10th Women Ministers and Parliamentarians Conference on Progressing SRHR into Beijing+20
September 5, 2014
6-7 September, Manila, Philippines
The purpose of this conference was to take stock of the achievements of the decade-long engagement with women parliamentarians to progress gender equality and women's empowerment. It gathered ministers and parliamentarians from across the Asia-Pacific region, alongside experts in sexual and reproductive health, the post-2015 Sustaibable Development Goals and the Beijing+20 Platform for Action, as well as youth representatives, media and other stakeholders.
The two-day event aimed to
foster collaboration among parliamentarians in the region in making and advocating for a regional SRHR and gender-related policy agenda towards Beijing+20;
define regional and country strategies to ensure a pronounced gender goal in the SDGs;
review and assess the effectiveness of the Standing Committee of Women Parliamentarians.
Addressing gender equality issues in global processes leading to a post-2015 agenda
Speech by Dr Sharman Stone MP at the 10th Regional Women Ministers and Parliamentarians Conference in Manila, Philippines
One of the best summaries of the deep compassion and genuine desire for change which shaped the debates that led to the year 2000 MDGs comes from the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Annex 1 Declaration No. 13.
It simply says:
“Women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision making process and access to power are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace.”
Nearly 15 years on from the launch of the MDGs, we have seen off a Global Financial Crisis; we have observed burgeoning middle classes everywhere; the growing disparity in wealth between and within populations; a huge increase in the private wealth of some individuals and corporations; the continuing globalisation and commercial interdependencies that now characterise the world economy; we saw the all too fleeting “Arab Spring” and the strident push for democracy in other places; we have seen the deterioration in global and regional peace and security; we have seen some of the worst years of forced displacement of populations; we have noted escalating environmental degradation; we have endured some of the most destructive natural disasters ever recorded and we have seen a new outbreak of one of the world’s most deadly and virulent diseases, Ebola. It has been a turbulent 14 years.
I think the ICPD beyond 2014 Framework of Actions summarised the situation very well. It spoke for many when it said:
“Our greatest shared challenge is that our very accomplishments, reflected in ever greater human consumption and extraction of the Earth’s resources, are increasingly inequitably distributed, threatening inclusive development the environment and our common future.”(1)
I have been asked to review how gender equality is being advanced in the global debates leading to post 2015 agendas. (2)
I think most of us are relieved and pleased about the consensus emerging around the importance of gender equality. This comes through virtually every time there is a formal meeting, conference, commission, high level panel deliberation or communique that is focussing on the post 2015 development goals and actions. I am also heartened by the broadening of engagement beyond the traditional players. We are now seeing economic, environmental and even security related fora picking up on the gender equity issues as key to them achieving their sector’s objectives.(3)
New measures have been designed, for example the Global Gender Gap Index introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006. In particular it tracks the gaps in countries between gender inequality and economic performance, (albeit often having to rely on aggregated data).
Given gender equality continues to be strongly endorsed as a basic human right and pivotal to improving economic outcomes, attention is often being focussed in debates on the failure of Millennium Development Goal 3, (MDG 3) which aimed to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The UN Women’s work “A Transformative Stand-Alone Goal on Achieving Gender Equality, Women’s Rights and Women’s Empowerment”(4) encapsulates much of the last decade’s global debate. It agrees with the UN led Post 2015 Inequalities Consultation that found that by not devoting sufficient attention to inequalities the MDGs “may have contributed to a neglect of marginalised groups and to widening social and economic inequalities.” (5)
They and others e.g. The Commission for the Status of Women (CSW) also argue that the narrow measures of human development used, for example a single target for gender parity in education based on enrolments, was not sufficient to demonstrate any real educational outcomes or trends.
The lists of the shortcomings of the MDG3 referred to in the UN Women’s Report and echoed by CSW (6) and CEDAW and in the excellent ICPD Framework of Action report invariably include: the failure to adequately address violence against women, gender based wage discrimination, women’s disproportionate share of unpaid care work, the denial of women and adolescent’s sexual and reproductive rights, women’s limited asset and property ownership and unequal participation in private and public decision making at all levels.
I would add insufficient attention has also not been paid to minority women’s rights and experiences and those of women with disabilities. In particular too many indigenous women in both the developed and developing world continue to live highly disadvantaged lives often characterised by continuing marginalisation, violence, poverty and they are increasingly the victims of alcohol and drug abuse. These abuses have intergenerational consequences. We need to ensure that the particular circumstances which impact on indigenous women are acknowledged and comprehensively addressed.
The argument is right; that if gender based differences in access to power and resources are not properly acknowledged, they may remain unchallenged and continue to block the achievement of women’s rights.
UN Women and the ICPD Program of Action (ICPD PoA) state that a new stand alone and properly measured goal is needed to achieve women’s equality and empowerment. UN Women have identified three key components that they see are critical to achieving such an equality and empowerment goal.
Component One: Achieving freedom from all forms of violence.
Not only does gender based violence and guilt maim women and girls in all societies, it is increasingly becoming a tactic of extremist insurgents in waging war.
Component Two: Expanding people’s capabilities and resources.
Women need to be educated and trained in order to access safe and decent work. Being able to participate in the formal economy and lead a fulfilled life is also directly relevant to sustaining the environment. In Australia we have an expression for our farmers: “you can’t be green if you are in the red.” The poorest are most threatened by environmental degradation and the impacts of climate change, in particular families dependent on subsistence agriculture. This has also been acknowledged in the UN Conference on Environment and Development, by the ICPD, in the Beijing Platform for Action and in Rio+20.
Component Three: “Voice, leadership and participation.”
UN Women note that women’s capacity to influence decision-making, whether in private or public is “intimately linked with their capabilities.”(7)
Women need to be heard to provide leadership and they need to participate where decisions are made. UN Women rightly emphasise that improving the accountability and transparency of governments and eliminating corruption enables ordinary people to hold decision makers to account.(8)
While noting that securing a decent income can contribute to a person’s “sense of dignity” the UN Women’s report warns that achieving gender equality, women’s rights and empowerment cannot be realised simply through reducing the role of the state in an expectation that market based solutions will solve the problems (a tendency in some debates). Relying on “liberated” market solutions they say is to ignore the structural causes of gender based inequality.(9)
“A transformative stand-alone gender equality goal must be grounded in an understanding that the structural causes of gender based inequality lie in systems of discrimination that are often justified in the name of culture, history or group identity.”(10)
An example of this is the fact that while child brides are largely a consequence and a cause of intergenerational poverty and discrimination, female genital mutilation (and male circumcision) practices are more culturally determined.
We need to acknowledge the MDG successes
While many have focused on the shortcomings of the turn of the 21st century MDGs, determined to make a greater difference going forward, it is important that we also acknowledge the extraordinary leadership and achievement that saw the UN membership unanimously endorse a set of Development Goals that were based on a pledge to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity, with the aim of freeing the world of extreme poverty.
Some 14 years later most commentators have acknowledged that these MDGs have engendered some movement and improvement in some places and in some communities. These movements are reported in the Millennium Development Goals 2014 Progress Chart.(11)
The chart tracks region by region the achievements or failures to reach targets, where we have gone backwards and where we simply do not have the data to tell us what has happened at all. The report and chart shows that Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and Western Asia areas are least likely to have seen the targets met.
While Progress on MDG 6 (combatting HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases) has been limited given the number of women living with HIV has actually increased since 2001, many do and should acknowledge and praise the health related advances made. We need to note the novel partnerships that have emerged in some disease combatting efforts where some governments, NGOs, donors and businesses, like mining companies, or Coca Cola have cooperated in supplying and distributing for example treated mosquito nets or drugs to combat endemic diseases. Some of the greatest innovations which have delivered real outcomes involve public private partnerships in health and educational development. We must track and learn more from successful innovation and best practice over the last 14 years.
We must also pay serious attention to the new non-communicable diseases, especially diet related diseases plaguing the 21st Century. The growing incidence of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) has to be halted. Nearly half of the indigenous babies born in some remote places in Australia are permanently brain damaged and disabled because their mothers consumed alcohol when pregnant. The condition is incurable and 100% preventable.
FASD and FAS are reaching epidemic proportions particularly in some indigenous communities where the consequences of the huge marketing efforts of the alcohol industry targeting women are dire and the impacts of colonisation are still being felt. They are manifesting in serious life trauma, discrimination and inequity. The emerging studies of epigenetics need our serious attention, to help inform better harm preventative and support strategies.
Now is not the time to say any lofty health related ideals are unobtainable.
UN Secretary – General Ban Ki-Moon notes:
“The Millennium Development Goals have shown that we can make profound differences in people’s lives. The Journey we started in the year 2000 has seen us build a solid foundation for further progress.”(12)
We, as legislators who make and change our country’s laws and who formulate policies and decide on our government’s borrowing and spending must shoulder and share much of the responsibility for building on this solid foundation. In fact the “Measuring the Global Gender Gap Index 2013” found that;
“The closure or continuation of these (gender) gaps is intrinsically connected to the framework of national policies in place.”(13)
What are our future development direction options and priorities?
There have been calls for a sharpened focus or a stand-alone MDG goal for addressing women’s equality and empowerment. The Australian Parliamentary Group on Population Development shares this sentiment. The Australian Government now requires 80% of its annual AU$5Billion overseas aid budget to have direct impact on women and girls within our region. With others we also support a clearer focus on the different cohorts and groups not adequately identified as women or girls with special needs in the MDGs. In the excellent ICPD PoA Beyond 2014 report (14), they propose that in particular, adolescents and youth receive closer attention and greater investment but not necessarily because of their historically large population size.
Focussing on the girl child and adolescent girls.
A strengthened MDG youth focus acknowledges that birth rates are coming off a high and are now declining globally. This means that in many regions it is unlikely that an even bigger cohort will be born to support the population in its old age, and youth will have a greater role in caring for their own longer lived parents. Meanwhile the majority who will grow up in poor countries will experience minimal education, health, and reproductive choice. They will have few good job options or legitimate migration opportunities. At the same time they will be swamped with mass media messages and corporate advertising urging them to consume more to achieve a better life. They will be told how they should expect greater rights and opportunities delivered by their governments.
Our global youth are now well connected through social media, the internet and cell phones. This makes them both especially vulnerable to new influences and the global market place as well as closely connected and informed in ways never before thought possible. We must use these new communication technologies to advance innovative solutions to achieving our youth’s development goals.
We have many new guiding codes, including the Ibero-American Convention on the rights of Youth (2008) the African Youth Charter (2009), and the optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (2002).
Many are now seeing youth development as the key issue of the future. It is hard to imagine the huge challenges for a small island nation in the Pacific or a country like Afghanistan where most of the population is under 19.
The imperative to have a clearer youth focus is nowhere more obvious than when we consider the plight of adolescent girls forced into early marriage. According to Plan International, we have some 70 million child and adolescent brides in the world today with 14 million girls entering into new marriages each year. One third of adolescent girls in developing countries are married by the age of 18, one in 12 marries before she is 15. Some 14 million 15 to 19 year olds will give birth this year. Complications in pregnancy and child birth are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19.
Some 40 % of the world’s child marriage occurs in India with the highest rates occurring in the poorest rural regions. An Indian 2006 Supreme Court Decision now requires registration of all marriages, and a 2005 National Plan of Action for Children includes goals to eradicate all child marriage. We have to commend these initiatives. The Indian Government understands that poverty fuels child marriages and child marriage fuels poverty. The challenge now is to eliminate the poverty and to influence the cultures driving and condoning early marriage.
Child marriage in Pakistan is not only deeply rooted in poverty but cultural ideals dictate that the cost of the bridal dowry should increase with the age of the bride (although this may also reflect the increased value of the labour of an older girl). Clearly if you are impoverished and insecure, passing your gild child on as soon as possible assists the remaining family to survive. Clearly addressing the grinding poverty will help save the girls.
In Nepal and Afghanistan some 40% of brides are under 18.
In Bhutan, child marriage was once wide spread. In 1996 the legal age for marriage for boys and girls was set at 18. According to the Census of Bhutan of 2005, only 15.4% of girls under 19 were married. The Penal Code of Bhutan now recognises marital rape and marrying and having sex with a child is considered statutory rape. Where child marriage continues it is found in impoverished and remote villages.
Social norms, patriarchal values, settling debts, building interfamily alliances, costs associated with education, fear of predatory sexual assault and poverty all intersect to perpetuate child marriages. According to the limited data available the poorest countries with the most impoverished rural areas produce the youngest brides.
Child marriage is a fundamental violation of a child or adolescent’s human rights. In particular we law makers have a role to play in ushering in change. There is much work for us to do. Seventy four nations are yet to declare a minimum age for marriage. In 2010, 148 countries still allowed girls under the legal age to marry with parental consent, and this included Australia. The Australian Government has announced ending early marriage in our region is a key objective of our aid effort.
We all know about the emotional and physical abuse, the lack of self-determination experienced by child brides, the health impacts, the fistulas and deaths associated with the poorly nourished, over worked young mothers giving birth with little trained assistance.
This discrimination and disadvantage also perpetuates an intergenerational cycle of poverty. Children and adolescent brides are most likely to be denied entry to or to drop out of school. Each extra year of secondary schooling increases a girls capacity to earn by 15 to 25% potentially moving her out of dire poverty and dependency. Each extra year of a mother’s schooling cuts infant mortality by 5 to 10%. The education a girl receives is the strongest predictor of the age at which she will marry.
It is imperative that we give a stronger focus to the needs of our girls and adolescents to end their discrimination and intergenerational poverty.
Improving women and girl’s health.
The CSW notes that progress towards achieving MDG 5 (as with MDG 6) has been particularly slow and uneven, especially for the poorest and rural sectors with the highest risks for adolescent girls. It is not alone in expressing concerns about the significant shortfalls and the magnitude of the unmet need for all sexual and reproductive health care services, including contraceptive services, services for the complications of unsafe abortion and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. The Program of Action of the ICPD, UN Women, the CIGI and KDI report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda15 and the Beijing Platform for Action all agree and add that it is vital that we also gather valid segregated data so we can tailor action to meet the needs of minorities such as the LGBTIQ communities, indigenous peoples, the isolated rurals, poor urban women, migrants and refugees in different localities.
The actions required to reach the targets for Goals 5 and 6 cannot be sensibly developed in silos isolated from MDG3 and the others which form part of the context which help drive or stymie change. All must be interconnected or embedded in a common set of objectives which consider the achievement of women’s, adolescents and girls equality and empowerment.
Counting the costs of inaction.
The ICPD Beyond 2014 Report rightly points out that we need a new emphasis and new thinking about the consequences of doing little, i.e. the costs of inaction. These costs are to the economy, to the peace and stability of a region, to the environment, and to human lives lost or stunted. These costs are often also passed onto the next generation.
Inaction and the threat to peace and security
Where many in a society are involved in a sustained struggle for dignity and fundamental rights then there is “the potential for increased social instability, where human suffering is not addressed.”(16) This should deeply concern political leaders.
Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuko, Executive Director of UN Women and the former Deputy President of South Africa warns of the wave of extremism now undermining hard won human rights for women and girls. She wrote while in Australia recently; “Women’s participation also brings better chances for peace and security. It is no coincidence that societies with greater gender equality are less vulnerable to radicalism.” (17)
Besides peace and security risks if little is done to combat human rights deprivation, there are also the associated and closely interacting costs of lost productivity that lock in a nation’s poverty and underdevelopment.
Education and training inaction and lost productivity
It has been estimated that for 65 low and middle income countries who have not educated girls to the same standard as boys, the cost in lost productivity is a staggering US$92billion annually. This is only a little short of the total of overseas foreign aid available,(18) at around US$100billion a year. As I have already noted, each extra year of secondary schooling increases a girls potential to earn her own income by 15 to 20%.
The costs of doing nothing must be accurately measured in order to convince governments and donors of the imperative of taking appropriate and effective action.
The future mandates that we break down the old development goal silos.
The interconnections between the causes, effects and intergenerational transmission of inequity, discrimination and powerlessness are obvious. Using the example of child marriage we can see that it is a consequence of multiple causal factors including culturally and religiously sanctioned discrimination against females, the asymmetrical power relationships between males and females, which is exacerbated by poverty and compounded by geographic and/or social isolation, lack of access to markets, health and education services and the poor and worsening security of the homeland.
Such entrenched and historic problems require multifaceted and coordinated action, including the engagement of governments who must make and enforce new laws, or ensure adequate laws are implemented. Law enforcement is only possible when steps for implementation and sanctions are appropriate. For example child marriage can only be detected and sanctioned when birth, death and marriage registers function.
The non-government sector must also engage to ensure culture and religion does not condone, tolerate or encourage harmful beliefs and practices that impinge on human rights.
The list is long. Governments, religious leaders, aid donors, civil society, the media, corporations, military leadership and environmental defenders all have a stake in ensuring the end of the denial of human rights, to every person. The design and implementation of any new strategies and outcomes measurement requires courage, energy and committed leadership. Mobilising adequate funding over an appropriate period is also critical. Permanent or substantial change is not likely to be achieved in the short term. When all stakeholders are coordinated and engaged over the longer term, change is more likely to happen.
Facilitating and enabling more women in decision making positions.
Numbers of the commenters about post-2015 observe that if more women were elected to parliaments and/or other decision making bodies we would have wiser, more collegiate and stronger actions and outcomes for women and girls. Time-limited quotas to achieve this greater representation at local and national levels, in governments on boards or in corporations are usually required to bring about this change, where the inequalities are deeply entrenched, and the status quo is strongly defended. I strongly endorse such quotas or mandated seats for women.
The Australian Government is now sponsoring the mentoring and capacity building of women seeking to enter parliaments in the Pacific.
Engaging others is essential post 2015
We must better engage the range of regional multilateral bodies which now spread across the globe and shape inter-regional market access, labour movement, environmental policy, trade policy, cross-border resources access, security arrangements and multipurpose alliances.
Examples of such bodies in our region are APEC and ASEAN. Elsewhere there is the EU and the African Union to name but a few. These bodies need to participate in and embrace the development agenda post 2015 and incorporate them into policy and thinking. Many already do. The G20 about to meet in Australia has previously incorporated references to child marriage and development goals into its communications. The Australian Parliamentary Group on Population Development has asked for this to happen again. The G20 needs to become fully engaged in the debate about post 2015 directions as they seek to bring peace and prosperity globally.
Women’s better access to finance.
The various large scale financial institutions such as the Asia Development and World Banks, smaller lenders and financiers also need to fully embrace the goals of gender directed development as they design their financial instruments for poor women and the disadvantaged. These instruments need to be fair and innovative and go well beyond the now well-developed micro financing options.
The new global interest in social impact investing and such instruments as Social Impact Bonds or Development Management Bonds should be encouraged to explore how best they could stimulate or engage with women’s cooperatives or enterprises that would enhance the opportunities for women to break out of poverty. Small time private citizen investors have shown an appetite for these and other so called “ethical investment opportunities”, including investing in philanthropic trusts. These are new donor options we need to embrace and develop.
When women can afford a better independent life they take their children with them and the cycle of intergenerational poverty and oppression can be broken.
The Australian Government has now committed to closer partnering with the private commercial sector to deliver better life opportunities and outcomes especially for women and girls in the Indo Asia Pacific.
Measures and measurement
The issue of the measurement of future development goal outcomes, not just outputs, based on disaggregated valid verifiable data has also rightly been a focus of much concern and debate in preparation for post 2015.
For example data that only counts the enrolments of girls in some primary schools is no measure of real change in educational outcomes for any students.
We can no longer accept the aggregating of national data which disguises inequalities within or between populations. We need equity adjusted measures. Measurements of development outcomes can have little value if they do not provide data at least disaggregated according to gender, age, marital status, socio-economic status, locality, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, migrant, refugee or indigenous status. Many agencies will need training and better resourcing to produce useful data.
The ICPD (19) has proposed a different and highly structured architecture for comprehensive monitoring and measurement of a Programme of Action developed for beyond 2014. It can be used for both qualitative and quantitative measurement. There are now numerous instruments that have been developed to map and measure development, including the Global Gender Gap Index and numerous OECD measures.
There has also been much interest in developing measures to calculate and compare the costs of inaction including the Cost of Inaction Initiative (20). Case studies from Rwanda and Angola have provided valuable insights(21). The report of the High Level Panel Report on the post 2015 Development Agenda (HLP) (22) includes some comparisons of costs and benefits of different ways to improve food security to reduce stunting or the supplying of sanitation and water, in different countries. These are useful methodologies.
The CiGi KDI report on Development Agenda, Goals Targets and Indicators offers some sound advice:
“one approach that will help the UN to screen the flood of suggestions for new post 2015 goals and targets is to insist that practical and cogent indicators are available for nominal goals. Without solid information, we cannot measure where we are nor can we prescribe what needs to be done.”(23)
Despite some real progress, inequality can still be seen in gross violations of rights for example in gender wage gaps and unequal opportunities, low representation of women in decision making positions, child marriages, and widespread violence against women. The challenges remain, but we now are better informed and have a good foundation to step into the future of a fairer life for all. Mobilising the political will to make a difference is up to each of us.
1 UN Report to the Secretary General, 12 February 2014, p.2.
2 Paper presented at the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development, Manila, 6-7 Sept 2014.
3 For example, The Global Competitiveness Report 2014-2015, World Economic Forum 2014. Rio+20.
4 A Transformative Stand-Alone Goal on Achieving Gender Equality, Women’s Rights and Women’s Empowerment: Imperatives and Key Components in the Context of post 2015 MDGs, UN New York 2014.
5 Ibid, page 6.
6 Commission on the Status of Women, Challenges and Achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls, Economic and Social Council, UN, 25th March 2014.
7 UN Women Report June 2013 p. 30.
8 UN Women Report June 2013 p. 7.
9 UN Women Report June 2013 p.34.
10 UN Women Report June 2013 p.34.
11 The Millennium Development Goals Report UN NY 2014
12 The Millennium Development Goals Report UN NY 2014, cover statement.
13 The Global Gender Gap Index 2013, Measuring of the Global Gender Gap, World Economic Forum Pt 1 p 34.
14 Framework of actions for the follow up to the Programme of Action of the ICPD beyond 2014. Report to the Secretary General, 12 Feb 2014. P.278-279.
15 The Centre for International Governance Innovation and the Korea Development Institute Post 2015 Development Agenda: Goals targets and Indicators Special Report, Ontario 2012.
16 The Framework of actions for the follow up to the Programme of Action of the ICPD beyond 2014. Report to the Secretary General, 12 Feb 2014 P. 95.
17 The Age. P.20. 4.9.14.
18 Plan International Australia Fact Sheet, Melbourne July 2014.
19 Framework of Actions ICPD report to the Secretary General N.Y 2014 P.277.
20 The Cost of Inaction Initiative, Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Centre for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University, 2008
21 Boston, Harvard University Press. 2012.
22 A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development: The Report of the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Pose 2015 Development Agenda. UN 2013.P 43 and 41.
23 The Centre for International Governance Innovation and the Korea Development Institute Post 2015 Development Agenda: Goals targets and Indicators Special Report, Ontario 2012.P 29.