How David Cameron missed his opportunity at the UN | ActionAid UK

As the UN agreed the new Sustainable Development Goals last week, over 80 Heads of Government met to show how they would work to promote gender equality and end violence against women. Unfortunately, David Cameron wasn’t one of them.

ActionAid colleagues from around the world at the UN General Assembly

The 'Global Goals'

The past week has seen everyone from the Pope to the fearless Malala and Beyonce give their backing to 17 new ‘Global Goals’ agreed at the UN. Think of them as one big to-do list for the world to tackle poverty, protect the environment and reduce inequality. And the message was clear – there is no time to waste to start crossing stuff off that list.

At ActionAid we know from decades of experience that when it comes to tackling poverty and changing lives for good, we need to begin by working with women. It’s often remarked that the previous Millenium Development Goals were written by a bunch of grey men in suits at the United Nations, and so unsurprisingly had little to say about women’s rights. Not so this time around.

Putting a spotlight on women's rights

Thanks to the tireless work of women’s rights campaigners around the world there is now a dedicated goal to promote gender equality and many targets across other goals to make sure women don’t get left behind. There’s also a specific target to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. From addresses on the floor of the UN General Assembly, to concerts in Central Park, the importance of women’s equality in the new development agenda was on everyone’s lips.

David Cameron at the #LeaveNoOneBehind event - UN General Assembly

The high point of the focus on women’s rights came yesterday when over 80 Heads of Government, including the Chinese, Brazilian and French Presidents and the German Chancellor, attended a summit pledging to ‘step up’ action on gender equality. The event marked a historic first, with concrete pledges delivered by Heads of State and Government. No other single issue received this level of political attention at the UN Summit.

Bangladesh announced plans to end child marriage by 2041. Belgium brought 25 commitments to act on women’s equality and gender empowerment in domestic and foreign policy. Botswana announced its National Policy on Gender and Development a National Gender-Based Violence Strategy 2015. And those were just the countries beginning with ‘B’.

A common theme echoed by all speakers was the need to work harder to end violence against women. Almost every country, from the richest to the poorest, mentioned the issue of violence against women and girls.

A missed opportunity for the UK

One country though, was conspicuous by its absence. Having been a strong advocate of the inclusion of the gender goal and the violence target, and having just received an ActionAid UK petition signed by over 60,000 people asking him to stand with fearless women at the UN, the UK Prime Minister did not attend the summit.

Speaking later at a UK-hosted event, the Prime Minister did acknowledge the need for national plans to tackle violence against women – one of the key recommendations from our Fearless campaign– and the UK did announce new funding for violence prevention in Ghana. All welcome, but not enough to make a real difference in the lives of fearless women who are standing up and speaking out against violence. 

In the coming weeks and months it will be our responsibility to ensure that ending violence and standing with fearless women remains at the top of David Cameron’s personal to do list.