Women’s rights and empowerment at the centre of the Sustainable Development Agenda

6 May 2015
ITC News

Since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, many countries have taken significant steps to advance women’s rights and empowerment.

New laws, initiatives and campaigns are helping to curb discrimination and violence against women and girls. Most countries have achieved, or are close to achieving gender parity in primary education. A number have gone further, laying the ground for women’s equal participation in government, economies, and societies.

The Beijing Conference and the Platform for Action it established, have inspired many to act. That outcome marked a significant turning point for the global gender equality agenda. It was not easily achieved.

When negotiators arrived in Beijing, more than 30% of the Platform for Action draft was bracketed, reflecting disagreement on issues from health to children’s rights. Nevertheless, advocates for transformational change for women won through. The outcome is considered the key global policy document on gender equality to this day.

The Millennium Declaration of 2000 and subsequent Millennium Development Goals reinforced the importance of the Beijing commitments. The third MDG was dedicated to gender equality, while Goal 5 aimed to improve maternal health – including through universal access to sexual and reproductive health. In practice, women’s empowerment also proved critical to achievements beyond these two goals.

Women’s economic empowerment, for example, benefited developing economies. Where women could acquire skills and start businesses, family incomes and productive capacity grew, setting in motion a virtuous cycle of inclusion, growth, and development.

Many women and girls, however, still face barriers to accessing education and sexual and reproductive health services. Child marriage and domestic violence are barriers to development. Women may be prevented from owning land, or even opening a bank account. These and other inequalities inhibit women’s empowerment.

World leaders participating in the Special Summit on Sustainable Development at the UN in September must be as determined as the delegates in Beijing were 20 years ago and agree to put women’s rights and empowerment at the centre of the new global development agenda. Otherwise the sustainable development goals they establish cannot be met. No society can develop to its full potential without women participating fully and equally in their families, communities and nations.

Current global challenges demand action on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Volatility is the new normal across economics, politics, societies, and our climate ecosystem. Empowered women must be part of finding and implementing solutions that build resilience and advance sustainable development in the post-2015 era.

UNDP seeks to advance gender equality in all aspects of its work. In more than 80 countries, we support women to build livelihoods and become drivers of sustainable development. Across programme countries, UNDP works to end the poverty, marginalization, environmental degradation and violence that magnify gender disparities.

UNDP encourages all development stakeholders to do whatever it takes to advance women’s rights and empowerment. We look forward to contributing to meeting the Beijing objectives in full, enabling women everywhere to live the lives they choose.