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First Look: How Do Women Fare in the 2030 Agenda?


At the end of July, member states, civil society and the private sector came together at the United Nations to finalize an ambitious set of goals and targets on sustainable development. After dozens of meetings and rounds of negotiations, member states agreed to Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2030 Agenda reflects compromises between governments and sets development priorities for the next fifteen years. It also provides an opportunity for governments and civil society to work together to eradicate poverty and foster peaceful societies.

The 2030 Agenda is divided into five sections. Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and reproductive rights (RR) are mentioned in four of the five sections, and gender equality and the rights and empowerment of women and girls are mainstreamed throughout. PAI has actively participated in negotiations, and while there are strengths in the document, such as multiple mentions of sexual and reproductive health, gaps remain, including a clear path for implementation.

Centrality of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Recognized

Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is included in the preamble and there is an entire sustainable development goal dedicated to it. Paragraph 20 of the declaration “realizes gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls” as a “crucial contribution to progress across all the goals and targets.” Goal five also addresses gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Target 5.3 aims to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.” Every year, millions of girls are married and denied their right to health and education. Ending this and other harmful practices is essential to achieving gender equality.

There are nine principles included that should guide the follow-up and review, including “people-centered, gender-sensitive, respect human rights and have a particular focus on the poorest, most vulnerable and those furthest behind.” Without a follow-up and review process that both respects human rights and is gender-sensitive, the ambitious 2030 Agenda will not be met.

Progress on Sexual and Reproductive Health but an Incomplete Mandate on Reproductive Rights

Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is also included as key to achieving sustainable development, and is mentioned several times in the 2030 Agenda. Reproductive health is included among the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are most off-track and that member states have recommitted to fully realizing. The declaration addresses ending preventable maternal death by 2030 and commits “to ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, including for family planning, information, and education.”

Paragraph 11 reaffirms the importance of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform of Action and their follow up conferences but stops short of mentioning the regional reviews. The inclusion of these two influential UN conferences recognizes their full implementation is critical to sustainable development, and ensures women and sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights are central to the 2030 Agenda. However, because the regional reviews identify emerging issues, their inclusion would have further supported a forward-looking agenda.

While the inclusion of SRH as part of the declaration is far beyond what was included in the MDGs, there is no mention of reproductive rights anywhere in the declaration, despite its inclusion in the goals and targets.

There are three goals and targets that directly address sexual and reproductive health. Under the goal dedicated to ensuring healthy lives, target 3.7 aims to, “by 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, including for family planning, information, and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.” This target is particularly important because it recognizes the role that life-saving sexual and reproductive health care services play in ensuring healthy lives and eradicating poverty.

The final target that addresses SRH also addresses reproductive rights. Target 5.6 under the gender goal is “ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), and the Beijing Platform for Action, and the outcome documents of their review conferences.” It was essential that all of these targets remained in the final 2030 Agenda because each addresses different but important components of SRH and reproductive rights. However, these targets are not as comprehensive as they could be. For example, while the full implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action is essential for fulfilling the new agenda, we need to look beyond a document from 20 years ago. This is a forward looking document. We shouldn’t confine our description of reproductive rights to a document from the past.

CSO Partnership and Advocacy Key to Realizing 2030 Agenda

Member states are ultimately the ones who agreed to and will adopt the 2030 Agenda, however, civil society was able to influence the outcome through participation in Major Groups and lobbying governments. As member states made their final remarks, many recognized and thanked civil society for their participation and advocacy throughout the process. Civil society was mentioned twice in the Means of Implementation, notably around accountability and the 2030 Agenda.

Now that the 2030 Agenda has been agreed to by member states, it must be officially adopted at the upcoming United Nations Summit in New York from September 25-27. After it is adopted, a process to develop indicators for each of the targets will continue until spring 2016. Because the agenda is aspirational and more comprehensive than anything we have ever done, advocacy is needed to ensure that robust data is prioritized and collected to measure SRH and RR.

The vision and goals in the 2030 Agenda have the ability to be transformative. However, a document that includes an ambitious vision but sits on a shelf won’t eradicate poverty or create more peaceful societies. Governments need to double-down on their efforts to meet the goals and targets to which they have agreed. They need to work in partnership with civil society, especially women and girls, to develop policies that fulfill human rights—including the sexual and reproductive rights of the people living in their countries. Innovative financing mechanisms and programs must be put in place to ensure the most vulnerable and under-served are being reached. The goals and targets are universally applicable and all governments must be held accountable for achieving them.

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