By Selamawit Tesfaye
With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) concluding at the end of 2015, UN Member States, the UN system, civil society organizations, academia, and other stakeholders around the globe are engaged in various processes to negotiate an ambitious new global framework for sustainable development – the post-2015 development agenda[i]. The post-2015 development agenda has two processes: one led by Member States to develop Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the other by the Secretary General to discuss what should replace the MDGs. These tracks will be converged into one intergovernmental process to work towards a global framework and set of goals expected to commence in early 2015.
During “Rio+20”, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development which took place in Brazil in June 2012, world leaders, along with thousands of participants from the private sector, NGOs and other groups, came together and approved an outcome document entitled “The Future We Want” which aimed to reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection. Under the call for the establishment of an inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process, the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was formed.
After a total of 13 meetings over a period of 18 months, the OWG discussions culminated in a final outcome document with 17 proposed goals and 169 targets, which was adopted by acclamation on 19 July 2014[ii]. The proposal included a stand alone goal to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” (Goal 5) with targets to end all forms of violence, discrimination, early and forced marriage and harmful practices against women and girls; universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights; to ensure women’s full participation in decision making; and equal rights to land and economic resources. In addition, with more than 20 mentions of women, there has been a concerted effort to mainstream gender across the goals. For example, gender equality and women’s rights are specifically addressed in different goal areas including equal rights to education, on inequalities within and between countries, and in peaceful inclusive societies.
The subject at hand, gender-based violence (GBV), has been recognized as both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality with no geographical boundaries. It affects and impacts on the rights of women and girls despite their economic, social or political standing undermining development, peace, and the realization of human rights for all. Even though tremendous gains have been achieved in prevention and protection efforts of women against GBV, impunity still persists. According to the World Health Organization[iii], 1 in 3 women have been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime.
Within the context of the MDGs, significant achievements have been recorded in areas such as equality in primary education between girls and boys, and political participation of women specifically in MDG 3[iv]. However, there is a lack of focus on the realization of women’s rights, and the direct implications of violence on women’s and girls’ rights to education, health, participation in economic and political arenas were also left out of the realm of the MDG framework. Thus, the elimination of violence against women, including against Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs), should be part and parcel of any efforts and/or polices geared towards achieving gender equality as well as sustainable development.
Currently, there are 3 targets[v] in Goal 5 that specifically deal with GBV in its various forms of manifestations in the OWG proposal. However, the OWG proposal is far from meeting the call from world leaders for an ambitious long-term agenda that will improve people’s lives and protect the planet for future generations due to various shortcomings including the lack of human rights mainstreaming throughout the document to significantly enhance the power of people to claim their rights. The OWG outcome document only recognizes human rights as a means to greater growth and not as intrinsically valuable obligations with limited consideration of the current macroeconomic model which perpetuates poverty and inequality, as well as the root causes of poverty, including the growing feminization and intergenerational transfer of poverty.
Thus, if we want to avoid facing the same challenges and constraints faced by the implementation of the MDGs, and ensure the adoption of a new development agenda that holds people at the center, we have to ensure the inclusion of existing UN Human Rights Conventions on gender equality and international commitments to tackle gender based violence in the overarching principles. In addition to this, there is a need to strengthen gender analysis and disaggregation of data to address the gender gaps among sectors. Lastly, we should bring back the spirit of “leave no one behind” which served as the initial galvanizing call for the discussions around the new development goal to include socially excluded groups such as LGBTQI, indigenous groups, afro-descendants, groups with disabilities, etc., and ensure that they also benefit from development to the same extent as other sections of society.
Selamawit Tesfaye, Coordinator, Post 2015 Women’s Coalition graduated from Georgetown University Law Center and earned an LLM in International Legal Studies as well as a Human Rights Law Certificate. Selam has worked at the Federal First Instance Court as an Assistant Judge, as a Project Officer at The African Child Policy Forum, as a Programme Officer for UNDP and as a Programme Officer at the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association and Fida Uganda. Currently, she is the coordinator for the Post 2015 Women’s Coalition.
[iv] GOAL 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women. Target 3.A: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015
[v] 5.1 end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere; 5.2 eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation; and 5.3 eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.