Opening remarks by John Hendra at the Asia-Pacific Regional Preparatory Meeting for CSW58

Date: Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Good morning.  I am very pleased to be here this morning to speak on behalf of UN Women. I would like to express my warm appreciation to Nanda Krairiksh, Director, Social Development Division and our colleagues at ESCAP who are co-hosting this meeting with UN Women, and to the Asia-Pacific Regional Coordination Mechanism Thematic Working Group on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women for their cooperation and support.

I would also like to acknowledge the important role that the Asia-Pacific Region has played during past CSW meetings, and in the discussions underway on the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda – including of course the leadership of Indonesia in the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Post-2015, and of the Philippines in the CSW Bureau. I very much appreciate the full participation of civil society who has been actively engaged.

Over the next two days we will discussing the critical 20-year review – ‘Bejing+20’, the challenges and achievements of the MDGs for women and girls, and the way forward 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).

I would like to try to set the scene for this discussion, in particular as it relates to i) the challenges and achievements of the MDGs, ii) lessons learned for the new development agenda, and iii) where we are now in the post-2015 and SDG process along with some of the implications for the discussion at CSW58.

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 certainly helped shape the development landscape. The proportion of people living on less than USD $1.25 a day fell from 47 per cent in 1990 to 22 per cent in 2010. And in the Asia-Pacific region there has been strong progress in terms of poverty reduction: the incidence of extreme poverty declined from 52 to 18 per cent between 1990 and 2011.

But as we also know, progress has been uneven both within and between countries. Almost two-thirds of the world’s poor live in the Asia-Pacific region. And 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 MDG’s 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, with increasing income disparities in many countries. Furthermore, high levels of inequality in education and life expectancy are evident in many of Asia’s largest economies. Jobs are not keeping pace with economic growth. Between 2009-2011, while average annual GDP growth was 7.6 per cent , formal employment grew by only 1 per cent. What’s more, about 60 per cent of the region’s workers are in vulnerable employment, and the region accounts for almost 73 per cent of the world’s working poor.

Women in particular in the Asia-Pacific region continue to face severe deficits in health and education, and in their access to power, voice and rights. The skewed male-to-female sex ratio at birth is just one example, averaging 106.2 in East Asia and 15.7 in South Asia. Women are less likely to own assets, and women’s participation in non-agricultural wage employment increased only marginally from 28 to 31 per cent, between 1990 and 2009. What’s more, the region has seen slow progress in terms of women’s participation in decision-making, with the second-lowest percentage of parliamentarians who are women.

Indeed, 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.  And as the examples I gave earlier illustrate, 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 unless we address these underpinning barriers to gender equality, women’s empowerment and women's rights.

Furthermore, as evidence clearly shows, gender equality has a real catalytic effect on achieving all MDGs and inclusive and progressive human development, good governance, sustained peace and a more harmonious relationship between people and planet – all of which are at the core of sustainable development and achievement of human rights.

That is why it is so critical that we focus on acceleration of actions to achieve the MDGs, in particular goals such as reducing maternal mortality, where progress is seriously lagging.  It’s therefore very welcoming to see that a number of governments in the Asia-Pacific region are investing in MDG acceleration initiatives at the national and sub-national levels. It's especially 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.

What's more, any new generation goals adopted in the post-2015 agenda must, in my opinion, be: i) transformative, and really tackle the structural factors that constrain progress, ii) universal, applying in all countries regardless of economic status, and iii) rights-based, fully aligned with key international instruments such as CEDAW, with equality, including gender equality, at the centre.

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 we believe that a transformative, comprehensive goal that builds on MDG3, together with comprehensive integration of gender concerns in all goals, targets and indicators, is required. Such a stand-alone goal on gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment must in our view address three critical dimensions. It must:

  • End violence against women. Globally, one in three women will experience violence in their lifetime, most often at the hands of an intimate partner. We must end the scourge of violence. 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. This is especially critical in the Asia-Pacific region where so many women are concentrated in informal, vulnerable employment, lack access to and control over assets and property, and where gender gaps in education and health persist, in particular in South Asia as well as among specific-sub groups of women. 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. Ensuring women and adolescent girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights is also critical.
  • Ensure that women take full part in household, public and private decision-making. Women continue to be significantly under-represented in politics and policymaking, with very low rates of participation in some of the most developed economies in the region. It's critical that women have an equal 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 – social protection, youth, and gender equality – need to be addressed throughout the framework.

However, a number of issues remain. These include how the new development agenda will address 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 set of Goals that doesn't speak to the climate change challenge will not be seen as credible. 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. Overall, there is support to address gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment in the post-2015 agenda and the SGDs. 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.

Looking forward, I think it will be very important to now start thinking about the targets and indicators we want to see included in the framework, both within a stand-alone gender equality goal, and in other dimensions of the new agenda. We also need to consider how best to take forward the MDG acceleration effort so that we get the most out of the final push to achieve the MDGs for women and girls. Finally, as you know, the Beijing+20 review and the ICPD review are underway, and we need to ensure that these reviews, the CSW58 and 59, and the process of developing the post-2015 agenda and the SDGs are fully aligned, and mutually synergetic and reinforced so that gender issues are fully reflected, and we can really draw on country-level experiences and lessons learned to inform the new global sustainable development agenda.

This is a critical juncture for women and girls. We cannot afford to lose any ground on gender equality and women’s rights. And that’s why as UN Women we are seeking your commitment and engagement 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.

We count on your support in this regard, and I look forward to strong report that we can take forward from this regional consultation into the CSW58 deliberations.  Thank you.