A Big Push for Gender Equality from International Leaders

© UN Women

Last Friday, the eve of International Women's Day, UN Women organized a high-profile panel to highlight the importance of gender equality and launch the organization's new online HeForShe campaign. CNN International's Isha Sesay moderated the panel composed of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President of the UN General Assembly John Ashe, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and Vice President of the World YWCA Board Andre Nunez. The event was titled "Equality for Women is Progress for All," which was this year's UN theme for International Women's Day.

As one might suspect, the speakers recounted the often-heard argument that gender equality and women's empowerment result in increased prosperity and peace for all, and they provided ample data and examples to back up that argument. As one panelist said, this is something we intuitively know to be true and that data have corroborated.

So what made this event significant? Aside from its high-profile panelists, the event was notable for its timing and its messages. Most panelists noted that we currently stand at a crossroads of significant anniversaries and deadlines. International Women's Day began (roughly) 100 years ago. Next year marks the end of the MDG era and the beginning of the yet-to-be-determined post-2015 development framework. It also marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark Beijing Declaration which is recognized as the first formal international acknowledgement that women's rights are human rights. The speakers recognized these anniversaries and urged those present (government officials, UN staff, media, and civil society representatives) to take this opportunity to make a "big leap forward - not baby steps," as Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka said. "We've done baby steps.”

Because the event also launched UN Women’s HeForShe campaign, one theme of the discussion was the role that men play in women’s empowerment and gender equality. Mr. Ashe was especially vocal on this subject, stating that it is one of the most critical items of the post-2015 development agenda. He rightly pointed out that men and boys control access to many (if not most) resources, ranging from land to information. To make gender equality a reality, men must play an active role at levels – in the formulation of broad international frameworks and at a very local level, in their own communities. Mr. Ashe encouraged men to say loud and clear that women have equal rights and to act to ensure those rights. Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka echoed this by stating that the “silence and inaction of good men conspires against women.”

The post-2015 development agenda was another theme of discussion and it was the hope of the event’s organizers that this discussion would feed into the post-2015 debates. Ms. Clinton spoke pointedly about what role women’s rights and gender equality should play in the post-2015 framework. She stated that gender equality must be at the heart of the post-2015 agenda as a stand-alone goal and as a part of all the goals. She called for gender-specific indicators and the use of sex-disaggregated data. In her vision, the goals would be universal and apply to every country according to level of need. Targets would differ by country, but the values (particularly gender equality with regard to work, property ownership, education, and peacebuilding, and an end to gender- and sexual-based violence) would be the same throughout the world.

By and large the international community has recognized that gender equality and women’s rights were not as prominent in the MDGs as they could or should have been. The issue of gender equality is likely to have a great deal of support in the post-2015 framework. Events such as this serve to rally support and encourage bigger and bolder steps as the world embarks on a new development framework starting in 2015.

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Mar 11, 2014
Ashley Skiles