Opening remarks of Michelle Bachelet on “Gender Equality and the Post-2015 Development Framework” for the Irish Consortium lecture


Opening remarks of Michelle Bachelet on “Gender Equality and the Post-2015 Development Framework” for the Irish Consortium lecture. Dublin, Ireland. 20 February 2013.

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It is a pleasure to meet you all and I thank the Irish Consortium on Gender-Based Violence for this opportunity to speak with you today.

The Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence is a great example of cooperation between government entities and development agencies to address violence against women.

I commend this model and the steps you are taking to improve your prevention and response and to influence global action on this issue.

The 2015 target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is approaching. Discussions are under way among Member States, the UN family, academia, development partners, and civil society about what a post-2015 framework should look like. I would like to reflect on the successes and shortcomings of the MDGs before sketching out the new development agenda.

The MDGs have shown us that global consensus is possible. They have also shown us that we need a common framework owned by governments and citizens and that there must be accountability within and between countries.

The MDGs have achieved many positive results. But we need to learn from the mistakes we have made. There are three major structural shortcomings, from human rights and from a development perspective, that I would like to point out.

First, the MDGs aim to reduce, rather than eliminate, deprivation and discrimination. This means that those who are at the bottom are the least likely benefit from progress on the MDGs. This is unacceptable from a human rights perspective and counterproductive to our goal of more equitable, sustainable, and democratic societies.

Second, the MDGs place too much emphasis on reaching national averages than on eliminating the underlying causes of poverty and deprivation. For example, reaching enrolment rates in education was placed before ensuring quality in education. There was little focus on high drop-out rates, especially among adolescent girls, or the risk of sexual violence and other human rights violations faced by girls in school.

Third, the MDGs were one-dimensional and this has resulted in poor outcomes. For instance, there are major disparities in the success of MDG5, to improve maternal health, because we did not focus on the inequalities that complicate and counteract our efforts to reduce maternal mortality. For example, we failed to address the fact that access to reproductive health services varies greatly depending on women’s age, location, ethnicity or income.

In short, what the MDGs did not do was make the connection between addressing underlying inequalities and making progress on all development goals. We failed to confront the discrimination that prevents women from enjoying equal rights, equal opportunities and equal participation and leadership. And we failed to recognize that widespread violence against women and girls continues to undermine all of our development goals.

This exclusion, this discrimination and this violence against women is the biggest obstacle that we face in advancing sustainable development.

There is no country in the world where women and girls live free of the fear of violence. No leader can claim: This is not happening in my backyard. One billion women, one in three worldwide, will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes. In some countries, up to 70 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence. And far too many women search for justice in vain.

I know that preventing and ending violence against women is the central concern of your work. When we started UN Women two years ago, we made ending violence against women a priority. And we know this requires changing deeply rooted attitudes and tackling the economic, social and political exclusion of women as structural causes of violence and discrimination.

With the new development framework, we have a real opportunity to do so. We must seize this opportunity to tackle the deeply entrenched cultural and social norms and discriminatory laws and policies that hold back women and girls from reaching their full potential and allow violence against women and girls to continue.

And we must also recognize that no peace, no progress will be possible without the full and equal participation of women. It is unacceptable that women and girls continue to face violence in nearly every imaginable space: their own homes, in schools, in conflict, on buses and on city streets.

UN Women founded the Safe Cities initiatve, together with UN Habitat, because we know that women in cities are at risk of harassment and violence on a daily basis, even in their own neighborhoods.

We are developing the first proven model approaches on how to reduce sexual harassment and sexual violence in public spaces for worldwide replication by mayor’s offices and national governments, building on the work of pioneering local authorities and women’s groups.

And I am very pleased that the city of Dublin is the first in a developed country to express an interest in joining the UN Women Safe Cities Global Initiative. We look forward to working with the city authorities and women’s groups in the city to make Dublin a leader among public safety for women.

We do this work because we count on the leadership of local governments, leaders who recognize that the protection of the human right of women and girls to live free of fear of violence is essential to more sustainable, equitable and peaceful societies we strive towards in the post-2015 development agenda.

The elimination of violence against women is the focus of the upcoming Commission on the Status of Women, which will be held next month in New York. We are looking to governments to make concrete commitments and to take action to prevent and end violence against women.

It is our hope that here we can make great progress for women and girls at this 57th session of CSW and set a strong foundation for action and the future of development in the years to come.

We also must ensure that the post-2015 framework takes into account the impact of conflict on women, including sexual violence, and focuses on women’s vital role in peace agreements and peacebuilding. The World Bank’s development report in 2011 underlined that none of the countries affected by armed conflict has achieved a single MDG.

What’s more, there’s a clear correlation between conflict and fragility and gender inequality. Societies that are less equal and less inclusive are also more likely to experience violence, conflict, and fragility. The exclusion of women from the peace process – the peace talks and design of the recovery process – only perpetuates and reinforces gender inequalities.

In January, I travelled to Mali and met with women who had been displaced by the conflict in the northern part of the country. They told me of the violence and horrible human rights violations that they had endured and witnessed, and the message that they want the world to hear:  Lasting peace and democracy can only be achieved if women’s voices are heard for human rights, justice and equality.

When women are part of the peace-building process, and when transitional justice processes address the violations and abuses that women and girls experience in conflict, peace is more robust, and development more sustainable. What’s more, post-conflict processes can provide critical opportunities to break cycles of inequality and marginalization, and secure real gains for women and girls.

There has been much discussion on the post-2015 development agenda, and many discussions will take place in the coming years. But my message is this: to achieve real and sustainable change, this new framework must recognize that as long as women face violence and discrimination, our efforts to eradicate poverty, achieve equality, and advance human rights and democracy and will not succeed.

The new framework must be based on and consistent with human rights standards, including the rights of women set out in the CEDAW Convention and other instruments. This includes ensuring that the goals, targets and indicators are aligned to human rights obligations and commitments.

We will work to develop a separate gender equality goal, which is more encompassing and inclusive than the current MDG3.  Gender equality will also be reflected concretely in all other goals. Any new framework that does not explicitly include a clear target on the elimination of violence against women is clearly insufficient and unacceptable.

The post-2015 framework should drive new data collection and analysis, and not the other way around. We do not want to make the same mistakes again. Indicators must be disaggregated by sex and age and we must track achievement towards targets disaggregated by income, location, ethnicity, race, disability, and other factors.

And most importantly: the new development framework, including goals and targets, should be based on participatory processes. Whether these processes take place among governments, private sector, UN agencies or civil society organizations, they must be inclusive and include women’s voices.

While we are clear about what we want to see in the framework, the way ahead will not be easy and we need to be united.  The biggest challenge is to commit to the way forward.

I thank you once again for all of your work to protect women’s human rights and end discrimination and violence against women and girls as we envision peace, justice and equality for all.

Thank you.