Speech: “Turn promises into progress”—Åsa Regnér

Remarks by Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Åsa Regnér, during the session “Reviewing progress in achieving the SDGs” at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development on 9 July in New York.

Date: Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The adoption of the 2030 Agenda was a global victory for gender equality.

Not only did United Nations Member States commit to making sustainable development a reality for all countries and all people, they also recognized that gender equality is central to this endeavor: itself an important goal and a catalyst for progress across many other goals and targets.

The fact that we have a stand-alone goal that includes a comprehensive list of issues that women’s movements across the world have been fighting for over decades is an enormous achievement. Eliminating violence against women and recognizing unpaid care and domestic work, for example, were absent from the MDGs. The fact that they are now part of the SDGs shows that we have succeeded to bring them into the ‘mainstream’.

The implementation of the 2030 Agenda holds the potential to transform the lives of women and girls all over the world. But is this potential being met? Our global report “Turning Promises into Action” provides answers to this question. It is UN Women’s contribution to the HLPF and to monitoring progress on the SDGs, putting the spotlight on women and girls.

Despite progress on some fronts, gender inequalities remain pervasive in every dimension of sustainable development; and in many areas, progress is too slow to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Brand new data on extreme poverty, for example, reveals that globally there are 4 more women for every 100 men living on less than $1.90 a day. Almost 30 per cent of the world’s population still lacks access to safe drinking water. Women and girls are responsible for water collection in 80 per cent of households without access to water on premises. This work is arduous and will only become harder given increasing water scarcity. Violence against women and girls is rampant with 1 in 5 women reporting to have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the past 12 months. And while women’s representation in national parliaments has increased, it stands at a mere 24 per cent globally. A far cry from parity.

Even where progress is made, it often leaves large swaths of women and girls behind.

As soon as we look beyond national averages, there are yawning gaps between women and girls who, even within the same country, are living worlds apart. For example: 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 three times as likely as white women to lack health insurance.

What is needed to close these gaps and turn the gender equality promises of the 2030 Agenda into action?

Three elements will be critical for monitoring and accelerating change for women and girls.

First, we need transformative policies to achieve sustainable change at scale. This also means that governments need to systematically integrate a gender perspective in the development of all national sustainable development policies, planning processes and budgets, as well as design of services. Essential services on which millions of women and girls depend—health, water, childcare, shelters—are chronically underfunded or simply unavailable. Where they exist, they are often the first to be hit by austerity measures which are once again on the rise. In virtually all countries, there is scope for reallocating or raising domestic resources to avoid cut-backs and instead strengthen these services. To work for women, particularly those from disadvantaged and marginalized groups, the location and delivery of these services must take into account their use of time and space, particularly in relation to their unpaid care and domestic work.

Second, we need better indicators and data to monitor what works for women and girls and where course corrections may be needed. We have made important headway on gender indicators since 2015. For SDG 5, for example, we did not have an established methodology for 7 out of the 14 indicators. Today we have a methodology for all but one—thanks to the work of UN Women and other UN agencies. The next challenge is to collect the data for these indicators. Currently, we have less than a third of the data needed to assess the status of gender equality in the 2030 Agenda as a whole; and an even lower share of this data is recent. To address these gaps, we need to strengthen gender statistics and support national statistical systems, particularly in developing countries.

Finally, we need to strengthen accountability for gender equality commitments at all levels. Women and girls have the right to receive explanations from those in power about actions that affect them and demand course corrections where needed. Where poor performance on women’s rights has consequences. Where incentives to advance gender equality are in place. And where women are enabled to participate in and lead decision-making processes. Better outcomes are possible.

So let us challenge ourselves, let us assess our achievements and shortfalls with honesty. This will enable us to turn promises into progress. Because progress for women is progress for all.