Women and Development

Post-2015 forum calls for a comprehensive approach to women’s empowerment

In Brief: 
  • A forum at the UN in December 2013 considered the importance of a goal promoting the empowerment of women in the post-2015 development agenda.
  • Panelists said there was “very strong and consistent support for a stand-alone goal on women’s equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment.”
  • Current MDGs fail to address structural inequalities facing women and girls.
  • A greater emphasis on community-based efforts, which operate at the level of culture, could help to promote the advancement of women.

UNITED NATIONS—The post-2015 development agenda needs a comprehensive goal to promote the equality of women and men, said panelists at a major UN forum on women’s issues and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Speakers at the forum, held 4-5 December 2013, also said the empowerment of women and girls should be woven into all other future goals for sustainable development and poverty eradication because women worldwide play a key role in such issues and are greatly affected by them.

“There was very strong and consistent support for a stand-alone goal on women’s equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment,” said John Hendra, deputy executive director of UN Women, summarizing the first day of a stakeholder’s forum on “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls — The road ahead.”

“There was also equally very strong support for the integration of gender equality across all the goals, across the whole framework, especially in the area of sustainability and global partnership,” said Mr. Hendra.

Sponsored by UN Women, the forum brought together UN ambassadors, UN agency officials, and civil society representatives to discuss progress on MDG 3, which seeks to improve women’s education — and to consider new goals for women after 2015, when the MDGs expire.

Panelists said the world had made significant headway towards achieving MDG 3, which specifically called for the elimination of “gender disparity in primary and secondary education.” But speakers also said it did not go far enough, failing to address disparities beyond education.

“There are structural sources of gender inequality that are not adequately dealt with in the MDGs,” said James Heintz, a research professor at the University of Massachusetts.

Dr. Heintz and others said such structural inequities include issues related to unpaid care work, reproductive rights, pay and job differences in the labor market, and pervasive violence against women.

Violence against women was identified by a number of speakers as an impediment to sustainable development and poverty eradication.

“On a daily basis, we deal with cases of women and girls being raped, girls being sold, forced into marriage, underage marriage, or girls being exchanged for a crime someone else has committed,” said Manizha Naderi, executive director of Women for Afghan Women, which has some 25 shelters or facilities in ten provinces across Afghanistan.

“The elimination of violence against women is very important because it addresses every other single MDG,” said Ms. Naderi. “Not being able to attend school is a form of violence. Not having access to health care is a form of violence. So in the next set of development goals, I would really recommend that violence against women is addressed.”

Community efforts emphasized

Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations, said one element of any comprehensive framework to advance the rights of women should be a greater emphasis on community-based efforts.

“An important actor, yet one that is seldom mentioned in relation to the development and implementation of development frameworks, is the community,” said Ms. Dugal, an official discussant at the Forum.

“There is a tendency to overlook the relevance of community to human development,” she said, adding that “community is also the locus of culture.

“It is at the deep level of culture — of worldviews, attitudes, values and beliefs — where the most powerful and sustainable transformation can occur,” said Ms. Dugal.