All over the world women’s rights activists, gender experts, donors, government representatives, and UN staffers are gearing up for this year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) which will take place from the 10 to 21 March in New York. This year’s theme is ‘Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls‘: A timely topic that suggests there is still a little time for some reflection and learning, in the midst of the clamour of advocacy to shape the post-2015 agenda.
Where we’ve gone wrong
Whilst there are a multiplicity of opinions about how the MDGs may have supported or undermined the push for gender equality, some central strands of argument stand out:
- They failed to build on the progressive thinking and consensus building that occurred in order to construct the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) 1994 and the Beijing Platform for Action at the Fourth World Conference on Women, 1995. This progress took us from the abstract instrumentalism of ‘women in development’ to seeing ‘gender and development’ as social relations of power and (in/) justice.
- At their creation the MDGs did not include a goal or target that explicitly dealt with sexual and reproductive health and rights, but mainly saw women in their stereotypical role as mothers and carers of children. Whilst the World Summit in 2005 recommended the integration of the goals from the ICPD into the MDG monitoring framework their initial omission probably set back action on maternal health over the longer term and meant some issues like sexual rights and access to safe abortion were side-lined.
- Within the Goals women were framed as individual agents of economic growth and development, hence the focus on improving access to education, literacy rates and employment. Yet, they did not tackle the potentially negative aspects of fiscal policy, the discrimination and abuse that can be experienced within waged work, nor did they tackle the incredible, soul-sapping, back-breaking burden of unpaid care which women throughout the world shoulder disproportionately.
- The framework said nothing about how the world should tackle underlying systems which shape and perpetuate intersecting inequalities in different settings. How human rights might be part of the solution and how we go beyond improving average outcomes to a focus on the most neglected and marginalised amongst us. They say little about power and its workings or paint a picture of a world which is transformed through a new approach to gender.
- The MDGs fail to acknowledge the importance of women’s participation (beyond in parliaments), their social movements and their organisations in furthering gender equality and broader social change, let alone what role men might play in the struggle for gender equality.
Working together for change
Calls for a stand-alone goal and the integration of gender throughout the post-2015 consensus are growing in strength. Many are thinking about how these might be operationalised. As part of this process colleagues from IDS will be holding a roundtable at the CSW which will explore the steps we need to take to create strong and sustainable alliances to influence global policy processes, to challenge the myths and expose the reality of gender inequality worldwide. The meeting is part of the Gender, Power and Sexuality Programme, funded by Sida, and is a follow-up event to a multi-stakeholder roundtable held by IDS and SDC at CSW in 2013 on the need to put gender at the heart of the post 2015 agenda. It promises to be a lively and cutting-edge event which will highlight thinking which doesn’t normally find expression in mainstream CSW debates.
Join us in New York – or online
Attend and hear how patriarchy and its relation to intersecting forms of oppression – linked to sexuality, (dis)ability, race, class, ethnicity and nationality – hinder progress on social justice. Debate with panellists what role men’s movements have in gender equality; particularly in tackling gender-based violence and equalising the distribution of care responsibilities. Explore how attitudes, behaviours, and stereotypes about women – both conscious and unconscious – prevent wider social movements from taking gender equality seriously.
This is an event which responds to a desire for change and new ways of looking at the world and how we come together, in partnership and dialogue to build something better. In the words of my colleague Jerker Edstrom,
’We need to think outside the box, to link across social movements to highlight these issues. Many of us recognise the underlying structures of constraint which hold us back, but there is a need to create alliances to make changes in policy and practice which have real resonance.’
Speakers: Hazel Reeves (writer and women’s rights activist), Gary Barker (Promundo), Jerker Edström (IDS), Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed (IDS) and Mariz Tadros (IDS)
Chair: Andrea Cornwall (University of Sussex)
Date: Wednesday 12 March, 12:30 pm
Venue: The Guild Hall of the Armenian Convention Center, 630 2nd Ave (at 35th Street), NY
If you can’t attend in person, follow us on Twitter #CSW58GPS or follow the proceedings online after the event.
Kate Hawkins is a member of the Sexuality and Development Programme International Advisory Group. She is the Director of Pamoja Communications and recently co-edited Women, Sexuality and the Political Power of Pleasure.
Read previous blog posts by Kate Hawkins