On June 24, the Australian Parliamentary Group on Population and Development hosted a full room of civil society delegates and parliamentarians for the launch of theGovernment’s report on the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash, prepared a speech and though she was unable to attend because of parliamentary business it was read by one of the panellist from Office for Women, Kate Wallace. In this speech to launch the report, Minister Cash reflected that 20 years after the ‘ground breaking’ Beijing Declaration.
‘We are still striving for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Our work is far from finished – around the world, one in three women are still subjected to physical violence. And in many countries, opportunities for employment, education, independence and recognition are still far fewer for women and girls than they are for boys and men.’
The Minister also spoke of the Sustainable Development Goals, and stated that ‘to comprehensively deliver on gender equality and women’s empowerment, the new development agenda will need to address:
Violence against women;
Economic empowerment of women;
Women’s leadership and participation at all levels in the public and private sectors; and
Universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.’
The Minister’s speech was followed by a panel discussion moderated by APGPD Chair, Dr Sharman Stone, with representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Office for Women, the NGO representative of the Australian Delegation to CSW, Maria Osman, and the Executive Director of the Australian National Committee for UN Women, Julie McKay.
Dr Sharman Stone MP, Chair of the Australian Parliamentary Group on Population and Development, summarised her experiences at the United Nations in New York over three months in 2014, where she assiduously followed the discussions around gender equality and women’s empowerment. She reflected in particular on the growing resistance to enunciating women’s rights reflected in increasing fundamentalist religious influences.
Maria Osman, who attended Beijing in 1995, had plenty to reflect on considering the progress, or lack thereof, since that landmark conference. Ms Oman has spent 40 years working on gender equality, human rights, anti-racism, humanitarian programmes and community development.
She noted that 20 years after Beijing, the movement is marked by a new push to engage men and boys to change negative attitudes towards women and girls. This is a positive development that is critical to preventing violence against women and promoting gender equality Ms Osman also noted a more alarming new development – the number of people now being killed for defending human rights. While there is today a lot more attention paid to the issues of gender identity and sexual orientation, Ms Osman expressed concern that these issues are being treated more as an add-on, rather than integrated more wholly into the discussions. She commended the work of women’s organisations working on the ground to promote gender equality, ‘the stronger our feminist civil societies are, the more we are able to ensure we are moving forward.’
Her highlights and impressions included
The strong united presence of the Pacific Island nations and ways they are alleviating gender-based violence in a culturally inclusive way.
The strong presence of young women and girls presenting as leaders of today – they’re not waiting for tomorrow.
The transformative and brave work of women human rights defenders working in post conflict situations in Somalia, a country with zero tolerance for female genital mutilation and cutting and where young people want the practice stopped.
Against the backdrop of continuing conflict and war, women travelled from South Sudan to proudly present their Women’s Agenda for Peace and Sustainable Development.
How research into the intersection of Islam and women’s human rights is shaping a feminist analysis of the Qur’an and exploring gender equality within the Islamic framework.
The successful poverty alleviation programmes in Ethiopia where thousands of rural women are moving out of poverty through the simple act of being included on land titles, as the Chair of the event stated ... “if you want to remove poverty you need women involved and Africa cannot rise without women”.
The emergent programmes working with men and boys as allies in changing social norms for gender equality, as the co-founder of MenEnage said “Men of Quality are not afraid of equality”.
Celebrating International Women’s Day, marching from the UN Headquarters to Times Square with thousands of women, calling for gender equality of “50–50 by 2030”.
Julie McKay, head of the Australian National Committee for UN Women, spoke of her experience at CSW, noting that while it was unfortunate that NGOs were left out of negotiating the Agreed Conclusions, some were concerned that the progressive language on women’s rights that had been achieved was, and remains, at risk. The fundamental principle that women’s rights are human rights is being undermined and sexual and reproductive health and rights continue to be a stumbling block in the post-2015 development agenda negotiations.
Ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights
Recognising, reducing and redistributing unpaid care work
Ensuring women’s equal rights to productive assets and resources
The report notes that the new Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality is a substantial improvement on the Millennium Development Goal – especially in demanding stakeholders achieve gender equality rather than just promote it. MDG 3 only had one associated target – eliminating gender disparity in education, whereas SDG 5 specifically targets a range of issues: ending discrimination against women and girls, eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, eliminating harmful practices including forced marriage and female genital mutilation, recognising and valuing unpaid care and domestic work; ensuring women’s full and effective participation in leadership and decision-making; ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights; undertaking reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources and ownership of land and property; and using technology to promote women’s empowerment.
Julie McKay’s recommendations to government include
Advocate for targets within the SDGs that ensure women’s sustainable access to energy and strengthen women’s collective action.
Highlight the need for the SDGs to have a strong grounding in human rights and for the goals to be transformational by addressing the structural causes of gender inequality
Highlight the importance of the SDG indicators to be gender-specific and disaggregated by gender and other relevant factors, such as age and ethnicity
Advocate for gender considerations to be mainstreamed into the indicators for all SDGs so that a comprehensive and transformative approach is taken to gender equality in this development framework
Advocate against the alteration or diminishment of the commendable aspects of the SDGs for women – i.e. focus on retaining all the existing targets under SDG5, as well as safeguarding the mainstreaming of gender considerations into targets associated with other SDGs
A broad-ranging discussion followed the speakers, with keen contributions from Sally Moyle, Principal Sector Specialist of the Gender section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and Kate Wallace, Senior Adviser of the International Engagement and Immigration Section of the Office for Women.
All in attendance committed to redoubling efforts to achieve women’s greater safety, empowerment and equality around the world.