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October 27, 2017
An all-female panel that’s not about gender. Or is it?

Raul de Mora, Sustainable Development Goals Fund, Communications Specialist

As a communication professional working on development issues, one of the big nightmares I face is having to promote an all-male panel. “Manels” are bad in the 21st century for lack of perspective (and bad pictures) and are the subject of social media memes.

Then there are all-female panels about gender equality and women’s empowerment. These are much easier to communicate, but again lack the important involvement of the other half of population. Without the engagement of men and boys, it is impossible to achieve gender equality, and as a man I have often found myself making this point. Gender equality certainly is not a women’s problem.

Now I find myself in a new professional communications dilemma. A few days ago, my colleagues confirmed the line-up for an upcoming event on business and peace. Much to my surprise, all speakers were women.

The event will launch a new SDG Fund report around Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, which is about achieving just, peaceful and inclusive societies. It sheds light on the sensitive issue of what is the role of businesses in promoting the rule of law, fighting corruption, guaranteeing freedom of press and building a peaceful society. It is not specifically about gender or women’s empowerment.

The line-up is fantastic; it has some of the best speakers on this topic, including: María Emma Mejía, Colombia’s ambassador to the UN; Rangita da Silva, associate dean of Penn Law; Sol Beatriz Arango, president of Servicios Nutresa, a leading Colombian company; Ana Maria Menéndez, the new senior adviser on policy for the UN Secretary General, and Carla Mucavi, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization in New York, among others. All of these inspiring women offer unique perspectives and experiences about how businesses can help build peace.

For a moment, I tried to convince my colleagues that we should invite a male speaker. But then I thought about how many all-male panels I’ve witnessed over the years, and how many times I have advocated that female experts should have been included in those dialogues.

I started to wonder whether this is the first all-female panel at the UN that is not about gender.

Whether it is or not, perhaps it is a sign that positive change is finally taking place at the UN. When Antonio Guterres was appointed new UN Secretary General, he stressed that he would make gender equality a priority. A few months ago, he presented his new policy to achieve gender parity at the UN. His UN Deputy Secretary General is Amina J. Mohammed (who would have made another great speaker) and the report builds indeed on many of her speeches and statements. Perhaps this panel is just a small step toward many changes that need to take place to ensure women’s voices are always included.

I also realized that at the end of the day, this event is about gender. We can’t build peaceful societies if women are not part of the solution, but bear most of the burden of violence. We cannot build inclusive societies if women are not equally represented in decision-making bodies, and we cannot have fair justice systems if women’s rights are not ensured. For far too long, their voices, expertise and perspectives have been ignored – and panels are just one example of that.

If you are in New York, on Friday, November 3, you can register here to attend the panel discussion or follow the webcast online at You may be witnessing the first all-female panel at the UN that is not about gender; I’m not sure. But I know you’ll get to hear from top experts in their field, who happen to be women.