Today the world is facing unprecedented and multiple challenges that threaten to reverse the gains have been realized so far towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The recent financial and economic crises have further compounded the global community’s ability to address existing challenges such as climate change and environmental degradation, deadly pandemics and natural and man-made disasters. And what transpires at the global level has a very personal and immediate effect on the very foundation of human society – the family unit.
On the eve of Beijing +15, it is only fitting that we focus once again on gender as an integral component of the development paradigm and intrinsic to how we address development challenges. As the life force of the family and the primary caregiver in the household, a woman’s role and her wellbeing are directly proportional to the overall wellbeing of the entire family, and most particularly to that of future generations. However, as is most often the case, societies subscribe to gender-specific norms and values that often lead to gender inequalities that are reflected in inequities between men and women in health, education and income-earning status, among others.
There is an urgent need to take stock of the constraints that relegate women to a passive role in managing their lives and in empowering them to voice their own needs and concerns. Women and girls are most affected by violence, war, poverty, illiteracy, discrimination and human rights violations. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted in 1995 espoused several actionable commitments that were intended to “ensure the full implementation of the human rights of women and of the girl child,” the “empowerment and advancement of women,” and “full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society.” In 2000, the Millennium Declaration reaffirmed that gender equality and women’s empowerment are central to the achievement of internationally agreed development goals. Although much has been done to bring these critical issues into focus – such as improved life expectancy and declining fertility rates; increased enrollment of girls in primary education; and increased employment and greater participation of women in decision-making – there is still a lot more to be achieved in order to do justice to the goals of the Beijing Declaration.
Old challenges remain, and new challenges have emerged. The overall progress at the country level towards gender equality has been slow. There is continued discrimination, violence against women and girls including through trafficking and in armed conflict, continued discrimination in access to resources and credit, health care and education, surge in domestic violence and gender-based violence in general, increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, and inadequate or total lack of participation in decision-making. Given the magnitude of our collective responsibility, it is time to ask the right questions: Why is it necessary to re-focus the development agenda on gender-based concerns? What are the lessons we have learned from past experiences that we should avoid and what are the examples we need to build on? Do gender-focused initiatives have a greater impact on sustainable development? Are they cost-effective?
Experience and empirical evidence show that women’s empowerment and gender equality have far-reaching impact on development goals. Empowering women and ensuring gender equality helps to spur economic growth and produce significant social gains, particularly by strengthening families that have considerable intergenerational payoffs. Educated and healthy women are more able to engage in productive activities and earn higher incomes, thus increasing the well-being of families and communities and reducing the risk of poverty. As primary caretakers of the next generation, the return on investment in women is high, generating considerable returns for decades.
To meet the ongoing challenges no single entity or government can do it alone. There has to be a concerted effort by Member States, civil society, the private sector and United Nations system agencies to ensure that the limited gains achieved so far are not lost, while keeping international attention focused on gender-based concerns as intrinsic to the success of internationally agreed goals, including the MDGs.
The coming year offers many opportunities to focus on gender issues. In March 2010, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will review progress made in the past 15 years on the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly of 2000. At the substantive session of ECOSOC in July 2010, the Council will discuss gender and the status of implementation of the internationally agreed goals and commitments to gender equality, while in September 2010 the General Assembly will hold a High Level Plenary Meeting on the MDGs to review the status of implementation of these goals.
In this process, civil society organizations like the World Family Organization (WFO) are crucial partners with the United Nations. The theme of the upcoming World Family Summit +5, which will be held from 4 to 7 December 2009, in Istanbul, Turkey, will be “Families in Balance: Achieving Gender Equality and Women Empowerment” which is intended to contribute to addressing these important issues. The WFO will also contribute to the discussions at the CSW session on Beijing+15, as well as to the next ECOSOC substantive session in 2010 and the UN High Level Plenary Meeting on MDGs.
We particularly thank the World Family Organization for their tremendous effort and unwavering commitment to promoting families, gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide and wish you every success in holding the World Family Summit+5.