We cannot achieve global goals unless women's and girls' rights are realised

by Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister of Norway and Graca Machel, Nelson Mandela’s wife
Tuesday, 8 March 2016 13:07 GMT

Indigenous Sahrawi girls hug each other beside their school in a refugee camp of Boudjdour in Tindouf, southern Algeria March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The rights of girls and women are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day this week, maintaining focus on girls’ and women’s empowerment is more important than ever. Not only because gender equality is a right in itself, but also because we cannot achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) unless the human rights of women and girls are realised.

Looking back on the Millennium Development Goals (the MDGs), we should be proud of the results achieved and reflect on lessons learned. Although many countries made significant progress in improving people’s lives, it is also clear that millions have been left behind. Many of these are girls and women, and they were left behind simply because of gender discrimination. This is completely unacceptable.

In order to achieve the SDGs, we will have to change the way we work. Efforts will have to be scaled up. Stronger, responsible institutions will have to be built up, and unprecedented human and financial resources will have to be mobilised.

We also know that investing in the empowerment of women and girls through health and education is one of the smartest things we can do. Women and girls have to be at the centre of national development processes. This means that governments together with a broad coalition of stakeholders must identify the factors that are holding back empowerment of women and girls.

Among the challenges that must be addressed are out-of-school girls, lack of economic opportunities, child marriage and gender-based violence. It is unacceptable that, 23 years after the adoption of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, more than one in three women still experience sexual or physical violence, mostly from a friend or partner.

Earlier this year, we both accepted the UN Secretary-General’s invitation to take part in the SDGs Advocacy Group.

SDG 4 calls for ‘inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all’. The cost of non-action in education is huge, as the talents of young people remain unused. Moreover, there is vast potential to be tapped in the dreams, aspirations, abilities and determination of girls and young women around the world.

We are also co-convener and member respectively of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, which is led by Gordon Brown. We are confident that the Commission’s report to the UN Secretary-General later this year will make a compelling case for investing in equal educational opportunities for girls and boys and young people.

We already know that investing in the health and well-being of women and children produces high economic returns. The new Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health for 2016-2030 contains ambitious targets for reducing mortality and strengthening sexual and reproductive health. The global community must ensure that women, children and adolescents survive, thrive and can transform the societies they live in.

Enhancing the economic empowerment of women is an investment in gender equality, poverty eradication, inclusive economic growth and thriving societies. Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home. We are convinced that no society can realise its full potential for growth and social justice until men and women have equal opportunities to pursue employment, entrepreneurship and leadership, until women gain their rightful share of economic assets and opportunities for prosperity.

Social discrimination against girls and women can be difficult to identify and quantify. It is often rooted in longstanding cultural traditions. This means that we need to change attitudes and engage fathers, brothers and male leaders in efforts to empower girls and women and promote gender equality.

Denying women and girls their rights in the name of discriminatory religious and social norms and traditions cannot be justified. The rights of girls and women are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights. We will be relentless in our efforts to make sure that these rights are upheld in the implementation of the SDGs.  

This was co-authored by the Prime Minister of Norway. Erna Solberg, and Graca Machel, the head of the Graca Machel Trust, and Nelson’s Mandela’s wife.