Remarks by UN Women Director for Policy, Saraswathi Menon, at a side event held on 21 March 2012 in New York, organized by UN Women, the Governments of Brazil and Switzerland, and the Women‘s Major Group represented by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF) and the Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO)
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Thank you very much for inviting UN Women to join this interesting panel discussion on the gender dimension of the sustainable development goals and the post 2015 development agenda. I am very grateful to the governments of Brazil and Switzerland and the Women’s Major Group for organizing this panel.
There are two ongoing processes – sustainable development goals and the post 2015 agenda which will shape the framework that will be developed over the next few years. Clearly we cannot and will not have two parallel processes. The intention to propel the development agenda forward is a shared one and we need one framework and one process.
Both the SDGs and the post 2015 development agenda have a common vision to set objectives that will make a difference to people’s lives and the world we live in. The debates around both stress that these goals need to be transformational in nature and that the means of achieving them are equally important. Both the process of identification of the goals and the process of their attainment need to be inclusive. If not they will not be transformational or make a difference to people’s lives.
Thirty eight government submissions to the Rio+20 compilation document have supported the idea of developing a set of goals, Sustainable Development Goals, as part of the Rio+20 process. The goals would reflect an integrated and balanced treatment of the three dimensions of sustainable development: social, economic and environmental. Suggestions have been made to make them universal and applicable to all countries. Work is also under way to have country level consultations on the post 2015 agenda and on preparations for the establishment of a high level panel to advise the Secretary on the parameters of this agenda. There will be many opportunities for these and other exercises to be woven together. But this evening I would like to look at these efforts through the lens of gender equality.
Let me begin by underlining the links between gender equality and sustainability in concrete contexts – in rural and urban areas. During a recent field trip in Ghana we met women in a very poor village living on subsistence fishery with small informal trading of smoked fish. In response to a question on priorities that they would set for global policy makers they mentioned clean oceans and a fishery sector that will sustain future generations for a very long time. Women recognize the importance of sustainability through their daily lives.
Rapid urbanization raises the issue of sustainable cities for women and men. Twenty percent of households in urban areas are headed by women and they are of course in other households as well. Cities provide the space for transformation but can also exacerbate inequalities. Let me highlight just three areas of importance to women in the urban context. Women’s voices must be heard in urban planning and design and they need to be decision makers in urban governance. The provision of services – water, energy, housing and transport – must meet their specific needs and reduce drudgery and promote dignity. Public urban spaces must be safe from women from violence and harassment. This is an issue on which we in UN Women have an innovative programme together with UNICEF and UN Habitat. Gender equality and women’s empowerment cuts across all areas of sustainability. What lessons can we draw?
First, sustainable development benefits from women’s empowerment. The Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability concluded that “Any serious shift towards sustainable development requires gender equality” and gender equality was recognized as one of the fundamentals of development. Every day women take decisions that affect sustainable development, be it the use of water or energy. At the local level women have contributed to sustainable solutions for current environmental, economic and social problems. For example, they are using environmentally-sound technologies and methods, such as bio-gas digesters, solar panels, rainwater collection cisterns, crop mulching and reforestation to adapt to the increasingly severe effects of climate change and environmental degradation. They are also planting drought resistant crops and protecting local biodiversity by replanting indigenous trees and plants, and by establishing bee populations. However, these interventions are not enough to sustain future generations. We need systematic solutions that integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development. When women have equal access to resources and opportunities to participate in decision making processes they become drivers of sustainable development by taking environmental, economic and social action.
We just concluded the annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women which this year focused on the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication. Many governments emphasized that this topic was particularly timely given the global context of the financial and economic crisis, and the volatile food and energy prices, that are exacerbating the disadvantages and inequalities faced by rural women and girls. Estimates of FAO’s recent “State of Food and Agriculture on Women in Agriculture, Closing the Gender Gap for Development”, suggests that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent, lifting 100-150 million out of hunger.
Second, UN Women would like to see inequality much more strongly reflected in the principles and goals of the SDGs or any framework that is adopted. Many of the areas that have been put on the table as suggestions for the Sustainable Development Goals are linked to disparities, and policy gaps. Just to name a few: food security and agriculture, water and energy, land degradation, desertification and deforestation. These are all linked to poverty and to gender inequality. But in order to address inequality we must go beyond closing disparities and gaps and address the structural issues and multiple forms of discrimination that generate inequalities, include gender inequality. Multiple forms of discrimination are the reality for many people around the world, including on the basis of age and other factors such as ethnicity and disability. Our future development agenda needs to address the issue of inequality in a much more systematic and profound way than our current set of goals.
Third, we would expect to see gender equality and women’s empowerment as a strong principle for the international development agenda. There needs to be specific goal on this issue that is more encompassing and inclusive than the current MDG3. At the same time gender equality needs to be integrated across other goals in a meaningful way. Often the lack of data disaggregated by sex is cited as an excuse for weak targets and indicators. But we need to recognize that setting meaningful targets and indicators can in turn drive better data collection and help set standards for statistics in areas that were not earlier considered measurable. And, above all setting meaningful goals and targets drives policy action.
Fourth and finally, the development of any framework must take into account women’s voices and aspirations. The final set of goals must capture the aspirations of people such as the women in the fishing village in Ghana and women living in urban slums, who face drudgery in the absence of public services and face humiliation in unsafe public places. We must see gender equality and women’s empowerment as integral to the content and process of identification of these goals. And we must see gender equality and women’s empowerment as integral to the achievement of any goals that we do adopt.