NEW YORK: As government officials, UN leaders, and others gather at the United Nations for the annual Commission on the Status of Women, feminist advocates are demanding that all countries act on the commitments they made last year to achieving gender equality and women’s human rights. In September 2015, 193 countries adopted the most comprehensive agenda ever on global sustainable development, to be carried out over the next 15 years. The “2030 Agenda” has the potential to be truly transformative for women and girls, but only if it is fully implemented. This year at the Commission, governments will discuss how they intend to make this a reality.
At the center of the 2030 Agenda are 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including a standalone goal on gender equality. There are specific targets to reach this goal, such as: ending all forms of discrimination and violence against women; eliminating harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation; ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights; and giving women equal rights to economic resources. Advocates are calling for governments to fulfill these and other targets associated with women and girls, and for programs to achieve these objectives to be fully-funded and carried out.
“The gender equality goal is critical to the success of the new development agenda,” said Shannon Kowalski, Director of Advocacy and Policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition. “But we won’t see many improvements in the lives of women and girls unless countries make good on their promises and put concrete measures in place. We have to push our leaders to take action.”
Despite the commitments to gender equality at the global level, groups that support women’s rights and well-being are underfunded and often function in hostile environments.
Advocates are calling for governments to commit financial resources to feminist organizations that advocate for women’s and girls’ human rights. Small organizations working to improve women’s access to health care, education, and economic opportunities and to advance their rights are the ones most likely to affect long-lasting change. But at present they face severe funding shortfalls, due to the shifting priorities of donor governments and private philanthropies.
In addition to scarce resources, these groups also often confront adverse policies and laws. Human rights organizations in particular have faced crackdowns in several countries, including in India, Egypt, and Uganda. Many have had their licenses revoked, paid harsh penalties, and been forced to close. And in the past year alone, more than 31 women human rights defenders have been murdered. Advocates are calling for the establishment of laws and policies that would protect the rights of feminists and their organizations to organize and advocate for change.
“Those pushing for long-term change are really suffering. We have to focus on and reinvigorate those groups that are firmly connected to communities and know what the needs of women and girls are. They are best placed to lead our efforts and to ensure the new agenda succeeds.” said Ms. Kowalski.