Sustainable development will not be achieved without the full participation of women. As government officials met in March to prepare for Rio +20, the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, a special dialogue was hosted by UN Women, with the Women’s Major Group – a formal group representing women’s priorities in sustainable development – supported by the Governments of Brazil and Switzerland.
Talks focused on better integrating gender equality into the international development agenda beyond 2015 (the scheduled term-end for the Milenium Development Goals or MDGs) – and into the Sustainable Development Goals, which were recently proposed by the Government of Colombia as a framework to be adopted at Rio +20.
Four key principles were agreed on as critical to the upcoming global development agenda:
Equality: the goals need to be framed from an equality perspective and address biases and discrimination based on gender, class, race, ethnicity, among other factors in order to reach those that need it the most.
Holistic and integrated: the goals need to build on the synergies across different sectors and thematic areas, and be able to respond to the global and regional challenges of today. This requires strong multi-sectoral approaches and forms of collaboration among actors in the social, economic and environment fields.
Participatory and inclusive: the goals need to emerge from strong participation and ownership at all levels: local, national, regional and global levels. Only when the process is in the hands of the people—both women and men—and their decision-makers, will there be true ownership and accountability for the required progress and results. Extensive consultations need to be held with key stakeholder groups, including the major groups of Rio+20.
Implementation: the goals need to be aligned with existing declarations and normative frameworks. Focus needs to be placed on strong and effective mechanisms for financing, implementation, monitoring and evaluation to enable sustainable results.
“Both the SDGs and the post 2015 development agenda have a common vision: to set objectives that will make a difference to people’s lives and the world we live in,” said UN Women’s Director for Policy, Saraswathi Menon,in her speech at the event “Both the process of identification of the goals and the process of their attainment need to be inclusive. If not, they will not be transformational or make a difference to people’s lives.”
Panelists represented a wide range of UN agencies, government representatives and NGOs from around the world, from the UNDP to the Development Alternatives with Women for New Era (DAWN). They stressed that women’s daily decisions are significantly impacting sustainable development.
Many are often well-aware of the issues but don’t know what to do about them, and need support, noted Ms. Menon. She recalled a meeting with rural women in Ghana who struggled to make a living by informally trading smoked fish. “In response to a question on priorities that they would set for global policy makers, they mentioned clean oceans and a fishery sector that will sustain future generations for a very long time,” she said. “Women recognize the importance of sustainability through their daily lives.”
Another of the event’s key conclusions was the need for the developments goals and agendas to be combined in one process, rather than parallel streams. Many speakers also pointed to the need to build on experience with the Millenium Development Goals, such as the way in which successes of MDG3 on gender equality and women’s empowerment have had a “multiplier effect” on results related to the other seven goals.
An informal working group was launched at the end of the meeting to continue to ensure that a gender perspective continues to be placed high on the global development agenda, particularly at Rio +20, in June 2012.