The Beijing Platform for Action and the Global Development Agenda from the MDGs to the Post-2015 Development Agenda – a speech by Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at a side-event at the Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations, New York, 13 March 2014.


Good Morning.

It is my pleasure to join you today for this event and discussion on the centrality of the Beijing Platform for Action and the relationship between the gender equality and women’s empowerment agenda, with the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.

I would like to thank the Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations for organizing this event and for their strong support to UN Women and to the cause of women’s rights.

This year’s priority theme at the 58th session of Commission on the Status of Women focuses on assessing how well the Millennium Development Goals have fared for women and girls. This is an important opportunity for us to look back and take stock of the progress and gaps in the implementation of the MDGs, and to provide a basis to inform the next development agenda, which is expected to start after we reach the deadline for the MDGs, beyond 2015.

More importantly, this discussion is an opportunity to look at how the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, which is close to being 20 years old, plays a key role in not only achieving gender equality, but also in the advancement of sustainable development for all.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, together with Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, constitute the foundational international agreement and normative policy framework for the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment. It is an action-oriented global programme to end all forms of discrimination against women, achieve gender equality, and fully realize women’s rights worldwide.

Almost 20 years after its adoption, the normative force and relevance of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action remain unshaken. Unfortunately, it also remains an unfinished agenda that requires political recommitment and accelerated implementation.
There has no doubt been great progress for women over the past 20 years. Today, there are more girls in schools and universities, more women in parliament and local councils, more women are Heads of State, more women are CEOs. There are fewer laws that discriminate against women and more laws that protect our rights and equality. There is also greater recognition of the importance of achieving gender equality, not only for women and girls, but for society as a whole.

The MDGs have also played an important role in increasing attention to gender equality and women’s empowerment, but progress has been unacceptably slow and uneven, both between and within countries.

Although MDG 3 has been important for signaling gender equality as a global priority, the targets have not covered several critical issues that are holding women and girls back, such as: the disproportionate share of unpaid care work carried out by women and girls; women’s lack of access to assets and productive resources; women’s low participation in decision-making at all levels; women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and violence against women and girls; and unequal power relations between women and men and discriminatory social norms, stereotypes and practices that continue to hold women and girls back.

Gender mainstreaming across all of the MDGs has also been inadequate in the design and implementation of the MDG framework, thus impeding progress on all goals. In addition, the MDGs have not paid attention to the broader context for the realization of gender equality, such as the impact of economic crises and macroeconomic policies, persistent conflict and environmental changes.

In order for women and girls to realize their full enjoyment of all human rights, in line with CEDAW and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the acceleration of progress on the MDGs and the ongoing discussions on the post-2015 development agenda and sustainable development goals must build on the lessons learned from the implementation MDGs.

Efforts to accelerate progress must harness the synergies between the promotion of gender equality and the achievement the MDGs, through systematic gender mainstreaming in the implementation of all goals. While gender equality is a means for accelerating progress on goals such as child and maternal health, progress in areas such as access to water and sanitation is also critical for ensuring women’s safety, health and dignity.

Effective implementation of the MDGs for women and girls requires strengthening the enabling environment for gender equality. This must include strong political will to create gender-responsive institutions, strong governance and accountability systems, macro-economic policies that are aligned with human rights standards, and full implementation of CEDAW and all of its obligations and commitments. 

Participation of women and girls is critical at all levels of decision-making to shape and influence policies, but we also need the full engagement of men and boys to ensure effective implementation.

Adequate and sustained resourcing is another critical component to accelerate progress towards the MDGs for women and girls. 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.

Ensuring high quality and regularly updated data on gender equality is critical.

That’s why it is UN Women’s contention that the intersected processes of the post-2015 agenda and Sustainable Development Goals must build on the lessons learned from the MDGs to create a universal agenda based on human rights that includes a transformative stand-alone goal on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights and comprehensive integration of gender equality concerns across all goals.

We are heartened by the strong support of UN Member States and civil society groups for this position. Strong support was voiced at the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals last month, where over 130 Member States expressed support for a stand-alone goal on gender equality and the empowerment of women. All of your support will be instrumental in ensuring that our collective vision of a transformative goal on gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment becomes a reality.

For this goal to be truly transformative, we at UN Women believe that it should cover three core areas:

The first is freedom from violence for women and girls. We cannot allow ending violence against women and girls to be omitted again, as it was in the MDGs. As we speak, levels of violence against women have reached an alarming promotion, with one in three women experiencing some physical or sexual violence worldwide.

The second area the goals should cover is equality in capabilities and access to opportunities and resources. This means recognizing, reducing and redistributing the burden of unpaid care work; ensuring equal access to assets and resources such as education, land and finance; equal pay and working conditions; and guaranteeing sexual and reproductive health and rights.

And, the third area is equality in agency, voice, participation and leadership across the full range of decision-making arenas in public and private institutions. This includes not just national parliaments, but the full range of public institutions, local councils, and the judiciary. It also includes decision-making at home and in the workplace, by having more women in higher corporate positions and in trade unions.

These three dimensions are at the heart of the Beijing Platform for Action and its 12 critical areas. As we prepare to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Platform, we are launching a social mobilization campaign to engage all constituencies in demanding accelerated and more effective implementation of the Platform. I encourage all of you to join us and be part of this mobilization.

We need to take big leaps, not baby steps, to achieve equality between women and men sooner, rather than later. We need bold action. And we need the gender equality and women’s empowerment to be at the heart of the new development agenda. This will drive progress and accelerated implementation for women and girls. And, more importantly, it will benefit us all.

Thank you.