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Jessica Buchleitner,  WNN Correspondent to the United Nations – WNN features

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The United Nations has adopted the Sustainable Development Goals and Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030  Credit: UN photo/Mark Garten

(WNN) New York, New York, NORTH AMERICA –Coined the ‘busiest week for gender and women’s issues at the United Nations’ by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, delegates, diplomats, heads of states and civil society NGO leaders convened from March 14-24 at U.N. headquarters to examine the new U.N. Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030, and to review the progress at state efforts to combat violence against women at the 60th annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

The session explored the link to women’s empowerment and the 2030 Agenda through various means by examining sustainable development through a gender lense in issues of poverty, peace and security, maternal healthcare, political participation and economics.

More than 80 government ministers, 4,100 non-governmental representatives from more than 540 organizations around the world participated, marking this session the highest number ever attended for one of the Commission’s regular annual meetings, as reported by UN Women. The over 4,000 NGO representatives also met in a series of parallel sessions where they presented their research, methodology and issues present in their fields of work through panel discussions.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon presented an inaugural meeting of the newly instated High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment on March 15.

“Women and girls deserve the same access to quality education, economic resources and political participation as men and boys [including] the same employment, legal rights, leadership and decision-making opportunities,” said Mr. Ban.

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The inaugural meeting of the first-ever High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment on 15 March, 2016. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

The Panel will produce its first report this September, followed by a final report in March 2017 after being launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos this January. Co-chaired by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis and Simona Scarpaleggia, the CEO of IKEA Switzerland, the Panel is also backed by the UN Women, the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, with support for its work provided by the UK Department of International Development.

It is slated to provide recommendations linked to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on how to improve economic outcomes for women and promote their leadership in driving sustainable and inclusive, environmentally sensitive economic growth and to demonstrate high-level leadership by serving as examples of how government, business, civil society and development partners can join forces for women’s economic empowerment.

While the panel was one measure introduced to integrate women and girls into the 2030 Agenda, across panels, discussions, side events and parallel sessions for over 4,000 registered NGO representatives, other glowing topics were debated, discussed and introduced.

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Empowerment

On August 2, 2015, the U.N. introduced the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, complete with 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets, seeking to build on the Millennium Development Goals and complete what they, by extensive assessment, fell short of achieving. The goals and targets will stimulate action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet, including a stand-alone goal on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls (SDG 5) as well as gender-sensitive targets in other goals.

As the Preamble states, “All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan. We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.”

In addition to the High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, another high-level event organized by UN Women on March 17 featured Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for a call on global leaders to do more for gender equality.

“For me, it’s just really obvious. We should be standing up for women’s rights and trying to create more equal societies—duh!… I take the positive attention that we’re getting right now as an encouragement to be making sure that we are doing even more and indeed participating in a global movement to address this in every country around the world at the same time,” said Prime Minister Trudeau. “This needs to be seen not as a women’s movement but as a global movement… We need to challenge folks to step up.”

High Level Event on Gender Equality And Global Call To Action

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, holds a dialogue on gender equality with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), at the event, “Gender Equality and Global Call to Action on Equal Pay.” Credit: UN photo/Mark Garten

Trudeau gained global acclaim for his matter-of-fact response to a question about why he appointed a 50/50 gender-equal Cabinet last year: “Because it’s 2015.” At the high-level event, he explained that in order to be able to appoint such a cabinet, his team deliberately sought out women to come forward as candidates. He also stressed continued efforts to retain women in leadership and foster better work-life balance in the workplace.

“We insist in UN Women that the struggle for gender equality is not just for women—it is for everybody, and those with authority and power, especially; they must lead from the front,” said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka. “The Prime Minister had the authority to appoint a 50-50 cabinet. Leaders must use the authority that they have.”

High Level Event on Gender Equality And Global Call To Action

High Level Event on Gender Equality And Global Call To Action On Equal Pay Dialogue on gender equality between Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director Followed by a moderated interview-style discussion with UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and key stakeholders on a global call to action on equal pay for work of equal value, organized by UN Women. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Ms. Mlambo-Ngucka reappeared on March 17 in the delegate dining room alongside Canadian Member of Parliament Carolyn Bennett in a reception sponsored by Price Waterhouse Coopers about the Empowerwomen campaign launched by UN Women in 2013 at the High–Level Segment of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The panel examined the role of the private sector in promoting gender quality in the workplace and ensuring women equal economic opportunities in addition to their equal access to education and technology.

“People don’t have human rights unless they know they have rights,” said Canadian Member of Parliament Carolynn Bennett while speaking on the panel, “being empowered also does not necessarily mean being competitive it just means coming into one’s power.”

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Panelists join Canadian Member of Parliament Carolyn Bennett and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mambo Ngcuka to discuss the Empowerwomen campaign launched by UN Women. The panel was sponsored by Price Waterhouse Coopers and included discussions on engaging the private sector for workplace equality. Credit: Jessica Buchleitner, WNN Correspondent

Leadership and Advocacy for Women in Africa Fellow at Georgetown Law School Elizabeth Makumbi attended the panel after hearing about the campaign through her networks and reported it to be an ideal discussion in regard to women entrepreneurs in Africa.

“The panel focused on the use of technology and how we can teach girls how to code, use social media platforms and websites to advance their societies towards inclusive economic prosperity. Technology provides the platform to new markets, various information sources and selling platforms for entrepreneurs on a domestic and international level,” said Makumbi.

“We are also in the era where more people in Africa have smartphones and thus can communicate their ideas or businesses through the development of applications that have the possibility of making more women financially independent. The rise of social media platforms such as Facebook and the newly renovated Empowerwomen website have created a podium for women and those interested in women’s issues, to voice their opinions and concerns. This is pertinent for women from countries where freedom of speech and censorship take priority.”

Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka stressed the need for economic empowerment of women and presented various stories from Empowerwomen told by women entrepreneurs and business owners from around the world.

“We must equip and inspire both women and men change makers to become advocates and leaders in their communities. We must give them resources, opportunities and a global platform that facilitates networking, learning and sharing of our experiences,” said Mlambo-Ngucka.

Along the lines of women’s representation in leadership roles and peace and security matters, Assistant Secretary-General for Intergovernmental Support and Strategic Partnerships at UN Women Lakshimi Puri commended the Organization for Islamic Cooperation for appointing four women to leadership positions as a reflection of the important role of women in decision-making positions, especially given the escalated instances of violence in Syria, Iraq and neighboring countries.

“We know, for example, that women’s participation increased the probability of a peace agreement lasting at least two years by 20 percent, and the probability of a peace agreement lasting 15 years by 35 percent.” said Puri.

“Together with U.N. Security Council resolutions 1325 and 2242, and their implementation, which commit Member States to not only use the power of women as a profound, effective and committed peace constituency to prevent conflict, to make and build sustainable peace, as well as to protect them from the horrors of conflict including the insecurity of displacement and loss, targeting and enslavement by violent extremism and terrorism that we are witnessing especially in Iraq and Syria, the OIC countries must continue their strides to ensure that women live and thrive in just and peaceful societies free from conflict where the rule of law works for them.”

Inter-Parliamentary Dialogue with UN Women, #EndFGM

On March 15, the Inter-Parliamentary Union in partnership with UN Women convened in the ECOSOC chamber to discuss the role of women in legislation and sustainable development and the prevalence of women in parliamentary and other governing roles. Several facts were presented by various affiliates:

  • 150 countries have at least one law that discriminates women (World Bank).
  • Gender inequality remains the most pervasive form of discrimination worldwide (UN Women).
  • 155 of 173 economies had at least 1 legal impediment that discriminated against women (World Bank).
  • 46 countries have no law against domestic violence (UN Women).
  • In Russia, there are currently 466 occupations where women cannot work due to physical limitations. Upon examination of the laws it is observed that they date far back in time prior to recent technological advancements. Many of these occupations are highly paid. (UN Women).

“There are four levels of discriminatory laws against women, including those that involve economic status, nationalities, marital status and in land ownership and business ownership abilities. Agenda 2030 has been launched and 2016 is a key year to begin these changes, but we have to ask ourselves an important question: Does culture change happen before legal change? Which comes first?” asked Yasmeen Hassan, global executive director of Equality Now.

These discussions carried over into perhaps one of the most important discussions of the practice of female genital mutilation at CSW60 hosted by Italy and the European Union where it was stated that the practice should be “completely eradicated by 2030 in accordance with the sustainable development goals.” The event attempted to socialize the #EndFGM social media hashtag in any online discussions of the practice in order to continue dialogue globally about the goal of member states to eradicate it.

“Our goal is for the next generation of women to have just heard about FGM in textbooks, but to never have experienced it,” said Catherine Nayumbura, deputy director of Dandelion Kenya.

Agreed Conclusions and Alleged Oppositions

After hours of deliberation extending far into the evening on March 25, the agreed conclusions were accepted by all member states, committing to “gender-responsive” actions with stronger laws, policies and institutions, better data and scaled-up financing.”

“Countries gave gender inequality an expiry date: 2030. Now it is time to get to work. These agreed conclusions entrench and start the implementation of a gender-responsive agenda 2030 with which we have the best possibility to leave no one behind,” Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka said in a press release.

The agreed conclusions urge a comprehensive approach to implementing all 17 SDGs through thorough integration of gender perspectives across all government policies and programs. The Commission urged member states to eliminate all forms of gender-based discrimination and increase investment to close resource gaps for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in addition to enhanced national statistical capacity and the systematic design, collection and sharing of high-quality, reliable and timely data disaggregated by sex, age and income.

Given the major contributions to Agenda 2030 of civil society, including women’s and community-based organizations, feminist groups, human rights defenders and girls’ and youth-led organizations, the Commission welcomed open engagement and cooperation with them in gender-responsive implementation. It emphasized fully engaging with men and boys as agents of change and allies in the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls.

Though as reported by The Guardian, several countries were accused of trying to water down the progressive language on financing for gender equality and sexual and reproductive health rights contained in the draft text of the outcome document.

While governments may be unwilling to agree to commitments on targeted funding for gender equality, getting corporations to pay their fair share of tax, and creating a better environment for women’s rights organizations to operate, it is regarded that the participation of Civil Society organizations, associations and NGOs will be the most likely to bring long-term change in their communities and nationally.

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WNN Correspondent to the United Nations Jessica Buchleitner is on the Board of Directors for Women’s Intercultural Network, a United Nations ECOSOC consultative non-governmental organization. She has served as a delegate to the annual sessions of the UN Commission on the Status of Women for the last four years reporting on various NGO initiatives around the world. She is also the author of the 50 Women Anthology Series–a two book series of personal stories told by 50 different women from 30 countries highlighting their unique experiences of navigating and overcoming obstacles including political, cultural and societal issues, armed conflict, gender based violence, immigration, health afflictions and business ventures. 

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Recognized by UNESCO for ‘Professional Journalistic Standards and Code of Ethics” WNN began in 2005 as a solo blogger’s project by WNN founder Lys Anzia. Today it brings news stories on women from 5+ global regions to the attention of international ‘change-makers’ including the United Nations and over 600 NGO affiliates and United Nations agencies.

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