Next week, government officials and feminists activists from all over the world will come together at the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) to evaluate the progress that has been made in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda), the most ambitious and comprehensive development agenda ever established. During the HLPF, a wide and diverse group of government and UN officials, academic experts, and civil society activists will share best practices and offer recommendations on how to implement the agenda, examine new and emerging challenges, and show—or not—the political will for meeting the aspirations of the 2030 Agenda. On the agenda is a close look at what governments need to do to meet the Sustainable Development Goals to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Under Goal 5, the gender equality goal, countries committed to tackling a number of critical issues, including ending child marriage, eliminating violence and discrimination, and ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. During this HLPF, gender equality should be front and center in the discussions but two factors may stand in the way: lack of data and lack of political will.
First and crucially, we lack gender statistics that can tell us definitively if we are making progress towards Goal 5 and its targets, as well as how women are faring when it comes to meeting other Goals. Without data, we cannot understand progress overall or build the links between gender equality and the other Goals. For example, of 12 of the 17 SDGs, which cover economic, environmental, and social issues, such as achieving gender equality, ending poverty, combatting climate change, and reducing inequalities within and between countries, the Secretary-General’s progress report had no gender-specific data, including on crucial issues that affect women and girls, such as education (Goal 4), water and sanitation (Goal 6), and climate change (Goal 13). In the section measuring progress for Goal 5, data exists for less than half of the official indicators. The upshot is that we’re missing information about discrimination against women and girls, laws and regulations guaranteeing reproductive rights, access to land and economic resources, use of enabling technology, and legislation promoting gender equality.
If it is true that we measure what we treasure, what does the lack of gender data tell us about the importance of women and girls?
This brings us to the second critical factor: political will. This year countries and high-level leaders have an opportunity to demonstrate their political commitment to achieving gender equality. In public statements, in events, and in voluntary national reports, governments have a chance to show that they (1) prioritize full gender equality for all women and girls, (2) understand that gender equality is an environmental and economic issue, as well as a social issue, and (3) value the contributions and importance of feminists groups to achieving gender equality. But we’re living in an uncertain time for gender equality and women’s human rights; significant rollbacks of women’s rights and human rights are happening in all regions of the world.
Will our leaders step up in this moment and demonstrate they have the political resolve and leadership to achieve full gender equality? Or, will they make empty promises and then ignore the entrenched social and economic barriers the 2030 Agenda is meant to address? IWHC and women and girls the world over will be watching.
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas