Presentation by John Hendra at the Asia-Pacific Civil Society Consultation on Beijing+20 and CSW58

Presentation by John Hendra, Deputy Executive Director for Policy and Programme, at the Asia-Pacific Civil Society Consultation for the 20-Year Review of Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and for the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, 11 February 2014, Bangkok.


I am very happy to be here this morning to engage in the post-2015 agenda. It is very welcoming to see such strong engagement by  civil society in this CSW regional preparatory meeting. I can see that you have had a very dynamic and productive discussion on the preparations for the Beijing+20 review yesterday, and I’m very much looking forward to our discussion today, on CSW58 and the challenges and achievements in implementing the MDGs.

Civil society has played a very important role in past sessions of the CSW, including at CSW57, where civil society advocacy was critical in moving forward the agenda on critical issues, such as women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, and women’s human rights defenders. The very active participation and engagement of civil society organizations in the post-2015 discussions has also been very important and influential in the largely positive positioning of gender equality and women’s rights – in the report of the High-Level Panel on post-2015, and the Secretary-General’s report “A Life of Dignity for All".   

Just as important is your engagement in CSW58 preparations this year, your role in influencing and advocating with your governments on the positions they take – and beyond CSW58, your continued engagement and participation in the post-2015 agenda and preparations for Beijing+20. 

Over the course of the day we will discuss the challenges and achievements of the MDGs for women and girls, how CSO’s can influence the process, and how to ensure that CSW58 achieves strong Agreed Conclusions, and lays the foundation for gender equality to be comprehensively and robustly addressed in the new post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

However before we can look forward, we need to look back. And that is what CSW58 is all about: reflecting on the contributions of the MDGs, and how best we can accelerate our efforts to achieve them in the 23 months that remain.

As you know, the MDGs have made a significant contribution to development and poverty reduction since they were formulated in 2000. They have helped make a difference in hundreds of millions of people’s lives, and have helped re-shape the development landscape. 

In the Asia-Pacific region there has been strong progress in terms of poverty reduction: the incidence of extreme poverty declined sharply from 52 to 18 per cent between 1990 and 2011.

But as we also increasingly know, progress has been uneven both within and between countries.  Almost two-thirds of the world’s poor live in the Asia-Pacific region. Furthermore, there are more poor people in middle-income countries than in low-income countries. As the 2012/2013 Asia-Pacific MDG report shows, progress has been slow in a number of areas – including the prevalence of hunger and food insecurity, high levels of maternal mortality and child malnutrition, and persistent gender inequalities.

What's more, the focus on national averages often obscures very significant inequalities within countries. Despite strong progress in reducing poverty, the Asia-Pacific region is experiencing rising inequality and a widening gap between rich and poor. Furthermore, high levels of inequality in education and life expectancy are evident in key emerging economies in the region. And women in the region continue to face severe deficits in health and education, as well as in their access to power, voice and rights.

As discussed yesterday, intersections between different forms of inequalities compound discrimination and exclusion for specific groups, including on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, geographic location, income, age, disability, HIV status, sexual orientation and gender identity. Women, in particular the most vulnerable, and disadvantaged women, continue to be excluded from full access to the benefits of development  and MDG achievement.

There can be no doubt that inequality, and in particular gender inequality and gender-based discrimination, impede progress towards achieving all development goals. Critically, the MDG framework, important though it has been in focusing attention and resources, including for MDG3, does not go far enough to address the structural inequalities and discrimination that underpin these inequalities and undermine sustainable human development.

These include women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work, lack of access to assets and resources, low participation in decision-making at all levels, denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and persistent and widespread violence against women and girls. We cannot expect to make progress and achieve Sustainable Development Goals unless we address these underpinning barriers to gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights.

That's why it is so critical that in our efforts to accelerate MDG achievement, we really invest in addressing inequality, gender inequality, and promote gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment across all goals and priorities. We must do everything possible to accelerate actions to achieve the MDGs, in particular goals such as reducing maternal mortality, where progress is so seriously lagging.

What’s more, any new generation goals adopted in the post-2015 agenda must be: i) transformative, and really tackle the structural factors that constrain sustainable development, ii) universal, applying in all countries regardless of economic status, and iii) rights-based, with equality, including gender equality, at the heart of the new agenda. 

The new post-2015 agenda and SDGs must build on the lessons learned from the MDGs, by directly tackling unequal power relations between men and women, and persistent social norms and gender stereotypes that serve to impede progress and discriminate against women and girls. They must robustly integrate gender across all goals and targets that are developed and address multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, and must also address the broader context for the realization of gender equality, such as the impact of economic crises, persistent conflict, climate change, and environmental degradation. The new development agenda must also build stronger institutions, governance and accountability to deliver real change for women and girls.

That’s why UN Women is advocating for a transformative, comprehensive goal that builds on MDG3, together with comprehensive integration of gender concerns in all goals, targets and indicators. Such a stand-alone goal on gender equality, women’s rights, and women’s empowerment must address three critical dimensions. It must:

  • End violence against women and girls. Because gender equality and women’s empowerment are simply not possible if we don’t end violence and fear of violence – and if societies still consider gender based violence to be acceptable.  
  • Expand women’s capabilities and access to and control over resources, so that they have full choice and options about how to live their lives. We must also directly tackle the gender-based roles and expectations, and the social and familial control that constrain women’s choices and distort outcomes for individual women and girls, as well as society as a whole.
  • Ensure that women take full part in household, public and private decision-making so they can have a voice and participate in and influence the processes and institutions that shape public policies, and household and private sector decisions. 

As we enter into the CSW discussions, and as Member States start to negotiate the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda, it is vital that we tackle the unfinished business of the MDGs, including poverty eradication, health and education, and decent living standards. But just as critically, we must address the missing issues in the MDG framework, and really move beyond the MDGs to bring together poverty eradication and sustainable development in one agenda, establish a universal framework that addresses poverty and inequality wherever it occurs, and ensure that the rights of all – and in particular women and girls – are fully realized.

There is no doubt that there are challenges ahead. There is already a strong consensus emerging in discussions of the Open Working Group, including just last week, that poverty eradication must be the objective of the post-2015 agenda, that completing the MDG agenda is important but not sufficient and that transformative change is needed to address the challenges ahead. There’s also agreement that there should be one single set of goals that brings together the development agenda (the post-MDGs) and the environmental agenda (the SDGs) –Members of the OWG are calling for flexibility in order to reflect different country priorities and realities.

There is consensus that the “unfinished business” of the MDGs must be addressed –  key issues such as food security and nutrition, access to quality education and employment, health including communicable and non-communicable diseases, water and sanitation, and sustainable energy. And there’s an emerging view that some issues, such as social protection, youth, and gender equality could be mainstreamed throughout the framework, it’s likely after last week’s discussion that there will be a goal on gender equality.

However, contentious issues remain. These include how the new development agenda will address human rights, governance and rule of law, and peace and security, as well as how to address climate change in light of ongoing negotiations under the UNFCCC towards a 2015 universal agreement given that a new set of Goals that doesn’t somehow speak to the climate change challenge will not be seen as credible. Specific human rights issues such as sexual and reproductive health and rights also remain contentious. 

Finally, there is no consensus yet on how to extend the partnership beyond the traditional donor-recipient country relationship to include stronger private sector engagement, or even partnerships to deliver each goal. These challenging issues are also likely to play out in the context of the CSW58 discussions and negotiations, in particular in relation to women’s human rights.

Overall, there is clearly growing support to address gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment in the post-2015 agenda and the SGDs, thanks in part to your great advocacy. A number of Member States have indicated they support a stand-alone goal on gender equality, while others are calling for gender to be mainstreamed across the framework. But we have to remain vigilant. Because there is a real risk that the most transformative elements that we would like to see included as elements of a standalone goal or as targets – such as SRHR, unpaid care, women’s equal access to and control over land and other assets – will be traded away in intergovernmental negotiations.

So over the course of the discussion today, I think we need to consider how to do the following:

  • First, to ensure that we have very robust targets and indicators ready, for the issues that we see as non-negotiable in the framework, so that our advocacy is more specific and grounded.
  • This means we need to think beyond the stand-alone goal on gender equality and consider what we want to see included on issues such as food security and nutrition, water and sanitation, energy, global partnerships, transfer of technology and financing and the specific targets and indicators we want to propose.
  • Second, we need to be aware of and actively engaged in the broader ongoing debates – about universality, about how to address governance, peace and security, and human rights, and about how to converge the SDGs and the post-2015 agenda and have one set of goals that apply to all countries, but that can be adapted to national circumstances.
  • For example, we need to think further about the linkages between the overall inequalities discussion and gender equality, ensuring we keep the focus on a specific gender equality goal while also supporting and advocating for the importance of addressing inequalities in the framework.
  • Third, we need to consider how best to contribute to the MDG acceleration effort so that we get the most out of the final push to achieve the MDGs for women and girls.
  • Finally, we need to consider how we can bring together and leverage our advocacy at CSW 58, in the process of developing the SDGs and the post-2015 agenda, and in the Beijing +20 review – plus of course ICPD – to really maximize the synergies between these processes.

Because it is critically important that we keep our eyes on the bigger picture, and be ready to respond in all of the important discussions and debates. And I believe that positioning our advocacy for gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment in this broader context is just as critical for success as having a well-reasoned, argued and evidence-based stand-alone goal.

Let me be clear. While there appears to be growing support among Member States for a stand-alone goal, we are working in a difficult context where there is considerable push-back. But we cannot afford to lose any ground on gender equality and women’s rights. That’s why as UN Women we are seeking your support and advocacy to ensure that we secure strong agreed conclusions that really address gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment across the MDGs framework, and lay a very strong foundation for a post-2015 agenda that is truly transformative, universal, and rights-based, with gender equality and women’s empowerment at its heart.

UN Women looks forward to working closely with you to take your recommendations forward and to ensure we see a strong outcome as CSW this year. Thank you.