It is indeed an honour for me to be part of this session of women in leadership and decision making. In September 2000, the UN Millennium Declaration was adopted by 189 Heads of States of Member countries of the UN system. This Declaration outlined a global vision to eradicate poverty, foster peace and security, protect the environment, achieve human rights and democracy, and protect the most vulnerable populations.
The Declaration also recognised the fundamental value of the equal rights and opportunities of women, and reaffirmed global commitments to combat all forms of violence against women and to implement CEDAW. In addition, the Declaration also made explicit commitments to gender equality on two grounds:
(i) There was an instrumental rationale, based on recognition of the contributions that women could make to the eradication of poverty in its entire dimension – as well as their contribution to other development goals.
(ii) However there is also a strong intrinsic rationale outlining a commitment to gender equality as an end itself, an essential aspect of the overall commitment to human dignity and social justice: “
The Millennium Declaration gave rise to the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs. This proved to be a powerful tool for sustaining global attention and galvanising international support to promote development and meet the needs of the world’s poor by 2015. The specific time-bound targets and measurable indicators have served as valuable benchmarks for monitoring and reporting on progress and achieving concrete results.
MDG 3 is dedicated to promoting gender equality and empowering women, and MDG 5 aims to reduce maternal mortality. There are also a number of other targets and indicators within the framework that relate directly to gender equality and women’s lives, and many of the indicators have been disaggregated by sex, with the notable exception of the MDG 1 indicators on poverty and the MDG 7 indicators on water and sanitation.
Since the introduction of the MDGs, there has been broad consensus that the achievement of gender equality is not only a goal in itself, but it is critical to the achievement of the other goals as well. Any failure to fulfil this goal will have “broad negative consequences, given that achieving the MDGs depends so much on women’s empowerment and equal access by women to education, work, health care and decision-making.
It is very clear that exclusion, discrimination and violence against women and girls remain some of the biggest obstacles to sustainable development and the full implementation of the MDGs.
Significant progress has been reported towards achieving the MDGs, particularly in the areas of reducing poverty, increasing people’s access to improved sources of water, and increased access to primary education.
There is gender parity in education and also persisting multiple and intersecting inequalities and marginalisation of certain population groups. These pose barriers that continue to undermine progress. Women and girls are the main victims of this as they continue to be discriminated against and experience multiple forms of discrimination such as gender, race, ethnicity, class, religion, sexual orientation, and citizenship. This results in their social, political and economic exclusion. Their exclusion is further exacerbated by geographical location such as isolated and rural areas and over-crowded slum neighbourhoods or informal settlements.
Progress can also be impaired by the inequalities between different groups of women themselves. Structural barriers in the economic, political, social and environmental levels reinforce gender inequalities and are barriers to the realisation of the MDGs for women and girls.
In fact, it was reported in the 2012 Millennium Goals Report that while there has been notable progress in a number of the gender dimensions of the MDGs, there remains much still to be done in every member state and at every level to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment. It is no different in South Africa.
The goals that are most off-track and least likely to be achieved are those that most depend on achieving gender equality. These include MDG 5 on improving maternal health as this goal requires women to be able to realise their rights and make decisions on whether or when to have children.
Key Gender Equality issues to be reflected in the Post-2015 Development Framework
The 2015 target date for achieving the MDGs is fast approaching. A number of processes are underway globally between member states, within the UN system, among academics, policy makers and within civil society structures to reflect on a post 2015 development framework.
In this regard, a UN System Task Team was established to support system-wide preparations for the post-2015 UN Development agenda, in consultation with all stakeholders globally. This Task Team has initiated national and thematic consultations of which 11 are taking place over several months in about 60 countries and are being co-led by UN entities. Thematic consultations cover the following themes:
growth and employment;
conflict and fragility;
food security and nutrition;
energy; and water
In 2012, the UN General Assembly reiterated that the full, effective and accelerated implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Outcome Document of the 23rd Special Session of the General Assembly are essential to achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs. In this regard, there was a calling for the goal of gender equality and the empowerment of women to feature prominently in discussions around the post-2015 development framework, bearing in mind the importance of mainstreaming a gender perspective.
Achievements and Shortcomings of the MDGs
The MDGs have been influential in shaping the development landscape. They are concrete and time-bound, assisting therefore to galvanise action on many fronts, including for the promotion of gender equality and women’s rights. They were adapted to suit different local contexts and needs, and used as a measure of progress by many member states. The MDGs are also simple and straightforward to communicate.
The current MDG framework appears to have been successful in spearheading global efforts to end poverty, particularly in reducing extreme poverty, increasing access to improved sources of drinking water, improving conditions for people living in slums, and achieving gender parity in primary school attendance.
Despite the critical inclusion of MDG 3 on promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, the current MDGs framework has not been successful in addressing underlying structural causes of gender inequality and the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination experienced by women and girls globally. There are persisting intersecting inequalities, both across and within countries and regions of the world, between women and men, as well as those that exist among women on the basis of class, race, ethnicity, rural/urban location, among others. These act as barriers and have resulted in uneven progress on the MDGs.
Women continue to remain disadvantaged in many respects, particularly in terms of access to decent employment opportunities in the formal sector, productive resources, sexual and reproductive health and participation in political decision-making. The scourge of violence against women and girls, including conflict-related sexual violence, is a major barrier to the achievement of all the MDGs.
Several priority concerns for women were not included in the MDGs framework, such as the scourge of violence against women and girls. In addition, women have been heavily impacted by the global crises that have arisen since the MDGs were established, such as the economic and financial crises; climate change and the food and fuel crises.
The MDGs framework focuses on aggregate progress and the use of national averages to evaluate progress. This masks the complex social and economic disparities and inequalities that exist especially for women. Global targets were also interpreted as national targets.
The lack of sex disaggregated data, particularly on MDG 1 on eradicating extreme poverty and MDG 7 on ensuring environmental sustainability further challenges effective measurement of the extent of inequalities and the resulting social exclusion of marginalised groups. The MDGs lack sufficient gender-sensitive targets and indicators.
MDG 3 on gender equality has only one target on eliminating gender disparity in education. Goal 3 remains quite superficial, not including many aspects of gender inequality and the discrimination that women face, especially in employment and in broader economic engagement, as care-givers, in decision-making at all levels, and in the peace-building process.
Goals of the MDG framework do not reflect transformative dimensions of the Millennium Declaration from which they were derived. The principles of freedom, equality, tolerance, shared responsibility, protecting the vulnerable, human rights, democracy and good governance, which Member States reaffirmed their commitments to in the Millennium Declaration, are not fully reflected within the MDGs.
There is an imbalance between the responsibilities of the South outlined in Goals 1-7, and the commitments of the North, set out in Goal 8.
Rationale for a post-2015 development agenda inclusive of gender equality and women’s empowerment
There are several shortcomings in the current MDG framework to actually address the several complex challenges that exist globally. In its 2012 report, “Realising the Future We Want for All”, the UN System Task Team proposed a vision for transformative change based on inclusive, people-centred, sustainable development.
Hence a future framework is envisioned that is built on core values of human rights, equality, sustainability, and is organised along a holistic approach that incorporates four key dimensions of:
Inclusive social development;
Inclusive economic development;
Environmental sustainability; and
Peace and security
A post-2015 development agenda must be transparent and underpinned by a clear accountability framework within and among member states that is applicable to relevant rights holders and duty bearers, including citizens, governments, private sector, civil society and international organisations. Women are regarded as key change agents and therefore they should not only be central players in the development of the post-2015 framework, but also central actors in its implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
Given the several crises faced by women over the past ten to fifteen years such as the food, fuel, economic, financial and climate crises, the new framework must of necessity, address pressing and emerging issues for women that require urgent action. These include macroeconomic policies; access to decent and productive work; equal access to and control over resources; access to universal and gender-sensitive social protection and high quality public services; freedom from fear and violence; sexual and reproductive rights; women’s agency and governance; and the achievement of sustainable development.
If the new post-2015 development framework is to include a set of goals, targets and indicators, one way to ensure that gender equality and women’s empowerment is fully incorporated in the framework would be to include a specific goal on gender equality, and with gender-sensitive indicators mainstreamed across all other goals.
In fact we are advocating for a substantive stand alone gender goal that is firmly grounded in women’s rights, based on existing human rights norms and standards, including those contained in CEDAW and which must be comprehensive, avoid repeating the narrow focus of MDG 3, and include the specific gender issues that other goals and targets will not address.
It is proposed that the new Framework must seek to firstly aim at ending harm, eliminating violence against women and girls, and affirming women’s fundamental rights to bodily autonomy and integrity.
Secondly, it must seek to expand women’s choices and opportunities, including in all of the issues identified already. Thirdly it must ensure that women participate fully in decision-making, in all contexts and at all levels – in households, communities and countries.