Gender Equality in Practice

In All, The Story by Danielle Bicknell

Summer is in full effect in Paris, and that means most Parisians have left the city. The weather is great and I don’t mind having the extra room to walk, bike and hang around. I have been working in the gender equality division for over two months, and I finally feel at home. Whenever I start something new, there is always a learning stage. I learn by doing, so not having an orientation when I arrived meant I was bound to make mistakes, but learn a lot along the way. This is exactly what I’ve done.

The hardest thing for me to learn is the formalities. Since UNESCO is a huge organization, doing even the simplest task requires oversight, approval and often revisions from various departments. There are words that UNESCO uses (and does not use) and the format of all documents, programs, speeches, emails, etc. must fit specific parameters or it will get lost in the fray. In addition, switching from French to English and English to French in a conversation, email, or meeting can be a bit of a headache at times. However, it’s beautiful. I love walking into the UNESCO building every day and hearing several languages spoken. I love practicing my French and learning by listening. I think my enthusiasm to learn and try new things has caught the attention of my division, because they are happy to give me a variety of tasks.

In the past month I have had the honor of representing the gender equality division at conferences and official meetings, I have written speeches about women’s empowerment for the Director General and the Assistant Director General, and evaluated RFP/grant applications focused on empowering girls and women in all different sectors and all across the world. Some times I feel like I’m suffering from imposter syndrome, and that I don’t belong here. In those moments my wonderful director always lets me know that I’m here for a reason and since I believe in the work I am doing, I should never doubt myself.

Speaking of the work I do, I get this question a lot. When people ask, I say, “I work for the gender equality division at UNESCO.” Usually, they pause, try to process and then say, “what is that?”

In the beginning this question (in French, English, Spanish, or any language) used to bug me. Then, I realized that sometimes important work is hard to understand unless it’s clearly explained. So, here is my brief attempt at answering that question:

So, you know how the world is not a completely fair and equal place?

A bit of humor helps us understand the state of the world and how we can make it better for the greater good. A bit of humor helps us understand the state of the world and how we can change it. Overtime, systems/institutions and cultural norms of all kinds have exacerbated inequalities and certain people have been victim to these exploitative systems. My job is to review projects, practices and bring awareness through education about how to create a more equatable world through all the sectors that UNESCO works in, including but not limited to education, science, culture, communication and information. Gender equality is something that everyone can get behind, but in order to build better systems we need to examine the problems in the current system and adapt and innovate them so they level the “playing field” for everyone.

Hopefully this brings greater insight into what I’m doing in Paris, besides eating baguettes with cheese.