August 3, 2015

UNITED NATIONS—Yesterday 193 governments agreed to a historic agenda for global sustainable development to be carried out over the next 15 years, which will be formally adopted by world leaders at the UN General Assembly in September. Women’s rights activists applauded this new “2030 Agenda” for having the promise of being truly transformative for women and girls around the world.

At the center of the new agenda are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a framework of 17 goals and 169 targets that build upon the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire this year. These new goals address gender equality much more robustly than the MDGs did and recognize the issue as crosscutting. The 2030 Agenda includes significant victories for women and girls. Governments have committed to:

  • End discrimination and gender-based violence
  • End child marriage and female genital mutilation
  • Ensure access to sexual and reproductive health care services and education for all
  • Protect women’s and girls’ reproductive rights
  • Reduce the burdens of unpaid care work on women and girls
  • Expand women’s economic opportunities and ensure their rights to resources
  • Eliminate gender disparities in schools and ensure equal access to education

Governments also made strong commitments to reduce poverty, end hunger, increase access to energy, address climate change, and promote peaceful societies, among other key actions. All of these measures are critical for women and girls to be able to lead fully-empowered, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

“The Sustainable Development Goals signal a major step forward for women and girls,” said Shannon Kowalski, Director of Advocacy and Policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC). “With this new framework there is potential to really change the game and advance gender equality—which has been recognized as absolutely essential to sustainable development.”

The SDGs, unlike the MDGs, apply to all countries, not just poorer ones. “The scope of this agenda is a massive accomplishment,” said Françoise Girard, President of IWHC. “Developed countries like the United States will be held to the same standards as developing countries and will be asked to live up to global commitments.”

For the past three years, IWHC and women’s groups from around the world played a key role at the United Nations in pushing for the rights and needs of women and girls to be a priority in the new agenda. While the new global goals mark significant progress, activists noted a few missed opportunities by governments.

“The 2030 Agenda could be stronger,” said Girard. “It does not adequately address power imbalances that disadvantage developing countries in the areas of trade, finance, and debt relief. It also does not go far enough in securing commitments to fully fund the Agenda. We will have to keep pressing our governments to make sure that the great change promised is actually delivered.”

Heads of State will convene at the UN on September 25-27 to formally adopt the SDGs. The next challenge for women’s groups will be to ensure that governments follow through on their commitments and take steps to actualize these goals.

“Women and girls everywhere have much to gain from the SDGs,” said Kowalski. “But to make this a reality, we have to keep pressure on governments to keep their promises. In the end, whether this agenda is a success is really up to us.”