls and discriminatory social norms, building on her work on childhood, chronic, life-course and intergenerational poverty. 

Dr Purna Sen is Director of Policy at UN Women where she is responsible for direction, leadership and management of the Policy Division. She has over 30 years’ experience in capacity building, service delivery and evaluation review, teaching, advocacy and research publishing. Her work has included research, publications and activism on violence against women, culture and human rights, trafficking, sexuality and sexual control, human rights, developments, civil society organising against violence, and social development issues and race equality in the UK. She has consulted with organisations including Article 19 and the British Council, and been on the management and advisory groups of NGOs including the Refugee Women's Resource Project and Southall Black Sisters. 

Chernor Bah is the Co-Founder & Executive Director of Purposeful Productions. Chernor is an acclaimed global advocate for education, a girl champion and development expert.  As a teenager, he founded and led Sierra Leone’s children’s parliament. He went on to lead youth related initiatives across three continents for organizations like UNFPA, Catholic Relief Services and Nike Foundation/Girl Effect. From 2015 until early 2017, Bah was at the Population Council leading an initiative to provide solutions to adolescent girls affected by the Ebola Outbreak. In 2012, Bah was co-Founder of A World at School and was an influential leader of the "I am Malala" campaign. 

Professor Nancy Glass conducts clinical and community-based intervention research with diverse populations across multiple settings domestically and globally. Since 2002, Dr. Glass has served as Principal Investigator of nine federally funded multidisciplinary research projects to improve safety, health, and economic security and address gender inequity in diverse community and clinic settings. Dr. Glass has also collaborated with global experts and donors (UNICEF, World Bank, U.S. Department of State, PRM) to implement and evaluate innovative primary prevention programs that challenge social norms that sustain violence against women in humanitarian settings (Somalia and South Sudan). 

Sizani Ngubane is a South African activist who works for rural women's rights. She founded the Rural Women's Movement (RWM) in 1990 as an organisation by rural women for rural women. Today RWM is a coalition of more than 500 community based organizations comprised with a membership of 50,000 indigenous women and girls. She is the 2018 NGO CSW/NY Woman of Distinction, an award recognising outstanding work and accomplishment in advancing the women’s agenda.

Contributing chair

Anju Malhotra - Principal Advisor, Gender and Development, UNICEF

Opening remarks

H. E. Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason @irishmissionun - Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations


Caroline Harper - Principal Research Fellow and Head of Programme, Social Development, Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

Purna Sen @Purna_Sen - Director of Policy, UN Women

Chernor Bah @Cee_Bah - Co-founder and Executive Director, Purposeful Productions

Nancy Glass @ProfGlassPhD - Associate Director, John Hopkins Center for Global Health

Sizani Ngubane @RWMKZNSA - Co-founder, Rural Women's Movement, South Africa, and 2018 NGO CSW/NY Woman of Distinction


There is a growing recognition within the development community that gender equality requires more than just parity in access to education or other services. To truly harness the power of half the world’s population requires deeper reforms that challenge patriarchal regimes and empower women and girls to achieve their full potential.

More recently, the #MeToo and Time's Up campaigns have catalysed public debate on gender roles and how power is exercised and contested in society – conversations relevant to women and girls in every country around the world. Such campaigns have led many to challenge the discriminatory gender norms that underlie certain practices, beliefs and behaviours. But to what extent can changing norms advance women’s rights and gender equality more broadly – especially for women and girls in remote and rural communities? And how can international policy-makers and national legislators seize the current momentum to catalyse a deeper, progressive change that leaves no one behind?

On International Women’s Day, the Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Advancing Learning and Innovation on Gender Norms (ALIGN) platform and Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) co-host an event at the United Nations on gender norm change, to shape and support the upcoming negotiations of the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Informed by new ODI research, and the knowledge of our many partners, the event explores the latest state of the debate on the policies, practices and power relations that enable or constrain women’s contributions to society.

United Nations Plaza New York