Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls – the road ahead - remarks by John Hendra

Closing remarks by John Hendra, UN Women Deputy Executive Director Policy and Programme, on the first day of the CSW58 Stakeholders’ Forum, New York, 4 December 2013.


Thank you very much Ambassador. Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of UN Women, I’d like to sincerely thank all of our speakers, moderators and panelists, as well as all participants, for the very engaging and thought-provoking discussion here today. We heard some very consistent themes in our discussions today, and I’d like to try to give a brief flavour of this in my closing comments.

Across several panels, there was strong and consistent support for a stand-alone gender equality goal, and equally, strong support for the integration of gender equality across all future goals, in particular in the areas of sustainability and global partnership. In short, there was a strong call for women and girls to be at the centre, at the heart, of the next development agenda.

While various speakers acknowledged the importance of the MDGs for galvanizing attention and resources, including through MDG 3, there was broad recognition that we have not made the progress for women and girls that we should expect to see in the implementation of the MDGs for women and girls. There’s also broad recognition that the MDGs have not addressed the structural drivers of gender inequality - such as unpaid care work, violence against women and girls and key issues such as limited sexual and reproductive health and rights - which serve to impede progress on the achievement of all goals.

While the focus of some interventions was that we must accelerate current efforts in the just over 750 days left, it’s also very clear that significant challenges to implementation remain. These include the gap between having the right laws and policies in place, and effectively implementing them. Other key challenges to implementation that we heard today include the impact of the broader macro-economic environment on gender equality, especially in the context of recent crises and austerity measures, the persistence of conflicts, and climate change, all of which are key barriers to progress. 

In addition, weak institutions, governance and accountability systems continue to impede progress for women and girls.

It was also highlighted that if we are to implement the MDGs and other policies effectively we need to use all the tools we have, including the Millennium Declaration, CEDAW, the Beijing Platform for Action, all through a rights-based approach. We also need to leverage the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action to accelerate progress on the MDGs.      

It was also highlighted that laws and policies are clearly not enough - we also need grassroots support and community buy-in, including full engagement of men and boys to ensure effective implementation.

Clearly, participation of women and girls is critical at all levels to shape and influence policies and the importance of temporary special measures in that regard was highlighted by some participants. And gender mainstreaming across sectors at all levels is critical to drive change - and this means also looking beyond the usual gender equality issues to areas such as transportation, fossil fuels, climate change and water and sanitation.

It was also highlighted that effective implementation of the MDGs for women and girls requires an effective enabling environment for gender equality. And this means we need strong political will and we need to have in place gender-responsive institutions, strong governance and accountability systems, macro-economic policies that are aligned with human rights, and full implementation of CEDAW and all of its obligations and commitments. Ensuring high quality and regularly updated data on gender equality is also critical, while going forward, it will be critical that indicators for the entire post-2015 development agenda be disaggregated by sex, age, income level, social groups, disability and so on.

There was also a clear message on the importance of engaging different stakeholders. Civil society, in particular, is a key partner not only for implementing, but also for monitoring progress in MDG implementation, and it is critical to ensure the voices of specific groups of women, such as rural women or women living with disabilities, but also of girls, are heard. In addition, many speakers stressed the need to prioritize engaging men and boys, as well as other important partners such as the private sector and the media.

Participants also stressed the importance of robust institutions that can transform legal and policy advances into tangible change for women and girls. Further, effective governance is an important enabler in our efforts to achieve gender equality. Strong institutions are important in all settings, and we heard examples today of how States in different situations have put in place mechanisms to promote implementation and coordinate accelerated action.

Participation of women and women’s organizations in implementing and monitoring the MDGs is vital, as is closing the gender gap in terms of women’s economic empowerment. As we heard, clear and targeted economic empowerment of women makes a nation richer. 

Finally, and critically, as we just heard, adequate and sustained resourcing is absolutely critical to accelerate progress towards the MDGs for women and girls. While the MDGs undoubtedly galvanized support and garnered resources broadly, expenditure on gender equality and on sectors relevant for achieving the MDGs is stagnating, or even falling in several countries, as a result of successive economic crises and associated austerity measures. It is now time to reverse the significant underinvestment in gender equality and women’s empowerment, if we want to see real progress in achieving the MDGs and ensure that development gains and achievement of rights are equally enjoyed by women and girls.

Again, a huge thank you to all speakers, panelists, moderators and participants. Thank you for a rich discussion today and we look forward to taking the discussion forward tomorrow.