Working against the tide for children’s and women’s rights

One of the new members of the EBA is Åsa Regnér, Secretary General of Save the Children. She has extensive experience of working on human rights and children’s rights issues in politics and civil society, in Sweden and internationally.


Who are you and how did you get to where you are today?

I am an inveterate feminist who has worked all my professional life with women’s and children’s rights. I was born into a family with two highly educated parents, with no contacts or resources, but with a constant dialogue about society and the state of the world. My mother had an unsentimental attitude and instilled in me early on that as women we needed to work harder, prepare better, and know more than men. This has helped me get to where I am today, but I have also been lucky to meet people who have believed in me.

Early in my career, I worked for a women’s organisation in Bolivia and realised that human rights are universal. Women want the same things no matter where they live in the world, such as education, freedom from violence and discrimination, control over their lives and bodies, and the well-being of their children. During the unemployment crisis in the 1990s, I worked as an administrator in labour market issues at the Government Offices. This gave me an insight into how a society in crisis works and I learnt a lot about what makes a society hold together or pull apart.


What fills your days and thoughts now?

I am concerned about what is happening in the world. During my time at UN Women, we monitored whether Member States were meeting the UN Global Goal 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls). We found that progress was slow. The reason, of course, is that it is about redistribution of power. But with Covid and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, progress has come to a complete standstill. In some areas, it is even going backwards. Something has happened that we need to recognise and change!

Even though children and women are the hardest hit in crises and conflicts, women are rarely at the negotiating table. And this is unfortunately reflected in the results. Although virtually everyone in every country agrees on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is increasingly absent from negotiations on conflicts, for example between Palestine and Israel. We deplore the deaths of so many children, but we do not act!

As Secretary General of Save the Children, I am glad that we have a humanitarian machinery to support children on the ground. If you have influence and power, as I do, you must use every hour and every cent to improve children’s rights. But it also takes more than lip service from decision-makers around the world. We have once, with great effort, agreed on human rights. We don’t need to do it again, we just need to do everything we can to fulfil them.


How do you view EBA and your role there?

At EBA, I hope to contribute my expertise in gender equality and the rights of children and women. I also have insights from the inner life of NGOs, governments, and the UN. I want to highlight the importance of multilateral organisations and the unique role of the UN, especially now with so many armed conflicts in the world. I also think it is important to highlight how the role of civil society in aid is rapidly changing against an increasingly challenging backdrop.

EBA has members with a wide range of expertise, in many subject areas and from research to practical activities. This gives us different approaches to analysing aid. There are many actors monitoring interventions and there are lots of evaluations, but EBA’s independent position, focus on objectivity and rigour and, I would say, sincere desire to understand and learn more, is something that sets EBA apart and makes me feel that it is a valuable context for me to be part of. In a time of disinformation, informed knowledge is essential.