Insights and Analysis

Post-2015 Development Agenda Needs Standalone Goal on Gender Equality

March 4, 2015

By Barbara Rodriguez

It has been more than a century since the world first celebrated March 8 as International Women’s Day. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women when representatives from 189 governments signed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a groundbreaking roadmap that set the global women’s rights agenda. From March 9-20, the 59th Commission on the Status of Women will review just how well the Beijing Platform for Action has been implemented, and where women stand today as a result. High on the agenda will be discussions over setting the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and post-2015 development priorities.


Much has been said about what went wrong with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which the UN and world leaders committed to achieving by 2015. From a gender perspective, critics have pointed to the MDGs’ overly narrow view of gender equality. Photo/Conor Ashleigh

Much has been said about what went wrong with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which the UN and world leaders committed to achieving by 2015. From a gender perspective, critics have pointed to the MDGs’ overly narrow view of gender equality. While one of the eight goals was explicitly focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment (MDG3), by focusing the goal’s target solely on gender parity in education (albeit with indicators related to women’s paid work in non-agricultural labor and women’s participation in national parliaments), MDG3 overlooked a range of factors that are critical to achieving gender equality. These include the quality of girls’ education, women’s right to earn and inherit property, and eliminating violence against women, to name a few. In addition, this narrow focus – and the lack of systematic gender mainstreaming in the other MDGs – seemed to reflect a departure, or at least a distancing, from the existing and more expansive gender equality conventions like the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Beijing Platform.

In fact, the Asia-Pacific region, on average, has reached most of the targets set by MDG3 to eliminate gender disparity in education. While nearly all countries in the region have closed the gender gap in primary education – with the most dramatic improvements in South Asia – gaps still persist at the secondary and tertiary levels. And while the region (and the world) fell short of meeting the maternal health targets set in MDG5, the Maldives, Bhutan, and Nepal achieved MDG5, successfully reducing their maternal mortality rate by 75 percent, and South Asia as a whole saw a 65 percent decline in its maternal mortality rate from 1990 to 2013.

While many continue to question the value of setting new goals in the face of the MDGs’ mixed reviews, government representatives, development experts, and activists have engaged in consultations (including regional sessions with SAARC and ASEAN countries), to determine the priorities that should be reflected in the post-2015 development agenda. Following from such discussions, the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and other development experts have advocated for the new development framework to include a standalone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment, in addition to systematic efforts to integrate gender equality across all goals, including indicators and targets. It is impossible to advance gender equality without acknowledging and addressing the critical roles played by women and the distinct ways in which women and girls are affected across all facets of society.

This momentum is reflected in the proposed SDGs, where goal #5 is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” This goal, along with its corresponding targets and indicators, is intended to reflect a broader vision of gender equality than MDG3, as well as capture the underlying dynamics that perpetuate discrimination against women. Some of the target areas and indicators that are being considered include:

  • Levels and quality of girls’ education
  • Equal right to earn and inherit property
  • Elimination of violence against women and girls
  • Reduction in early marriages
  • Access to sexual and reproductive health
  • Increased political participation and leadership
  • Engagement in peace and security processes
  • Contribution to environmental sustainability

As with the MDGs, countries can define their own targets and indicators to measure under each goal, based on national context and priorities. This is where the rubber really hits the road.

While left out of the internationally agreed MDGs, several of the above targets were included in the localized goals adapted by specific countries. For example, Vietnam included targets related to reducing women’s vulnerability to domestic violence and women’s land ownership; Laos incorporated measures related to women’s participation in business; and Bangladesh included metrics related to women in local government. While global goals and targets have been valuable tools for galvanizing attention to certain development issues, the extent to which the SDGs are ultimately adapted to meet local contexts, and incorporated into national and subnational priorities, plans, and budgets, will determine their contributions to advancing gender equality.

Barbara Rodriguez is The Asia Foundation’s assistant director for women’s empowerment programs in Washington, D.C., and can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.


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