This is the century for women and gender equality

Thursday, 2 May 2013 13:10 GMT

A woman protesting over violence against women shouts slogans at the close of the National Meeting of Rural Women in Brasilia February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

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Promises need to be turned into action to empower women in the post-2015 framework for new development goals

A big step was taken at the United Nations in March when governments adopted an historic agreement in the Commission on the Status of Women to prevent and end violence against women and girls. The agreement, which breaks new ground with its strong focus on prevention, protection of women’s rights and provision of services to survivors, sets a strong foundation for follow-up action and also for the future of international development.

By adopting the agreement, governments strongly condemn and declare zero tolerance on violence against women. They agree to prevent such violence by advancing women’s empowerment, gender equality, education and awareness-raising. To end impunity and prosecute perpetrators, governments agree to ensure women’s access to justice and criminalize violence against women and girls in all settings – at home, in the workplace, in schools and public spaces.

They also agree to provide critical services to survivors such as hotlines, legal aid, shelter, psycho-social counselling, and health services, including services for sexual and reproductive health.

This comprehensive global plan of action is reinforced by the recent agreement reached by the G-8 to end sexual violence in conflicts, tackle impunity, and seek out and prosecute perpetrators with new funding totalling over $35 million.

With an estimated seven out of ten women experiencing sexual violence in their lifetimes and many searching in vain for justice, these agreements give hope to women and girls worldwide and provide a tool to hold governments accountable.

FROM PROMISE TO ACTION

Now we must turn promises into action. To do so UN Women is working with governments, civil society and the UN system to implement the agreement with an overarching objective to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

With less than 1,000 days remaining before the 2015 target date to achieve the MDGs, UN Women is fully engaged in global discussions on the development of a post-2015 development framework. We are guided by lessons learned from the MDGs over the past dozen years, and the knowledge that greater attention must now be paid to addressing the underlying inequalities that prevent women and girls from enjoying equal rights, equal opportunities and equal participation—so they can live free of violence and discrimination.

Mounting evidence from the United Nations, the World Bank, academia and the private sector shows that women’s full participation in decision-making and public life and women’s access to productive assets, decent jobs, property rights and social protection leads to improved health and education outcomes, better chances of lasting peace, more productive economies and stronger democracies.

With the new post-2015 development framework, we have a real opportunity to tackle the deeply entrenched cultural and social norms and discriminatory laws and policies that perpetuate violence against women and hold women and girls back from reaching their full potential. UN Women is working with partners to make sure that gender equality and women’s empowerment is a stand-alone priority and goal in the post-2015 development framework, as well as mainstreamed across all other priorities.

Any new framework that does not explicitly include a clear target on the elimination of violence against women is clearly insufficient and unacceptable. The new framework must be framed by human rights standards, including the rights of women set out in the UN Convention to End all Forms of Discrimination against Women.

And most important, it should be based on participatory processes. Whether these processes take place among governments, private sector, UN agencies or civil society organizations, they must be inclusive and ensure women’s full and equal participation.

I recall the voices of women from the Sahel a few weeks ago at a conference in Brussels, who called for an equal voice in efforts for peace, political stability and recovery for their region. Whether in northern Mali, Somalia, Sudan, Gaza, Syria or Afghanistan, there can be no peace, no progress without the full and equal participation of women.

Women’s empowerment is not just good for women. It benefits all of us – families, communities and nations. UN Women is guided by the vision of the UN Charter for every human being to live in peace and dignity with equal rights and justice. The 21st century must be the century of inclusion, gender equality and women’s empowerment. Unleashing the potential of half the world’s population will accelerate our common efforts to achieve development that is sustainable, peace that is lasting, and higher standards of life for all, in larger freedom.