At UN, Governments Agree Equality and Health for Women Means Progress for All

I’m happy to report that after an exhausting, but exhilarating two weeks at the United Nations, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) closed early Saturday morning with a strong commitment from governments to promote the health and human rights of women and girls.

The International Women’s Health Coalition and our amazing allies and partners from around the world came out in force for the negotiations to ensure a strong outcome. Our agenda was clear: push governments to prioritize gender equality as an essential goal for sustainable development.

Negotiations at the UN are important — they generate concrete commitments that advocates can use to hold governments accountable. But this year’s CSW was especially critical, as more than 3,000 government and civil society representatives gathered to assess progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to set priorities for the next development agenda, beginning in 2015.

We had our work cut out for us.

This year, a strong and vocal opposition arose from the Vatican and a few conservative countries. At every step in the negotiations, they opposed fundamental concepts such as the “human rights of women,” “reproductive rights,” and even objected to the use of the word “gender.” In a brazen attempt to roll back women’s sexual and reproductive rights, this faction repeatedly opposed references to sexuality education, modern methods of contraception, and safe and legal abortion.

But the incredible, dedicated women (and men) who gathered in New York from around the world proved that we are an irresistible force. We secured commitments from our governments to protect women’s sexual heath and rights, and we prevailed in our primary objective for this year’s CSW: to get governments to support a global development goal focused specifically on gender equality and women’s rights.

We know that countries thrive when women and girls are educated, empowered, strong, and healthy. As women, we have the power to transform societies, but we must have the tools to succeed — including full and unfettered access to sexual and reproductive health services. We have a human right to these services, and it makes economic sense for governments to ensure our rights are fulfilled.

The governments assembled at the Commission on the Status of Women agreed.

In the 20-page agreed conclusions, the Commission stated — in addition to a stand-alone goal on gender equality — that the post-2015 development agenda must include gender-specific targets across all development goals — especially those related to education, health, economic justice, and the environment. In its assessment of the MDGs, the Commission noted the goals furthest from being achieved are those focused on women and girls. They agreed to take renewed action to improve maternal health and achieve gender equality, end violence against women, stop child marriage and female genital mutilation, and promote women and adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health and rights, including their access to comprehensive sexuality education and their right to control all aspects of their sexuality. This augurs well for the post-2015 development agenda to be negotiated in greater detail over the next 18 months!

By committing to and investing in efforts to achieve gender equality, governments can unleash the power of half the world’s population to build a more peaceful, just, and sustainable planet. IWHC will continue to work in partnership with women’s groups from around the world to make sure that the promises made at the UN become a reality in communities everywhere.

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