By Yvonne Hileman
Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, reducing child mortality, combatting HIV/AIDS and other diseases, at the same time promoting gender equality, empowering women, achieving universal primary education, improving maternal health, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development are goals that anyone who cares about the welfare of all God's children and the environment that sustains them can agree on. But in the nearly 15 years since these goals were articulated by the United Nations, much has been learned about how these goals relate to one another. At this juncture, less than a year away from the original target date, the UN Commission on the Status of Women is taking up an examination of these goals as they relate to women.
In the year 2000, as the world began a new millennium, the Member States of the United Nations gathered at its headquarters in New York to consult together on the most urgent priorities for building a peaceful and equitable future for all the peoples of the world.
The product of these deliberations, Millennium Declaration, emphasized global solidarity for the realization of the human rights and fundamental freedoms for all people and the strengthening of the capacity of all countries to implement these rights.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were developed as a concrete agenda for achieving the aspirations of the Millennium Declaration. The eight goals of the MDGs identified some of the most pressing issues facing the world's people and, for the first time, offered targets for addressing these inequities ,and indicators for measuring the success of programs and policies implemented to affect change. The MDGs became the immediate "darling" of the international development community.
Yet from the beginning, advocates for women's rights had major concerns about the MDGs. Although it was widely acknowledged that women were central to achieving the MDGs—both as the major underserviced group who needed to be recipients of its programmes and policies, but also as the primary drivers for change required across the range of the MDGs—the MDG framework fails to encompass the indivisibility and interdependence of women's rights [from the MDGs]. Maternal mortality, for example, may be caused by lack of education, gender discrimination, poor environment, absence of resources and so on [and, we might add, early marriage, lack of reproductive rights, and violence against women]. The targets of the MDGs, moreover, do not encompass the crossscutting substantive changes needed to reach the goal. Additionally, some of the major issues for women's rights and well-being most particularly ending violence against women and girls, are completely absent. The MDGs helped to create to some degree an international measure of the success of a country's programmes and policies in addressing some of its most urgent social issues, but even that can be flawed if the goal becomes to meet a statistic and not implement lasting social change.
The post-2015 global agenda for sustainable development must focus on human development where the human rights of all frame the discussions and decisions.
Thus reads the introduction to the NGO CSW Forum Handbook 2014 for the 58th Commission on the Status of Women. And this indivisibility of human rights, especially the rights of women, from sustainable development and eradicating the global ills of poverty, hunger, inequality, child and maternal mortality, disease and unsustainable development, will be central to the examination of progress on the MDGs during this Commission.
Goal 3 aims to "promote gender equality and empower women" but it says nothing about eliminating violence against women. This has to be part of a discussion of sustainable development. Without justice for women, the MDGs do not stand a chance. While much progress has been made, the goals will not be universally achieved without that.
Presbyterian Women Churchwide is present this week and next for the Commission. We will learn much and be able to join our voices with those of other constituency groups in Ecumenical Women, as well as those of dozens of NGOs, all advocating for women in the midst of working toward the achievement of the MDGs. Pray with us, learn with us.
Learn more at www.un.org/millenniumgoals, https://ecumenicalwomen.org and www.unwomen.org/en/csw/csw58-2014.