The potential for major development agreements in 2015 to advance gender equality for the next generation.
Twenty years ago, tens of thousands of people gathered in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women, where 189 governments made significant commitments to advance gender equality and the empowerment of all women, everywhere. As we reflect back on the unprecedented progress to translate the Beijing Platform for Action into concrete actions, this year’s 20th anniversary and the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women offer an opportunity for us to look at how far we’ve come to advance gender equality, both here in the United States and around the world.
We have made concrete progress when it comes to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly in areas of health and education: the rate of maternal mortality has almost halved, and the global gender gap in primary school enrollment is nearly closed. But as much as this is a moment to celebrate shared progress, it’s also a moment to realize our shared responsibility for moving forward: when it comes to fully achieving gender equality, the data, as clearly demonstrated by former Secretary Clinton’s launch of the Full Participation Report this week, show we are “not there yet.”
As the MDGs expire this year, and the global community comes together to agree on a new set of goals, this is a historic opportunity to define a common vision for the world we want to see in the year 2030 – a world where economies are far more inclusive and where we’ve ended extreme poverty; a world where we are stemming the impacts of climate change and have healthier oceans and forests; and a world where well-governed, peaceful societies are the norm.
To realize any of these goals, women and girls must be at the core of the development agenda. Greater gender equality means better outcomes for everyone. Girls’ attendance in formal school during adolescence is correlated with later marriage, later childbearing, decreased fertility rates, and lower rates of HIV/AIDS. Education is not the only game-changer: when the number of women involved in political decision-making reaches a critical mass, their decisions lead to more inclusive results. And simply by empowering women farmers with the same access to land, new technologies, and capital as men, crop yields can increase by as much as 30 percent and feed an additional 150 million people. When we invest in women and girls, we see a ripple effect on her individual potential, as well as the potential of her family, her community, and entire society.
That’s why the United States strongly supports gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as a stand-alone goal. As Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom has emphasized, “advancing gender equality is among the most transformative goals the globe can set.”
What will it take to achieve this goal? We must come together and focus our efforts where they can make the biggest impact. That means we end the pervasive problem of gender-based violence in all its forms, including child, early, and forced marriage, as well as female genital mutilation/cutting. We boost women’s economic empowerment and promote their political participation and leadership. We ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and respect for reproductive rights. We fully integrate gender across all other goal areas, such as health and education. And our efforts must include not just some women and girls, but all women and girls, particularly those who have been pushed to the margins of society.
Secretary Kerry often says that what gets measured gets done. It’s clear that data will be critical to the success of the post-2015 agenda. We need more sex- and age-disaggregated data to help guide our decisions about and how we allocate resources. Data will help us hold ourselves accountable and reveal how to best target and tailor our efforts. And it will add to the evidence-based case demonstrating concretely that advancing women and girls is both the right thing and the strategic thing to do.
Gender also has an important place in the Third International Financing for Development Conference, to be held in Addis Ababa this July. We know that women are key drivers of economic growth. Research shows that where gender gaps are narrow, economies are more competitive and prosperous; for instance, removing barriers that inhibit women’s ability to fully participate in the economy, and closing the global gender gap in workforce participation, can boost GDP worldwide by up to 12 percent by 2030. A strong financing for development framework must reflect this reality.
We believe 2015 is an opportunity for another “Beijing moment”—one where the world comes together to advance women and girls, and by doing so advances an entire global agenda. Action today will translate into progress tomorrow – the kind of progress that benefits us all.
About the authors: Catherine Russell serves as the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Tony Pipa serves as the U.S. Special Coordinator for the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and Daniella Ballou-Aares serves as the Secretary’s Senior Advisor for Development.