By Shannon Kowalski
At the end of this month, government leaders from around the world will gather in New York to adopt the 2030 Agenda—the most comprehensive framework for global sustainable development ever designed. The Agenda includes a set of 17 goals and 169 targets—the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—that all countries will commit to working toward.
History is being made. The 2030 Agenda marks the first time that governments, civil society, the UN, and international agencies have come together to craft a universal vision for the future of the world’s people and planet. The International Women’s Health Coalition has been involved every step of the way, to make sure women and girls were a central focus in this new development framework. At the beginning of this process, we set some key priorities that we wanted to see in the 2030 Agenda:
- A renewed commitment to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services;
- A specific commitment to eliminate child, early, and forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and other harmful practices; and
- A stand-alone goal on gender equality that committed unequivocally to end all discrimination and violence against women and girls and addressed major barriers to the enjoyment of their human rights.
We joined the calls of our sister organizations in the Women’s Major Group and other human rights and social justice movements for an agenda that would commit to transform global financial and trade structures and foster more equitable distribution of resources, wealth, and power. We also supported the movement to halt environmental degradation and climate change once and for all.
In the end, how did we do?
The Sustainable Development Goals cover everything from eradicating poverty and reducing inequalities within and between countries to protecting biodiversity and addressing climate change—from promoting peaceful societies to providing access to justice for all. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, these far-reaching goals and targets aim to address comprehensively the social, economic, and environmental factors that contribute to the overall health and well-being of people and the planet. The SDGs are far from perfect, but they do put us on a path that could lead to meaningful improvements in people’s lives over the next 15 years.
On sexual and reproductive health and rights, we achieved our goal. The SDGs include specific commitments to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, information, and education and to incorporate reproductive health into national sustainable development strategies (target 3.7); reduce maternal mortality (target 3.1); end HIV/AIDS (target 3.3); protect reproductive rights (target 5.6); and eliminate harmful practices against women and girls, including child, early, and forced marriage and female genital mutilation (target 5.3).
We were also able to secure a stand-alone goal on gender equality (goal 5), with commitments to empower all women and girls in this goal and across the SDGs. Specific targets that will play a critical role in advancing gender equality include the following:
- End all forms of discrimination against women and girls, eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices, and adopt policies and legislation to promote gender equality (Targets 5.1, 5.c and 10.3);
- Eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls (Target 5.2);
- Recognize and value unpaid care work performed by women and provide public services and social protection to reduce their burden of work (Target 5.4);
- Ensure that all girls complete primary and secondary education, that women have equal access to tertiary and vocational education and eliminate gender disparities in education (Targets 4.1, 4.3 and 4.5);
- Ensure that all learners receive education on human rights and gender equality, among other things (4.7);
- Protect women’s rights to economic resources, including ownership and control over land and other forms of property and inheritance (Targets 1.3 and 5.a);
- Ensure full and productive work for women and equal pay for work of equal value (target 8.5);
- Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making (Target 5.5); and
- Ensure women’s and girls’ access to sanitation and hygiene (target 6.2).
The SDGs also address the needs of women farmers; women migrants; women living in poverty; and the nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating women. The political declaration accompanying the SDGs commits to realizing the human rights of all and increasing investments to close gender gaps and to support institutions working for gender equality at all levels.
Taken together, these commitments reflect much of what is needed to ensure that all women and girls can lead full and healthy lives.
The one area where the 2030 Agenda does fall short is its failure to make significant changes to global power structures that put developing countries at a disadvantage. This alone, if not rectified, has the potential to undermine the transformative nature of the 2030 Agenda. And it is something that we will absolutely need to address as the Agenda gets implemented.
On September 25, heads of state will meet at the United Nations to formally adopt the 2030 Agenda. In preparation for this historic moment, the International Women’s Health Coalition has launched a special blog series aimed at taking the 2030 Agenda from paper to practice. The blogs take a closer look at the targets of the SDGs that could have a significant impact on the lives of women and girls, and share the best evidence we have about programs and policies that work. We also address what this means for the United States, both in terms of its foreign policy and its obligations to implement the SDGs domestically.
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has set 2030 as the expiration date for gender inequality and discrimination against women and girls. We hope we don’t need to wait that long. We do know that if the 2030 Agenda is fully financed and implemented—and governments invest in programs that work—we will be on the right path toward achieving transformative change.
Shannon Kowalski is Director of Advocacy and Policy, IWHC. She oversees IWHC’s work on international and U.S. foreign policy advocacy. She is an experienced and effective advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights and has been involved in several UN negotiations. She is also an expert on HIV/AIDS and youth rights. Follow her on Twitter: @SKowalski
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