TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Mar13/03)
29 March 2013
Third World Network

CSW: Gender equality and women’s rights a core component of the post-2015 development framework

New York, 28 March (Bhumika Muchhala) – The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at its 57th session focused on the urgent global issue of violence against women and girls, and its causes, consequences and actions needed to address the complex issue on multiple levels, including legal, policy, values and norms.

The session from March 4-15 was held at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

An expert panel March 7 addressed “Gender equality and women’s rights in the Post-2015 development framework,” where gender experts from UN Women, US Agency for International Development (USAID), and Third World feminist network, Development Alternatives for Women in a New Era (DAWN) spoke on a panel that interacted with member states from the floor.

The following questions were addressed at the beginning of the panel, “What key principles should underpin the Post-2015 development framework to ensure it is conducive to the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women?  What specific aspects should be captured in a focus on gender equality so that it will be more encompassing and inclusive than the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?  How should gender equality best be integrated into a sustainable development agenda?  And finally, what could be some of the concrete targets and indicators that would help to promote accountability for gender equality on both international and national levels?

Anita Nayar, representing DAWN, focused her remarks on the need for a structural transformation of the global economic system and various multilateral agenda for gender, economic and ecological equality and rights.  Nayar said that the road to 2015 needs to reclaim the agreements from the key development conferences of the 1990s when the linkages between gender and all three pillars of sustainable development were acknowledged. 

At that time, even governments acknowledged the threats to sustainability and women’s rights.  For example, the negative effects of structural adjustment programmes on women were recognized, especially in terms of cut-backs in social services, education and health and in the removal of subsidies on food and fuel.  Today there is no mention of the impacts on women’s rights in damaging practices such as agribusiness, monoculture, land grabs, and commodity speculation that played a significant part in the food crisis.

Why are these failed policies not being challenged?  Is it because they are succeeding for some?  We have to ask ourselves who is benefiting from policies that undermine human rights and sustainability of the planet?

Nayar said that the Post-2015 development framework must be relevant to current realities in the context of multiple, converging crises including the financial crisis, economic recession, food, climate and biodiversity crisis.  It must provide a means to move away from the failed international financial and trade institutions and make significant structural changes in the global development architecture.

It is time to confront the inequitable distribution of assets and property between those who hold land, financial, and intellectual property and those who do not, between those who decide over global economic governance policies and those who do not, and between those who control their bodily integrity and yet have little responsibility for the care of future generations and those who do not have bodily integrity and yet are expected to fulfil obligations to feed and nurture others.

Nayar highlighted that the human rights framework is helpful in addressing these structural inequalities.  While there is a lot of talk about a rights-based approach to development there are no substantial investments in women’s human rights as a goal in itself.  The Post 2015 framework must be based on the universality and indivisibility of human rights taking into account intersecting inequalities and ensuring non-discrimination based on gender, age, class, caste, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identities and abilities.

The human rights instruments have been available for more than 50 years and yet there is slow progress in integrating this approach into policies and programs in a meaningful way.  For example it would be helpful to use the human rights framework to regulate and hold corporations accountable or to look at how ODA supports international commitments to gender equality and women’s rights.

Nayar emphasized that centrally important in the advancement of gender equality and women’s rights is the active participation women’s organizations at global, regional and national levels.  Their continued funding and engagement in the Post 2015 process is vital.  Who else will ensure that governments don’t suffer from amnesia and begin to seriously address the structural transformations that are required for gender, economic and ecological justice?

Nayar outlined the several ways in which gender equality and women’s rights were inadequately addressed in the Rio+20 UN Conference on sustainable development, which took place in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In the area of agriculture, reference is made to the critical role that rural women play in food security through traditional sustainable agricultural practices including traditional seed supply systems.  However these practices and seed supply systems are under severe threat unless governments stop prioritising export-oriented agribusiness.  Why were such wrong-headed policies not addressed in Rio+20? Will the Post 2015 agenda be any different?  Will governments address the root causes of the food crisis including corporate control over food production and speculation in agricultural commodities?

In the area of climate change, the Rio+20 negotiations generally recognized that those living in poverty, the majority of whom are women, are disproportionately affected by climate change because women have disproportionate responsibility for providing food, fuel and water for their households, all areas that are affected by climate change.  There is also broad recognition of the critical role that women play in actively building resilience and in reducing emissions.  So given this common understanding why were governments at Rio+20 resistant to addressing the linkages between gender and climate change?

The Rio+20 outcome document refers to women’s “unpaid work” but fails to recognize the unequal and unfair burden that women carry in sustaining care and wellbeing.  Development is not sustainable if care and social reproduction are not recognized as intrinsically linked with the productive economy and reflected in macroeconomic policy-making.

In Rio+20, sexual and reproductive health and rights were treated like a poker chip in the power struggles that ensued.  There is no acceptable reason to trade women’s and young people’s sexual and reproductive rights and health.  The Post 2015 Agenda must challenge the narrow MDG agenda and affirm women’s fundamental rights to bodily autonomy and integrity.

“In the words of my sisters from the Pacific, ‘My body is not your political battleground.’  Not now, and not in 2015,” stressed Nayar.

Caren Grown, from the United States Agency for International Development, said that she speaks as a member of the Task Force for the UN Millennium Project, and as an economist who has conducted a lot of research on the issues over the last 30 years.  She clarified that she is not speaking for the US government, which does not yet have a position on Post-2015. 

The UN Millennium Project brought in the narrow goals and targets, and the 7 specific categories, which were chosen because they were the core elements that were transformative for women’s lives.  Post-primary education, improved sanitation, energy, and guaranteed health care, as well as property rights, assets, informal and formal worker’s rights, increased women’s participation and choice in formal and informal processes and institutions, were all resonant at the time. 

Violence against women and girls is of critical importance to gender equality because it has yet to be achieved in any country or culture.  Because gender inequality is deeply rooted in societal patterns, different steps are needed to take it forward.  It is important to have a framework that is rights-based, universal and contains strong mechanisms for accountability. 

It is equally important to focus on key results.  As a global community, Grown said, we need to hold ourselves accountable for women and men and boys and girls on the ground. 

Grown said that she would like to personally see measurable results in the following areas: (i) completion of post-secondary school for girls; (ii) reduction in preventable maternal death and disease; (iii) reproductive healthcare; (iv) access to ownership of key technology; (iv) closure in the gap between men and women in ownership and control over land, housing and financial assets; (v) reduction in the gender wage gap, in which there are virtually no improvements in most countries; and, (vi) more female entrepreneurs.  Women are currently just 4% of the owners of Small and Medium Enterprises, and there is a need to see more women genuinely leading and participating in all levels of decision making.

Grown also highlighted several emerging issues.  First, the heart of the MDGs is that of reducing poverty.  The conversation has shifted slightly to reducing extreme poverty.  The total number of people in the world is 1.2 billion, and extreme poverty in 2025 is projected to arrive at 460 million people.   It is clear that structural inequalities exacerbate inequality, between men and women and between girls and boys, and that these inequalities are much more acute among the poor than the rich.

Second, conflict resolution and post-conflict countries have to be addressed for their unique and specific gender issues.

Third, visibility for core concepts of what it means to be empowered and spirited need to be acknowledged.  There are over 90 countries that now collect data on gender-based violence.  There could be better developed indicators for this, and a key proposal is to adopt an indicator on intimate partner-based gender violence.

Fourth, the gender asset gap in 2005 revealed that only two countries, Ghana and Ecuador, actually have national level data on the ownership of males to females of land, housing property, and financial and business assets.  All countries need to be encouraged to collect on an individual level to achieve a baseline.

Fifth, sexual and reproductive rights need to progress further, and we need a better set of indicators for this. 

Sixth, the political empowerment of women is an area where we need better traction and momentum, particularly in the female share of parliamentarians on a national basis.  Participation at the local level of decision-making, and in all level of decision-making.   There needs to be a better indicator here.

Seventh, the investment agenda, in terms of financing for gender equality and women’s development, needs to be scaled up.  Grown said her research has demonstrated financing gaps between men and women that are woefully inadequate and off-budget in many countries. 

In the context of the recent financial crisis, it has been even harder to mobilize resources and ensure access to credit and financing for gender equality.  The Monterrey Consensus had called for not just meeting commitments to 0.7% of GNP but also to allocate funding to that mobilization.

Grown emphasized that we need to think about unpaid work and unpaid care burdens from three perspectives.  The care economy and the unpaid economy is work, and it is apart of the national system of accounts, and it needs to become a standard model practice. There are two ways to think about unpaid work.  First, there needs to be a reduction of unpaid work because much of it is drudgery.  That’s why gender justice advocates have called for the provision of infrastructure, such as public systems of transport, water and sanitation.

In terms of actual programmes for development, there are myriad ways in which women don’t benefit in decent employment and education.  The role of redistribution particularly involves men in care.  We know that children benefit when men participate in care work. 

The interactive discussion then opened up to the floor of the United Nations, where member states made interventions.

South Africa said that while progress has been made, the international community still has a long way to go in meeting MDG targets.  Women in sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, continue to face tough challenges in meeting MDG targets.  Given this challenge, we ask the UN to continue to promote challenges to achieving gender equality.  Maternal mortality rate has started to subside in our country.  The Post-2015 development framework must seek to address violence against women and ensure gender is central to all commitments.  

China said that it attaches great importance to the Post-2015 agenda, especially from the perspective of gender.  China contributed two points to the panel.  First, economic independence is an important factor to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women.  Emphasis must be placed on poverty eradication in the Post-2015 framework.  Second, it is critical to address the all-around and holistic development of women, not just politically but also socially and psychologically.

China also stressed that without economic power women have no choice or voice in matters pertaining to even family and community.  Without adequate political presence or representation women’s issues will remain peripheral or marginalized.  China asked how much assessment there is to show the movements that have been made in the last two years of women’s economic empowerment and political representation.

Thailand said that scaling up education is the key to achieving gender equality goals for both men and women.  The impediment to gender equality in education includes stereotypes against women, school practices that are unfriendly and the lack of nurturing women to excel academically.  Furthermore, the commodification of women’s bodies, for consumerism and materialism, and the fact that women themselves have been instilled with false values, further perpetuate the problem.

The Philippines aligned itself with the speech of Anita Nayar of DAWN, and said that their national development goals seeks to be better aligned to gender equality goals. The MDGs were not aligned to national goals, and this is a key problem.   The world now has the chance to correct the wrongs in the Post-2015 agenda, and to do so gender equality should be central to the Post-2015 framework.  

Norway stated that gender inequality has structural causes and multiple and intersecting forms, and that the Post-2015 development framework has to be specific on empowering women and gender equality.  All goals and substantive issues in the Post-2015 development framework should be considered through a gender equality perspective. 

First, the Post-2015 goals should be ambitious, easy to comprehend, and measurable.  Second, the goals in the Post-2015 should be underpinned by human rights.  Third, the Post-2015 development framework should address sexual and reproductive health.  Fourth, efforts to address violence against women and girls should be promoted.   Fifth, increased political participation and influence in society for women should be stressed. 

The Post-2015 development framework should ensure that women are an equal part of economic growth, and a transparent, inclusive and democratic governance.   The Post-2015 agenda should make a real difference in women’s lives and enable women to participate on equal terms with men.  Norway also said that it believes that the SDG goals and the Post-2015 goals should be coordinated and merged into one unified and single process.  Norway also supports universal goals that address all countries.

The European Union said that gender equality and economic empowerment for women is about unleashing the enormous potential of women, which remains untapped due to discrimination and systemically unequal societies.  Another issue of the highest importance that requires strong attention is to concretely address the root causes of violence against women and girls.  The Post-2015 development framework should be universal, but it will only be successful if all countries take ownership of it.  Gender quality will find its rightful place in this framework. 

The United Kingdom is committed to putting ender equality in the center of the Post-2015 framework.  Poverty eradication cannot be achieved in our lifetime if we don’t achieve transformative change for women and girls.  Control over women’s bodies and over resources and assets, and the ability to live free from violence is essential.  Gaps in the MDG framework must be addressed in the Post-2015 framework, and focus must be shifted to confront the underlying causes, not just the symptoms.  The UK is committed to achieving strong consensus and momentum for change with other member states.

Morocco asked which specific indicators are the best way to inform Member States about gender equality and the points of intersection and lines of demarcation about the process of the Post-2015 period that will guide us into a new Post-2015 framework.   Morocco also inquired about the link between the green economy and gender equality.

The Democratic Republic of Congo said that the T-shirt that Anita Nayar held up is extremely crucial to this conversation because it is an economic battle that the world is collectively waging.  In the DRC, progressive legislation in terms of gender equality has been established over the last many years.

Nigeria said that maternal mortality in Africa is still a core issue.  In Nigeria, when women enter a hospital to give birth, it is like playing a roulette—they simply do not know whether or not they are going to come out of the hospital dead or alive.

El Salvador said it is very important to take into account what was said in this panel.  Economic autonomy and political autonomy go hand-in-hand, and the Post-2015 agenda should consider all three aspects including autonomy.+