Speech: “We need to strengthen accountability for gender equality commitments at all levels”—Åsa Regnér

Remarks by Assistant-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Åsa Regnér, at the side event on “Partnerships that Deliver for Girls and Women” organized by the Deliver for Good campaign during the 2018 HLPF


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Distinguished panellists, dear colleagues and friends,

Many thanks to Women Deliver and the Deliver for Good campaign for organizing this panel discussion today and for inviting UN Women to be part of the conversation.

UN Women embraces the power of partnerships with a wide range of partners to deliver for women and girls locally and globally.

Through public-private partnerships, we leverage resources and provide support to national governments in their gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Through our work with the women’s movement, we fully use the power of possibility that women and girls represent and challenge the widespread and extreme poverty and its feminization, heightened human insecurity, huge infrastructure deficits, jobs crisis especially for the burgeoning youth population, conflict and instability, discrimination and violence against women.

And yet so much more needs to be done! The findings our recent report “Turning Promises into Action” show that gender inequalities remain pervasive in every dimension of sustainable development.

In 89 countries with available data, there are 4.4 million more women than men living on less than USD 1.90 a day.

Across regions, there are 122 women aged 25-34 living in extreme poverty for every 100 men of the same age group—a reflection of the disproportionate responsibility that women in this age group bear in caring and providing for young children.

Despite recent progress, access to quality education is still not universal: 48.1 per cent of adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa remain out of school compared to 44 per cent of boys. Globally, 15 million girls will never get the chance to learn to read or write compared to 10 million boys.

Globally, women constitute just 13 per cent of agricultural land holders, and in some regions their access to land is undermined by discriminatory laws or threatened by large-scale land dispossession by international agribusiness, finance capital and foreign States.

While women’s representation in national parliaments has increased, it stands at a mere 24 per cent globally, and in many contexts, women’s civic participation—as part of social movements and organizations that defend human rights—is being met with antagonism, restrictions and violence.

Violence against women and girls remains a global pandemic. Yet, laws protecting women from domestic violence are lacking in 49 countries and in 37 countries rape perpetrators are exempt from prosecution if they are married to or subsequently marry the victim.

Even where progress is made, different groups of women and girls often inhabit parallel realities depending on their income status, race/ethnicity, or where they live.

A rural woman in Colombia is 12 times as likely as an urban woman to give birth without a skilled health professional attending.

Women in the poorest households in Nigeria are 4.8 times as likely to be married as children as women from the richest households.

In the United States, Native American/Alaska Native and Hispanic women are almost 3 times as likely as white women to lack health insurance.

To turn promises into action, the report identifies four key areas where partnerships could accelerate progress towards a world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality.

First, we need to put gender equality at the centre of implementation.

There are 17 goals and gender equality matters for all of them. Integrated approaches to implementation are pivotal to harnessing these synergies.

Take the area of early education and care services for pre-school age children. Enhancing the availability, affordability and quality of these services could not only reduce the time women spend on unpaid care (Target 5.4) and enable them to increase their access to employment (Target 8.5), it can also create decent jobs in the social services sector (Target 8.3), improve children’s health and nutritional outcomes (Targets 2.2 and 2.3) and enhance school readiness (Target 4.2), particularly among those from disadvantaged backgrounds, thereby contributing to equalize opportunities and reduce inequalities of outcome (Target 10.3).

Second, we must close the financing gap.

Far from a world of scarcity, we live in a world of unprecedented opulence, but where resources are unfairly distributed and do not reach those who need them the most.

Also, while the resources needed to achieve the SDGs are enormous, since 2016, the world is seeing another major contraction in public expenditure in developed and developing countries alike. In 2018 alone, 124 countries are expected to be cutting their budgets—eroding safety nets and essential services on which so many women and girls depend.

In virtually all countries, there is scope for raising additional revenue from both domestic and external sources to avoid cut-backs and instead strengthen public services that are essential for women and girls.

Chile and Norway have used fiscal reserves to step up social investments. Others, such as Thailand have reallocated military expenditures. And more than 60 countries have successfully re-negotiated debts, using the savings to expand social protection and essential public services.

We can afford the resources needed to achieve the SDGs. It is a matter of political will and of using all the available policy tools. The cost of inaction is simply too high.

Third, we need to get much better in monitoring what works for women and girls.

To achieve gender equality across the 2030 Agenda we need to make every woman and girl count. This will require a revolution in gender statistics and democratic accountability.

Currently, we cannot actually assess what is happening to women and girls across all 17 SDGs. Six of them are entirely gender-blind. It is critical that by 2020, we have meaningful gender indicators for these and other goals.

We need more and better data to monitor progress for women and girls across countries and over time. Existing data is often patchy and outdated:

  • Only 24 per cent of data on 54 gender-specific indicators is from 2010 or later.
  • Only 17 per cent of data on 54 gender-specific indicators is available for two or more points in time.

To close these gaps, national statistical systems, particularly in developing countries, need to be strengthened.

This brings me to my last and final point: We need to strengthen accountability for gender equality commitments at all levels.

Where women are enabled to participate in the planning, implementation and monitoring of sustainable development strategies; where incentives to advance gender equality are in place; and where poor performance has consequences, better outcomes are possible.

At the national level, spaces for democratic debate are needed to define national priorities and agree on pathways for transformative change.

At the regional level, comparative analysis, benchmarking and peer review of gender equality achievements can contribute to catalyze action.

At the global level, the High-level Political Forum can be strengthened as an accountability platform with more time allocated to voluntary national reporting and peer review and more space for participation and reporting by civil society, including women’s rights organizations such as the Women's Major Group.

Our report provides a roadmap for turning gender equality promises in to action. Let us leverage the power of partnership so to ensure that the journey is successful and its gains irreversible.

I thank you.