Education International
Education International

Gender equality, women’s human rights and empowerment within and beyond the post-2015 agenda

published 13 March 2015 updated 30 March 2015

Education International has co-sponsored a panel discussion focusing on the key priorities for gender equality, women’s human rights and empowerment in the new post-2015 sustainable development framework to be agreed by United Nations’ member states this fall.

Education International (EI) partnered with the Permanent Mission of Argentina to the United Nations (UN) and the Post-2015 Women’s Coalition to co-sponsor on 10 March, at the UN Headquarters in New York, USA, a side event at the 59th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

The panel, entitled “Realising Gender Equality, Women's Rights and Women's Empowerment within and beyond the Post 2015 Development agenda”, was opened by Argentina's Ambassador María Cristina Perceval and moderated by Professor Radhika Balakrishnan, Faculty Director of the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University.

Education International’s Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst was joined on the panel by Dr. Hoda Badran, representing Karama, a Middle East and North Africa women’s rights organisation, Dr Gloria Bonder, Director of the Gender, Society and Policy at FLACSO, Argentina (Latin American School of Social Sciences), and Nalini Singh, Programme Manager at the Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women ( ARROW).

In her opening remarks, Ambassador Perceval referred to the work the Argentinian Mission has been doing in collaboration with EI and UNESCO to ensure that the new sustainable development framework includes a stand-alone goal on education.

Her remarks however focused on the need for the sustainable development goals to adequately address the pending issues related to gender equality and women’s human rights, such as the gender pay gap.

“We are fighting not to go backwards as women,” she said. “To see whether the Beijing Platform for Action will have a future in the new framework or whether there is a risk the framework will undermine the equality for women previously won, by simply containing attractive rhetoric that will not actually change women’s realities.”

Dr Badran presented perspectives from the Middle East and North Africa region, pointing out that although there have been some achievements in the region since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, progress has been uneven.

She emphasised the need for the new development framework to address the remaining challenges, some of which are familiar, while others are new. These include the globalised terrorisms, which are radically different from the kinds of terror we saw before. Dr Badran suggested that the specificity of terrorism today is its transnational nature – financed in one place, implemented in another. She also highlighted conflicts around water and the disproportional effect of climate change on women and girls.

Dr Bonder focused on women’s access to education in the Latin American regions. She stated that although many countries have reached parity, the inclusion of women in all levels of education is not satisfactory as an end goal.

Asking “What do we mean when we say ‘inclusion’?” she instead suggested that “maybe we should talk about becoming ‘active participants’ to ensure we transform the spaces in which we are included; women should be included in defining ‘quality’ education because quality is central to education”.

Supporting Dr Bonder’s point, EI Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst added that “access to and participation in education is about power; that is why we want girls to have access to quality education; that is also why there are so many who want to prevent girls’ getting access to quality education.”

She also highlighted one of the limits of the Beijing Platform for Action when it comes to education: although it called on states to provide funding for the provision of education, it was silent on where that funding should come from. She pointed out that a worrying and increasing trend in all regions is the growth of privatisation in and of education.

Holst closed her presentation with a rallying call to States, the UN and civil society to “renew our commitment to the right to education, and reaffirm our understanding of it as a public good that is not open to commodification, which States have a duty to both protect and fulfil. Structural barriers to girls’ access to, and equitable participation in education, can only be overcome through state provision of free, quality public education”.

In the final presentation, Nalini Singh focused on the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women and girls, starting with the observation that “sexuality is as much a part of being fully human and fully alive as needing food and water to live”. However, as she underlined, there are number of challenges that make it difficult for SRHR issues to be mainstreamed into the sustainable development agenda. One of these is the failure of governments to recognise that the suppression of women’s SRHR is directly linked to serious societal problems, such as poverty itself, hunger, malnutrition, HIV and AIDS, and teenage pregnancies.

Click here to watch a webcast of the event.