March 6, 2014

Governments Must Prioritize Women and Girls in Sustainable Development Goals

NEW YORK—In advance of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, more than 300 feminist organizations have issued a hard-hitting declaration calling on governments to prioritize gender equality as a goal for achieving sustainable development.

The Commission will convene at the UN headquarters in New York from March 10 to 21 to address the challenges and achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in improving the lives of women and girls in developing countries. While the MDGs resulted in progress against poverty in some areas, the goals furthest from being achieved are those focused on women and girls—particularly on achieving gender equality and improving maternal health.

“We won’t end world poverty and build a sustainable future if we leave half of humanity behind,” said Françoise Girard, President of the International Women’s Health Coalition. “Women and girls have the power to transform societies, but they must have the tools to succeed. Now is the moment for world leaders to make real commitments to gender equality and women’s rights.”

Negotiations at the Commission on the Status of Women will help shape the next set of development priorities that will replace the MDGs, which have a deadline of 2015. The process to define the post-2015 development agenda presents a vital opportunity to ensure that women’s rights and gender equality remain international priorities, and that advances made under the MDGs are built upon.

According to the World Bank, countries that invest in the social and economic status of women have lower poverty rates. An extra year of secondary schooling for girls can increase their future wages by 10 to 20 percent, and evidence shows that resources in women’s hands results in household expenditures that benefit children.

Yet, today 31 million girls of primary school age are still denied an education, and almost 300,000 women and girls die every year from complications due to pregnancy or childbirth. In many countries, sexual and reproductive health and rights are far from being fully realized. Approximately 222 million women who want to avoid pregnancy lack access to contraception and the number of unsafe abortions is on the rise around the world, mostly due to restrictive policies and lack of access to safe and legal abortion.

“Nations thrive most when girls are educated, empowered, strong, and healthy,” said Shannon Kowalski, IWHC’s Director of Advocacy and Policy. “We won’t have sustainable development unless women and girls have full and unfettered access to sexual and reproductive health services, be it family planning, prevention of sexually transmitted infections,  or comprehensive sexuality education. Women and girls have a human right to those services and that information. And it is not only the just and fair thing to do, it also makes economic sense.”

In addition to calling for a stand-alone goal on gender equality, advocates say that the post-2015 development agenda must include gender-specific targets across other development goals, strategies, and objectives—especially those related to education, health, economic justice, and the environment. Governments should also address the discriminatory social norms and practices that foster gender inequality, including early and forced marriage, tolerance of violence against women, and discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.

The feminist declaration for Post-2015, “Gender, Economic, Social and Ecological Justice for Sustainable Development,” is available here