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Women, World Summits and Millennium Development Goals: keeping women's gains center stage at the United Nations.

WHEN HEADS OF GOVERNMENTS from around the world--the overwhelming majority of whom are men--met at the United Nations headquarters in New York in September, women advocates worldwide paid considerable attention. The 2005 World Summit was yet another crucial avenue of engagement for monitoring and advocating implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, adopted by 189 governments at the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women in China, and other significant international policy agreements won by women in the past decade.

The aim of the 2005 World Summit was to reach consensus on a package of proposals linking peace and security, human rights and development with UN reform. The UN Millennium Development Goals (The Millennium Development Goals for 2015), which are aimed at combating poverty and stimulating sustainable development, were a central part of the package.

The UN Millennium Development Goals were issued by the UN Secretary General in 2001 as a "road map" for implementing the Millennium Declaration agreed by 191 governments at the September 2000 UN Millennium Summit.

The Declaration commits governments "to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable." The Declaration also addresses "the equal rights and opportunities of women and men" and pledges "to combat all forms of violence against women and to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women" (CEDAW).

Goal 3 calls for gender equality and women's empowerment, and the MDGS as a whole address several of the 12 Critical Areas of Concern in the Platform for Action adopted at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, namely poverty (1), education (2), health (5) and environmental sustainability (7).

The United Nations has been a galvanizing force for women's advocacy worldwide, facilitating their efforts to define a comprehensive global agenda for peace and human rights, gender equality and women's empowerment and poverty eradication and sustainable development. At the key global conferences and summits of the 1990s ("The Millennium Development Goals for 2015") women participated actively to shape economic, social and political development. In these settings advocates established strategic mechanisms, influenced resolutions and won crucial commitments to set a far-reaching global policy agenda that recognizes gender equality and women's empowerment as essential components of poverty eradication, human development and human rights.

Yet there continues to be a large gap between these promises and implementation at the international and national level, even as the situation of poor women, in particular, worsens dramatically in the face of inaction. The impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic has further increased women's income-earning, domestic and care-giving responsibilities. The lack of land tenure or inheritance rights and economic trends such as water privatization undermine the ability of women to own, manage, use and conserve natural resources and to provide for themselves and their families. Macroeconomic and national policies keep women concentrated in the informal sector without job or safety protections and in the lowest paying, most hazardous jobs in the formal wage economy, while rendering their unpaid household labor invisible. Women still earn less than men for the same work and remain drastically under-represented in decision-making.


In the MDG drafting process WEDO and other women's rights advocates argued that gender equality and women's empowerment are essential cross-cutting components for achievement of all the goals, be it poverty eradication, protecting the environment or access to health care. Nonetheless, advocates felt, the MDGS do contain time-bound targets for holding governments and international institutions accountable; and they are mutually reinforcing--progress towards one goal affects progress towards the others.

Moreover, the MDG 2015 deadline has had the broad support of the 191 UN member states, UN agencies and international trade and financial institutions. It would be the focus of the review and follow up processes to important UN conferences and summits providing further opportunities to push for gender sensitivity across all the goals, to demand adequate resources and equitable global economic policies consistent with social and environmental needs and to link the MDGS to other ongoing global and national policy processes.


In the months leading up to the Summit, advocates in every region highlighted what was at stake for women in a list of demands to governments--gender equality and women's empowerment, a greater focus on human security, conflict prevention and the equal participation of women in decision-making on peace and security issues and for a shift from market-based decision-making to a human rights-based approach to policy and planning.

To a certain extent the hard work paid off--advocates did achieve some significant gains on gender equality. The MDG on women's empowerment and gender equality has been expanded from an original focus on primary education to include pledges to end impunity for violence against women, ensure universal access to reproductive health and the right to own and inherit property, provide equal access to labor protections and increase representation of women in government decision-making bodies. Also positive for women were promises to implement Security Council Resolution 1325, which promotes women's increased participation in peace and security processes, and to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Another concrete gain is a commitment to double the budget for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Nonetheless, advocates were left lamenting the lack of meaningful, action-oriented agreements on the total package under debate. "Women's groups have been dismayed by a shameful lack of political will on the part of governments to tackle poverty, foster peace and ensure human rights," said a statement issued by a consortium of advocates monitoring the Summit.

Thrown into contention with the late arrival of John Bolton, the controversial presidential pick for US Ambassador to the UN who insisted on hundreds of last-minute amendments and reneged on past commitments, the Summit failed to make any serious commitment to key economic issues and to UN reform--matters of critical importance to women and their families everywhere. The US and a few other wealthy nations refused to commit to a timeframe for increasing official development assistance to 0.7 percent of GNP. (Currently the US gives 0.16 percent, tied for the lowest percentage of GNP with Italy, and gives a paltry 3 cents in aid to Africa of every $100.00 GNP.) Moreover, the US and a handful of allies blocked any meaningful agreement on trade and even watered down further the already weak provisions on climate changes.


In the wake of the World Summit, the main focus of advocacy has now shifted back to the national level where women's groups will continue to push their governments to implement their policy commitments--mapping progress and promoting realistic perspectives on women's day-to-day lives as against the often dry, sterile words of official reports.

Women's groups will continue to press their governments to use sex-disaggregated data to measure and monitor the impact of fiscal and social policies on women compared with men, including those data that have been marginalized or are missing from the MDG. Advocates will also continue to insist that MDG indicators be expanded to include the many gender-sensitive indicators that already exist--including local indicators in national plans drawn up after the Beijing Conference and others developed by international agencies.

At the international level, women's rights advocates will continue to use the MDGS to hold all power players--World Bank and International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, the UN and national governments--accountable for creating the necessary enabling conditions for women's empowerment and gender equality. The emphasis thus far has been on what the poorest countries need to do to achieve the goals, the political shift women want to see in the MDGS is more focus on accountability mechanisms that apply to the richest countries, the international financial and trade institutions and transnational corporations, particularly when countries fail to meet the goals due in part to lack of financial resources. Advocates understand that neo-liberal economic policies exacerbate poverty and inequity, contributing to human rights abuses that jeopardize human security. Thus what women really want are their governments to adopt a human rights-based approach to development policy, an approach that puts the well-being of the many above the attainment of mega profits for the very few.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Millennium Development Goals for 2015.

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

2. Achieve universal primary education

3. Promote gender equality and women's empowerment

4. Reduce child mortality

5. Improve maternal health

6. Combat HIV AIDS, malaria and other diseases

7. Ensure environmental sustainability

8. Develop a global partnership for development

NADIA JOHNSON is the Economic and Social Justice Program Coordinator of Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO).
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Title Annotation:equality and women's empowerment
Author:Johnson, Nadia
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2005
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