On Friday, 27 August, the 27th Universal Postal Congress approved a proposal meant to make the UPU a gender champion of the postal sector and encourage Posts throughout the world to adopt gender-sensitive approaches when it comes to recruitment and decision-making.
Gender equality and the empowerment of women (GEEW) is not only the main focus of SDG 5 cutting across the whole of the sustainable development agenda, but also an organization-wide policy within the United Nations System, which is committed to lead by example. In order to champion the long fight for a more equal world, the UN strives to achieve employment parity among its staff, as well as mainstream gender across all of its programming.
As a specialized agency of the United Nations, the UPU adheres to the UN System-Wide Policy on GEEW, adopted by the Organization in 2006. However, while many agencies use this Policy as a broader framework for more concrete action plans tailored to their respective thematic areas, at the moment, the UPU has no organization-wide policy related to gender.
The absence of such a policy does not mean the absence of interest in the related issues. Back in 2012, the Doha Congress established momentum in this area by adopting a resolution aimed to achieve more diversity in staffing – momentum that has been retained throughout the last Istanbul cycle and reflected in the nature of consultations held as part of the development of the new Abidjan World Postal Strategy.
Susan Alexander, Postal Regulation and UN Policies Expert at the UPU’s International Bureau (IB), is convinced that the UPU is exceptionally placed to serve as a role model on gender within the postal sector. “Designated operators employ huge numbers of people, providing an opportunity to directly increase gender equality through improved working conditions and by seeking a gender balance amongst postal employees,” she said.
And the opportunities do not end there – they extend well beyond the industry. “Due to the high public visibility of mail carriers and post office workers, increasing the number of women employed in trusted positions sends a clear message to the broader community,” continues Alexander, who was among those leading the development of a new proposal. A proposal that was put on the table of the 27th Congress in Abidjan last week.
The universal reach of the Post – its unique characteristic – can also help remove persistent barriers to the empowerment of women, for instance, those related to access to healthcare services, and protection against violence. Alexander provides an example of the Bulgarian Post, which has used its network of post offices in a national campaign to inform customers about the risk of becoming victims of human trafficking and labour exploitation.
The proposal submitted for the attention of the Committee 3 “General Policy and Management of the Work of the Union” and titled “Gender equality and the empowerment of women at the UPU and in the postal sector,” tackles two interlinked aspects: fair recruitment practices and the use of a more gender-neutral language. In relation to the first, it proposes, for the first time in history, to incorporate gender-balance requirements as one of the criteria to be used in the recruitment of staff members; in relation to the second, it aims to remove outdated restrictive references that could potentially discourage women candidates from applying.
The accompanying memorandum goes further by touching upon a desirable linguistic revision of the Union’s documents to ensure the use of inclusive terminology. It also requires the UPU to proactively meet the requirements under the UN System-Wide Action Plan on GEEW (UN-SWAP) reporting as well as to encourage its member countries to increase the participation of women in leadership and decision-making positions, both in their national postal sectors and in their delegations to the UPU. Finally, the adoption of an agency specific GEEW policy is suggested as one of the first deliverables.
Both the current UPU leadership and member countries have demonstrated a remarkable consensus when it comes to the importance of this proposal. “The whole area of gender equality is accepted globally, and it is the right thing to do,” commented Bishar A. Hussein, the UPU Director General, while the representatives of Canada and Austria noted that this was the most important issue to be discussed during the 27th Congress.
Submitting the document for the Congress’ consideration, the representative of Australia once again reiterated that, “Society as a whole benefits from equal participation of women and men in policy development and decision-making, with women’s participation and representation shown to strengthen economic growth, improve business performance, and reduce poverty within communities and households.”
Now that the proposal is adopted, the extensive and challenging work required for the successful implementation of the whole range of activities meant to make the UPU a true gender advocate has just begun. However, backed by the commitments and political will of the UPU members, and driven by the dedication of the IB’s staff, this ambitious and laudable undertaking clearly has all the chance of going forward.
The approval of this proposal has once again highlighted the distinctive, and systemic vision behind the new Abidjan Strategy and the upcoming cycle – the one that will make the Union and the entirety of the postal sector an integral part of the movement towards a more sustainable and equal society.