Opening Remarks by Lakshmi Puri at Stakeholder’s Forum on “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.”

UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri stresses need for a stand-alone goal on gender equality that addresses three core areas: preventing violence against women, enabling equal access to resources and opportunities, and promoting political participation and leadership

Date : 04 December 2013

Excellencies, 
Distinguished Delegates, 
Leaders from Civil Society, 
Colleagues and Friends,

On behalf of our Executive Director, Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, I am pleased to welcome you to this high-level Stakeholders’ Forum devoted to the priority theme of the upcoming session of the Commission on the Status of Women – challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. 

This is the second year UN Women organizes this high-level Forum ahead of the CSW. Last year, the Stakeholders Forum proved instrumental in laying the ground for a successful CSW session and historic outcome. The Forum helped bring together officials from capital, delegates, civil society, and experts to foster common ground in an informal setting on the issues to be addressed at CSW. This year, the Forum is back by popular demand and we are heartened to see once again such a high level of interest and participation.

I thank the distinguished Ministers and other officials from many countries for being with us today. I would also like to thank Ambassadors from more than 20 Permanent Missions for accepting our invitation as moderators, panelists or lead discussants.

The presence of many civil society leaders and other partners – from the private sector, to the media, to academia – is testimony to the active engagement of all sectors to bring about real progress for women and girls. I salute your commitment and thank you for your participation today. 

This confluence of all stakeholders – those based in New York and those in capitals, gender equality experts from all over the world – is critical. This is even more the case as we discuss the MDGs, which are a multisectoral enterprise. 

There are many lessons from the implementation of the MDGs but one thing is certain – partnerships and full engagement of all stakeholders are essential to success. We can accomplish great things when we join forces and come together. 

For more than a decade, the MDGs have embodied this spirit of partnership and represented the common resolve of the international community to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable and human-centered development. As we approach the end-date of 2015, it is time to make a final push for accelerated implementation; it is time to take stock; and it is time to look forward as the next generation of development goals is being shaped.

At its upcoming session, the CSW will look at these three distinct aspects through the special lens of how the global development agenda has and will impact women and girls; but also, crucially, how women and girls are empowered to shape that agenda.

A mixed picture from the MDGs for women and girls

We know that the MDGs have played a critical role in galvanizing attention to gender equality and women’s empowerment – not least thanks to the existence of a stand-alone goal on the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment – but also to poverty eradication, education, health, water and sanitation, and the environment. 

Yet the assessment of the MDGs from a gender perspective shows a mixed picture. There has been significant progress in some areas, such as access to primary education and access to water. On the other hand, progress is falling short in some areas that are critical to gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

This is the case, for example, of maternal health. While globally the maternal mortality ratio declined by 47 per cent over the last two decades, we are still far from our target of reducing the ratio by three quarters by 2015. This is not only a case of strengthening health systems, but it is about making them more responsive to the needs of women and girls. It is also about the social norms, stereotypes and practices that continue to hold back progress for women and girls generally. Other areas where we see major gaps are, for instance, women’s access to decent work and women’s participation in decision-making. 

The assessment also shows stark gaps between and within countries. Sometimes, aggregated global figures mask that status quo or regression in some regions are balanced out by exponential progress in others.  

We also know of shortcomings with some MDG indicators. For example, as the measurement of poverty is at the household level, the indicator does not reveal information about the gender dimensions of poverty, such as the unequal sharing of household resources or the factors leading to women’s vulnerability to poverty – access to decent work, ownership of productive assets, the burden of unpaid care work. So while we celebrate the fact that poverty rates have been halved overall, it is not clear how many and how much women and girls have benefited from it.

Despite this mixed picture, we also see greater recognition that gender equality and women’s empowerment have a catalytic and determining effect on the achievement of inclusive and progressive human development, good governance, peace and security, and a sustainable environment – all of which are at the core of sustainable development and human rights. It is therefore essential to harness the synergies between gender equality, women’s rights and empowerment with sustainable development in its three dimensions – economic, social, and environmental. 

This calls for systematic mainstreaming and monitoring of gender equality issues across development goals. The relationship between MDG 3 to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment and other MDGs works in a two-way manner. While gender equality is a precondition for achieving goals such as child and maternal health, progress in areas such as water and sanitation is at the same time critical for ensuring women’s safety, health and dignity.

A concerted effort is needed to accelerate the achievement of the MDGs which goes beyond the targets of MDG 3 to realize the full spectrum of women’s and girls’ rights in line with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action. Achieving real and lasting change in the lives of women and girls requires addressing the structural foundations of gender inequality.

A stand-alone goal on gender equality

Based on this assessment, UN Women is calling for a stand-alone goal on gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment and for the mainstreaming of gender perspectives in all other goals and targets. We call on all of you to support our approach. The stand-alone goal needs to be transformative and tackle three core areas.

First, violence against women and girls must stop. Building on this year’s agreed conclusions at CSW, targets and indicators must address prevention, protection, prosecution and provision of services, but should also aim at changing perceptions, attitudes and behaviors that condone and justify violence against women and girls. 

Second, women and girls must have equal access to resources and opportunities. The skewed distribution of capabilities needs to be addressed with urgency to build women’s economic and social security. This must include efforts to promote decent work, reduce women’s time burdens, and provide access to health and education, energy, water and sanitation, as well as control over land and productive assets. 

The third area should encompass voice, leadership and participation. It should foster greater progress in women’s participation in national parliaments but also include participation in public institutions at local and regional levels. Promoting equal decision-making in households and women’s leadership in the private sector are equally important, as well as women’s opportunities to engage in collective action. 

Our proposed gender equality goal is grounded in existing government commitments. The targets and indicators are in line with CEDAW, as well as the Beijing Platform for Action. We have also reflected recent normative developments, such as elements of the agreed conclusions of this year’s CSW and the Rio+20 outcome. 

We are pleased to see the call recently issued by the General Assembly for the goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment to be considered as a priority in the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda and for the integration of a gender perspective into the new development framework.

Objectives of the Stakeholders’ Forum

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, in your discussions today and tomorrow, I encourage you to be retrospective but also prospective. The upcoming CSW session will be a significant stepping stone on our path to a new development framework. We can build on lessons learnt from the MDGs to shape the future we want for all. 

Member States need to take full advantage of the deliberative, consensus-building, policy-making and catalytic functions of the Commission to ensure that the next generation of development goals is fully responsive to the rights and needs of women and girls. 

CSW 58 will take place at a strategic moment. Intergovernmental processes will be well under way to inform and design a post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. And as the twentieth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action will take place in 2015, implementation of the commitments made nearly 20 years ago has taken on new urgency.

The interlinked processes of Beijing+20 and the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda therefore provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to position gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment front and center on the global agenda, both as important ends in themselves and as an essential means for the achievement of sustainable development. 

I hope that our dialogue today and tomorrow will lay the ground for this discussion. This Stakeholders’ Forum can create a platform to raise awareness of existing commitments, share lessons learned and strategies, strengthen consensus, and foster dialogue. Our coming together is also critical to galvanize efforts to accelerate implementation of the MDGs for women and girls, and of the Beijing Platform for Action. 

Programme

With this in mind, we have structured this Forum around 6 panels, detailed in your programme. 

The first panel will look at some of the key factors for limited progress towards achieving the MDGs for women and girls. What have been successful strategies and policies and where are the gaps? 

Building on this assessment, we will see how some of these gaps can be addressed through a comprehensive approach to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, grounded in existing normative commitments, such as CEDAW and the Beijing Platform for Action. This will be the focus of the second panel. 

In the third panel, we will take a closer look at participation and accountability, from the perspective of both women’s participation in designing policies and institutional mechanisms for collaboration and accountability among stakeholders. 

This will lead us to a discussion about numbers. Indeed, the fourth panel will discuss how to bring about greater investment for gender equality and more accurate data – two essential components of bringing about and measuring progress. 

This evening, my colleague John Hendra will summarize some key points from our discussions. 

And tomorrow, we will bring together the voices of women and girls across the age spectrum – young girls, women and older women – to discuss what the MDGs mean to them throughout the life cycle. This panel composed of civil society leaders of all ages promises to be really evocative and demonstrate the essential connection between international norms and standards, national policies and their direct impact on women's daily lives. 

Our Executive Director will join us for the concluding panel. This last panel will capture the main conclusions and be forward-looking. It will discuss how a transformative approach to gender equality, women’s rights and empowerment can feature in the post-2015 development agenda and the SDGs. 

Thank you for your presence today and, most importantly, for your commitment. I look forward to rich discussions.