Turning the tide towards actions for change, through the sustainable development goals

Date: Friday, February 7, 2014

New York

As the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals met this week for its eighth session, UN Women co-organized a number of side events to discuss development issues facing women and adolescent girls globally. These side events were centred on the post-2015 development agenda and what actions are urgently needed to significantly increase women’s rights and gender empowerment. 

“In the proposals that we are making for post-2015, we would like that a consideration is made for one goal, within which we shall address the number of issues that have to do with women,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at a side event on achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment for sustainable development, on 5 February 2014. 

“We are encouraged that this has already been forthcoming from the Member States themselves who have also raised the issue of a gender goal. In addition to the gender goal, we also want to see the mainstreaming of all the issues that have to deal with women in all the other goals,” she said.

A recurring theme through the side event was an emphasis on galvanizing social change by turning the need to promote gender equality, into concrete actions for change. While ground-breaking achievements continue in the area of creating gender-responsive  policies, participants expressed concerns that the impact of such policies are not always felt by all, and a large gap remains between policies and their implementation. 

Solutions discussed included translating and simplifying policy documents so that young women can understand them and become empowered. Improving the effectiveness of women in politics beyond mere representation, and delving into the quality of that representation, also figured significantly in the discussion. 

“Today women face barriers of complexity and barriers of generational power,” said Gita Sen, Member of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) High-level Taskforce, while speaking at a side event on addressing structural inequalities to assure sustainable development, organized by UNFPA with UN Women and UNDP on 4 February. She called for an overhaul of attitudes towards gender empowerment and questioned how governments and civil societies will ensure the implementation of gendered policies. 

She highlighted that such attitudes include the perception of controversy surrounding sexual and reproductive rights. Ms. Sen argued that sexual and reproductive rights are no more controversial than other development issues such as climate change. Yet treating them as a controversial topic creates barriers for young women in gaining access to sexual education and support which would enable them to empower themselves against issues like sexual assault and child marriage. 

Discussion highlighted that in order to advance gender equality, the post-2015 development agenda must focus on how women and girls are impacted by each goal or objective, and that all stakeholders need  to move beyond advocacy into effective action. 

“Women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality have to be embedded in the post-2015 agenda for far-reaching and inclusive change to be achieved,” Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka concluded in her keynote address to the Open Working Group,emphasizing the importance of a more gendered outlook to the post 2015 development goals. “The women’s agenda is the agenda of half the population in all countries, and has to be an integral part of everything we do to score high on any Sustainable Development Goals.”