Gay McDougall, Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at Fordham Law’s Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, will be awarded South Africa’s National Medal of Honor at a ceremony in Pretoria, South Africa. McDougall has been a leader in international civil rights and anti-apartheid work since the 1970s.
McDougall will be awarded the medal, named for anti-apartheid politician O.R. Tambo, in recognition of her “excellent contribution in the fight against apartheid and injustices meted out on the black majority,” according to a Letter of Commendation detailing her anti-apartheid work. In the early 1980s, McDougall participated in an activist movement in the United States that roused national support for U.S. economic sanctions against apartheid. Later, she worked with liberation leaders internationally and worked in South Africa to support South African lawyers who were taking legal action against oppressive apartheid policies. McDougall was also a member of South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission, which oversaw the nation’s first democratic election in 1994. In recognition of her many efforts on behalf of and successes for the anti-apartheid movement, she was invited to stand next to Nelson Mandela as he cast his ballot in the election that won him the South African presidency.
McDougall said that she is especially honored to receive the medal because she looked up to O.R. Tambo for his activism in the anti-apartheid movement during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. “This was the person that the international community, and I myself, felt was the personification of the South African cause for racial equality,” she said of Tambo. “In that respect, it means a tremendous amount to me to be given this honor.”
McDougall has also been working for over a year on the UN’s Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals and Means of Implementation. She first became involved with the project in 2006, when she was the UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues. After finding that minorities were “practically invisible” in the impact reports on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, McDougall wrote a report on the issue and made recommendations to address it.
At this stage, McDougall says, the UN has the potential to incorporate her recommendations into the new development agenda currently being created. McDougall has spent the past 18 months following proceedings at the UN and making recommendations whenever possible.
She suggests that one of the biggest problems with the current system of reporting progress on development goals is the use of aggregated data. “If you do it by aggregate number, there are countries that look good and can certainly spin positive development outcomes, but positive development has not happened equally across the society,” she explained. “Some areas—where there’s a lot of discrimination against minorities—have not benefited at all. But that’s wiped out in aggregate figures, because it looks good in terms of the average.”
Another recent development for McDougall is her nomination by the Obama Administration to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. If she is elected to the Committee in June, it will be her second time serving, her first time having been a four-year term that began in 1997. She was the first American named to the Committee.