Gender equality in the post 2015 UN development agenda

Date: Thursday, December 13, 2012

Speech by John Hendra, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director Policy and Programme of UN Women at Preparing for the 2014 Development Cooperation Forum Vienna Policy Dialogue: Advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women: the role of development cooperation. 13 December 2012.

[Check against delivery]

Thank you very much Under-Secretary Wu Hongbo.

We have a very eminent panel with us today, and some very eminent people. I will introduce the panel shortly. But before I do, I would like to briefly outline a few thoughts about where we are on gender equality and the women’s empowerment agenda in the post-2015 discussion.

The MDGs undoubtedly had their strengths.  As we know, they are simple, clear, easy to communicate, were localized in many countries, and have measurable targets and indicators.  Where they’ve worked, accountability is key. But from a gender equality perspective they have not been successful for three key reasons:

  • The gender goal is somewhat superficial and quite narrow,
  • With the exception of Goal 5 (on maternal mortality) gender is not well integrated in the other goals, targets and indicators, and
  • As Mr Wu has already noted, one of the most serious human rights violations, violence against women and girls, is not included at all.

We have learned from the MDG experience.  As we’ve heard already this morning, gender equality advocates want to see women’s rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women fully integrated in the post-2015 development framework.

On the one hand, one might argue we’re well placed. There is a gender goal in the current MDGs, gender equality was recognized as central to sustainability at Rio +20, and is seen as critical to development in the UN Task Team report “Realizing the Future We Want For All”.

But there are some real risks and tensions ahead of us:

  • First, if we end up with a technocratic “MDG plus” agenda, a truly transformative approach to achieving gender equality will be sidelined, along with human rights, equality, greater accountability and a new approach to development that would replace the current growth model that is driving many of the problems we currently face.
  • Second, if we end up with two tracks – the SDGs and a post-2015 agenda – we won’t be able to properly tackle the intersections between poverty, sustainability and insecurity, and the structural inequality and discrimination that underpin gender inequality that many people have already spoken about today.
  • Third if we take extreme poverty as the main focus, we may end up with a post-2015 agenda that is about developing countries and excludes developed countries and many MICS.  Gender inequality exists everywhere, and must be dealt with universally.
  • And finally, if we fail to address freedom from violence and security, we will fail the world’s poorest, who are increasingly going to be in fragile states, as well as women who are disproportionately affected by conflict and violence everywhere.

So as I see it, collectively we have two choices ahead of us.  We can aim for a post-2015 framework that really establishes a new rights-based development paradigm which addresses issues of equality, non-discrimination, participation and accountability.

Such a framework would have gender equality and women’s empowerment at its heart, because it is simply not possible to achieve any of these “common goods” if women are not equal or empowered.

Or we can settle for business as usual; by simply tinkering with the current MDG framework, coming up with “MDGs plus”, and – perhaps – a goal on inequalities.

If we choose to aim high, this would mean, first that we don’t accept the push to simply update the MDGs because we know this won’t go far enough and won’t address structural inequality.

Second, that we don’t yet identify goals without first working out the “narrative” for development, because the narrative is critical to thinking through conceptually what a new development paradigm should look like.

Third, that we don’t just identify goals and targets based on the data we already have, because the most serious human rights violations, such as violence against women, are often the hardest to measure.

And finally it would mean that the push for convergence between the SDGs and the post-2015 framework becomes paramount; because we know that the issues of sustainability, extreme poverty, freedom from violence, inequality, and human rights are inextricably linked, and have increasingly morphed into one set of problems.

So it’s about choices, and I believe the intense energy and interest in the post-2015 process is not about wanting to see “more of the same” or “business as usual”.

Thank you.

Further information about the Vienna Policy Dialogue on Gender Equality is available at: