Why gender equality is the most critical of all the global goals

Date: 09 September 2015

By: Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women

At the end of this month, thousands of representatives from all over the world will gather in New York. They will witness the launch of the most ambitious universal effort since the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The reshaping and re-stating of the "larger freedom" of those rights in a new agenda has a deadline of 2030 for a new, fairer, more sustainable world, with at its centre the drive to achieve full equality of men and women.

It is a threshold moment. Many constituencies, far broader than governments alone, have deeply invested hope and expectation that we have learnt enough, are committed enough, to make this new agenda a success. Through it we seek to impact some of the key challenges of the 21st century, such as poverty, inequality and violence against women. Women's empowerment is a pre-condition for this.

We know now that without gender equality and a full role for women in society, in the economy, in governance, we will not be able to achieve the world we hoped for. These are the changes for which governments have repeatedly signed their support, with international protocols on non-discrimination, and on different aspects of rights and global goods. To date, that support has not been felt all the way through society; consequently results have fallen short of aspiration.

We have extensive information on what needs to be done. In 2015 we conducted a review of implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on its 20th anniversary. One-hundred sixty-seven countries reported their own successes in achieving gender equality and women's empowerment. These reports are in effect national blueprints for action.

Their assessments revealed important gains in some areas, such as new or amended legislation to eliminate discrimination against women and other barriers; improved enrollment by girls in primary and secondary education; and progress in reducing maternal deaths. But advances were unacceptably slow in other vital areas, such as increasing women's access to decent work or equal pay; no country has achieved gender equality.

There has been a critical gap between those who draw up the commitments and those who carry them out. Gender ministries tend to be underfunded and lack the influence and weight of larger and stronger ministries, such as foreign affairs or treasury functions.

This is where we intend to learn from history – and change it.

On September 27, we ask the highest leaders in each land to take personal responsibility for their commitment to change the trajectory of gender equality and the empowerment of women. We ask those who make the undertakings to be the ones to lead their implementation. We believe this level of engagement is crucial to create a new cycle of history.

We have already started this path through the HeForShe campaign that identifies IMPACT champions in top leadership positions, in government, academia and multinational corporations. Each leader has made game-changing undertakings – of a new order of magnitude – that will bring institutional change to their own arena that is replicable elsewhere.

No other issue on the sustainable development agenda will receive this level of special attention. No other issue is as critical to the success of the new agenda as a whole.

The ambition of the 2030 Agenda must be matched with an equally ambitious level of investment with transformative financing commitments, including dedicated funding for women's-rights organizations. This can only happen if governments increase budget allocations across all sectors, States meet their official development assistance commitments, and all other sources of funding are mobilized to achieve gender equality.

As we move toward September's threshold moment, I invite all Heads of States and Governments to prepare for the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 with commitments that are truly visionary, that break barriers, provide solutions, and so put themselves, and the world they lead, on the right side of history.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 5.

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