As the balmy September breeze blows into New York, world leaders are gathering once again for the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The stakes are particularly high this year as the process for determining the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) gets seriously underway.
Good news: standalone gender goal is on the horizon
For supporters of women’s rights the good news is that the current proposals for the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a standalone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
However, whether member states have the political will to truly champion the rights of women and girls will be put to test with the negotiations on the ultimate shape of the new goals and the discussions on financing.
At the UNGA there are two key documents up for review (among others):
The Open Working Group Document is a culmination of 13 sessions with governments and civil society held in the UN for over 16 months leading up to July this year. It proposes 17 goals and 170 targets to guide development efforts after 2015. It is also a key input for member states to consider in this week's post MDG negotiations.
Some of the supporting targets for the standalone gender goal incude:
It is also positive that gender concerns about education, water, health and employment have been included in the Open Working Group Document.
For example, the proposed goal on sustainable economic growth includes targets on decent work for women and equal pay for work of equal value. These are crucial areas to advance women's equal participation in the labour market, and hopefully will be included permanently.
More than good intentions: financing for gender equality and women’s rights
Making new development goals work for women and girls, however, will require more than good intentions - as reflected in the proposed goals and targets - but equitable, accountable and just financing.
The International Committee of Experts on Sustainable Ddevelopment Financing estimates that delivering the future framework will require additional investments to the tune of $5-$7 trillion each year up to 2030. Unfortunately ActionAid's analysis shows that their report fails to bring ambitious proposals to fix the broken system of development financing.
For example, while putting a lot of emphasis on the importance of domestic public finance, the ICESDF report falls short of providing strong recommendations to end widespread practices of tax dodging; recommendations which would eventually lead to more resources being available to finance gender and social policy goals.
The Committee also shied away from proposing a clear timeline for donors to meet their aid commitments. The consequences of this are far reaching and tell us there is a huge gap between donors’ rhetoric and actual practice, which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Network on Gender Equality (pdf) research also shows.
Finally, the importance of economic growth and private sector financing as key to attain new development goals is a major concern for ActionAid. While there is strong evidence demonstrating that gender equality has a strong positive impact on growth, there is little to suggest that the reverse is true. Governments are also first responsible for their development and can't transfer their responsibilities to the actors they hardly regulate and can't control.
Paving the way to new development goals
As we move towards final deliberations it is essential to protect the positive gains made to date in formulating new development goals and fill the remaining gaps.
We are calling for the new goal on women's rights and gender equality to be grounded in international human rights. Lack of references and focus on all women's rights is the key pitfall of the current proposal. Other issues essential for the new framework to succeed include strong accountability mechanisms for all actors, and time-bound targets to guide the delivery.
While on the surface it may seem that gender equality and women’s rights are far afield from development financing, these fundamental human rights lay the ground for just fiscal policies. Promotion of gender equality needs to encompass wider aspects of economic policies with a specific focus on revenue raising, management and allocations and explicitly embrace the strategy of gender-responsive budgeting.
The dominant approach to development and its financing for too long has been preoccupied with matters that don't truly advance gender equality and women's rights. So it's critical that UN member countries bend the arc of history and support a strong women's rights goal and mobilisation of many more resources to finance commitments that to date were put on the post 2015 table - and will hopefully improve, and will be there to stay.