What does the new Development Agenda mean for Women and Girls?

On the 9th of September I attended an online seminar that discussing Women and Girls’ Rights in the Post-2015 Goals. The speakers were Esther May, Advisor for Development Affairs at the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations; Shannon Kowalski, Director of advocacy and policy in the International Women’s Health Coalition; and Sylvia Hordosch, Policy Advisor at UN Women. I will summarize the main points that were discussed; how the Agenda supports gender equality, which parts are lacking, and what the next steps are.

What does the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mean for Women and Girls?
Overall, the outcome is highly positive, with strong support for gender equality throughout the whole document! Straight from the start, in the Declaration, the document states that:

“We resolve, between now and 2030, […] to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. […] These are universal goals and targets which involve the entire world, developed and developing countries alike. They are integrated and indivisible”.

Straight from the start, the issue of Women and Girls’ rights is highlighted. As this is a universal agenda, it means that all the countries in the UN have agreed to achieve gender equality. One of the great things about the SDGs is its accountability. Because of its very specific Goals and Targets, as well as the Indicators provided, progress can be measured and can be monitored. Overall, the agenda is a huge step forward from the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), and Women’s Rights are mentioned throughout the whole document. There are specific goals that target gender issues and aim towards empowerment of women, which is fantastic. These include Goal 1: to end poverty in all its forms everywhere, and to ensure that all men and women have equal rights to economic resources (Target 1.4); Goal 4: To ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning and opportunities for all; Goal 5: to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls (A whole goal focused on gender equality!!); and Goal 16: to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, and justice for all. However, we need to remember that we, as advocates for Women’s Rights, to not solely aim our attention towards these goals. All the goals can be linked to each other, and it is essential that we realize that progress in one goal is dependent on progress on another goal.

3 out of 17 Goals target gender equality specifically, and there is strong language regarding equal rights for both men and women. These goals, and the Agenda in general, address the diverse needs of women globally as basic human rights. Something to celebrate! On top of this, the SDG’s specifically mention Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, in Goals 3: to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; and again in Goal 5. SRHR is essential for gender equality and women empowerment.

It is crucial that SRHR is strongly implemented globally, as it is the foundation of gender equality. Although having them mentioned in the SDGs is definitely an achievement, here is where there are still a lot of gaps. Firstly, the language is very weak and a lot of important aspects of SRHR have been left behind. The UN struggles a lot with SRHR because of the conflicting views and principles of its members. Because of this, a lot of specific goals are missing. There is no mention in the document of LGBT rights. This is a huge downpoint, as a whole group of marginalized people have been left out of the document completely. The SDGs also leave out access to safe and legal abortion, and Comprehensive Sexual Education is also not explicitly named. Although it is a large drawback, we cannot let that stop us from advocating for SRHR and holding governments accountable. Remember that there are interlinkages throughout the whole document! We can use other targets, such as 3.7, 4.7, and Goal 5 as a whole.

Now that the SDGs have been ratified by UN Members, there a lot of things that need to be done to ensure these goals are met. The most important is to ensure that the agenda is included in all policies around the world. To do this, we need to motivate countries to implement the policies. National laws have the potential to weaken the targets, so it is important that there is strong grassroot pressure on governments to make sure that the SDGs are properly integrated into national policy. Women’s groups need to remain involved and supported by governments as well as NGOs, and keep advocating for gender equality and youth empowerment. All the governments in the UN have agreed to gender equality, so it is essential that we hold all actors accountable. In order to do this, we need to work on capacity building for reporting and ensuring that national statistics are accurate. This data also needs to be properly analyzed by policy makers to ensure progress. As youth advocates, we need to keep promoting gender equality, and popularize the SDGs in social media. It is a very packed agenda and it needs to be explained in easier language, emphasising the purpose as well as the interlinkages throughout the document. The most important thing is to remember that all the goals depend on each other in order to achieve progress!

By Camila Ochoa Mendoza