Speech: “Together we must leverage the strength of international agreements and frameworks”—Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the opening of the CSW61 Review Theme on challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.

Date:: 16 March 2017

Vice-Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, Excellencies, Distinguished Colleagues from Civil Society and the United Nations, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honored to be here with you this afternoon to open the session of the Commission on the Status of Women on its review theme pertaining to the agreed conclusions from its 58th session – on ‘Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls’.

UN Women welcomes this opportunity for Member States to interact and more rigorously examine progress and best practices, lessons learned, gaps and challenges encountered in MDG implementation at the national level. In doing so, the global community can better identify ways to support and achieve accelerated implementation of the SDGs.

As the Vice-Chair highlighted, the current review takes place at a critical time, following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, when SDG implementation is in early and preparatory stages. It is therefore timely to translate lessons from the MDGs into action on the SDGs. This will require a diverse range of policies and interventions, as well as regular and in-depth monitoring of progress in implementation efforts in all countries, not just developing.

To accelerate MDG implementation and lay the ground for the SDGs, the agreed conclusions emphasized five key areas, for which countries have reported a range of actions: to realize women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights; strengthen the enabling environment; maximize investments in gender equality; strengthen the evidence base; and, ensure women’s participation and leadership.

On the first key area, Member States have taken various actions, with legal reform being a top priority, particularly new laws on violence against women, sexual harassment and harmful practices, plus marriage, divorce, guardianship, citizenship and inheritance.

Some countries have adopted measures to enhance women’s rights to work and rights at work, including anti-discrimination and equal pay laws. Others have demonstrated efforts to implement CEDAW, the Beijing Platform for Action and Security Council resolution 1325, as well as realigning sectoral gender policies and national gender equality action plans with the SDGs.

Measures including legal reform and programmes to address multiple discrimination experienced by specific groups – namely women with disability, indigenous women, migrant women, dalit women and lesbian and transgender women – have been prioritized in many contexts.

While national gender equality machineries have a catalytic role in gender mainstreaming, many still lack authority and resources to fulfil their functions. Greater focus is also needed on policies that address the structural, power and political dynamics that further marginalize groups and enhance inequalities, which takes us to the second key area. 

On the second key area Member States are taking various steps to address factors and conditions in the broader environment that have an influence on gender equality. Efforts are primarily focused on gender mainstreaming as a key strategy to ensure that gender equality is addressed across a broad range of policy areas, including trade and macroeconomic policies, labour market policies, social protection measures and anti-discrimination policies.

Gender equality has been embedded as a cross-cutting priority in many national sustainable development plans, and is reflected in the appointments of gender focal points across government agencies and in reviewing priorities and mandates of national gender equality mechanisms.

Over the past decade the lack of resources dedicated to implementing the MDGs for women and girls has emerged as a key challenge. The agreed conclusions thus identified maximizing investments as the third key area.

Many countries have signaled that monitoring the allocation of public resources and ensuring that policies promote gender equality is a key priority. Some countries have used impact assessments of policies and programmes and inter-agency task forces. Others are prioritizing spending on social issues, and developed countries are enhancing tracking of ODA resources in many cases.

While gaps and challenges remain, it is more widely recognized now that the impact of gender-responsive budgeting is limited when overall budgets for gender equality policies and the provision of services, social protection and infrastructure are grossly inadequate. 

The fourth key area of the agreed conclusions – strengthening the evidence-base for gender equality – has underpinned the call to increase the production, availability and use of gender statistics to effectively monitor progress of the MDGs. The global community is increasingly responding to the call for standards and methodologies to be developed in several areas – including on women’s poverty, income distribution within households, unpaid care work, women’s access to, control and ownership of assets and productive resources, and women’s participation at all levels of decision-making.

Countries are increasingly producing regular reports based on gender indicators, (often aligned with global frameworks like the BPfA); enhancing efforts to improve disaggregated data collection methods to better address multiple forms of discrimination; and refining standards and methodologies to measure gender inequality. New surveys and studies – particularly on ending violence against women and time-use data collection to value unpaid care work – plus electronic database systems, portals and software tools are being established. Technical and financial capacity-building to statistical systems is being provided, including through gender statistics coordinators and inter-agency committees.

However, significant gaps remain in the area of gender statistics, which will affect SDG monitoring. Unfortunately, too few governments acknowledge capacity challenges and responses on accountability mechanisms were limited.

The fifth and final key area aimed to address notoriously low levels of women’s participation at all levels. Most reported actions focus on women’s representation in parliaments and local governments through quotas and other affirmative action measures. Many countries have also taken measures to increase women’s representation in senior positions in public and private sectors. National gender equality councils and consultative dialogues with election committees are proving effective in supporting women politicians and are providing opportunities for increasing decision-making influence. Other strategies include women’s networks, qualified candidate databases, capacity-building programmes and participatory structures.

In conclusion, despite welcomed advances in many critical areas of the agreed conclusions, Member States have given uneven attention across policy areas. In particular, the environmental dimension of sustainable development has received little attention in gender equality policies. Further, while some key issues encompassed in SDG 5 – violence against women, harmful practices and women’s political participation – are a strong focus for countries, other areas – such as women’s access to resources, unpaid care work and sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights – have received less attention.

In order to implement the agreed conclusions and accelerate progress on the SDGs, the report recommends that Member States urgently take concerted actions across all areas. Together we must leverage the strength of international agreements and frameworks and build on existing commitments to implement the SDGs.

I am heartened that so many of your Excellencies’ Governments wished to participate in this peer review. It is clear evidence of your sustained commitment to achieving gender equality and sustainable development.

I also stress that the critical contributions made by women’s organizations – the women’s movement – must continue to be upheld in SDG implementation and follow-up and review processes to ensure gender equality commitments reach all women and girls.