Feminist demands for post 2015 Development

By Claudia Thallmayer, WIDE Austria

In February 2014, right after the 8th session of the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a feminist strategy meeting on the post 2015 agenda took place in Tarrytown, New York. 60 feminist activists from different regions of the world took part in this meeting, in order to exchange and strategize about how to bring feminist demands into the post 2015 development framework within the next two years. WIDE Austria was among the participating networks.

Feminist declaration Post 2015

The participants at the feminist meeting came from different sectors, several working on sexual and reproductive health and rights, others on environment, or on economic and social rights, indigenous rights, peace and security or gender-based violence. In a spirit of solidarity, the concerns of women working in different areas were taken on board and translated into a feminist communiqué, calling for a paradigm shift and a truly transformative post 2015 agenda, based on gender, economic, social and ecological justice.

By the end of the month, the “Feminist Declaration for Post 2015” was endorsed by 343 international, regional and national organizations in 143 countries – a strong message to the UN and its member states! The declaration is available in English, Spanish, French, Russian and Chinese (see http://www.wide-netzwerk.at/images/publikationen/2014/feminist-post-2015-declaration.pdf or http://www.awid.org/News-Analysis/Announcements2/Over-340-endorsements-of-the-Feminist-Declaration-for-Post-2015).

The feminist meeting was convened by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL), Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), the International Planned Parenthood Federation – Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF/WHR), the Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice Alliance (RESURJ) and Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF).

Since then, participants of the feminist meeting, along with many others, continue to cooperate within the Post 2015 Women´s Coalition. This global coalition, built in 2013, aims to influence the post 2015 agenda from a women´s rights and feminist perspective. By now, it has been quite successful in coordinating representation from grassroots NGOs and feminist experts to give input at high level UN meetings. More information can be found at: http://www.post2015women.com/

It is a bit confusing how many parallel “post 2015” processes are going on at UN level. One of the first was the installation of a “High Level Panel of Eminent Persons”, which produced its report with proposals and “illustrative goals” for a post 2015 development agenda already in May 2013 (see http://www.post2015hlp.org/the-report/).

Sustainable Development Goals

Another process is the international follow-up process to the Rio+20 Conference with the aim to elaborate “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs). A “High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development” was set in place at the Rio+20 Conference, with the mandate to “provide political leadership and recommendations for sustainable development” (http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index.php?menu=1556). Simultaneously, an “Open Working Group” (OWG) to elaborate a concrete proposal for sustainable development goals was installed. UN member states can participate in it via their UN delegates. The OWG process has gained quite some dynamic over the last year; it also included open online consultations and some limited space of intervention for NGOs at the working group sessions. In the course of these sessions, 16 “focus areas” have been defined by now, which serve as a basis for concrete goals, underpinned by indicators. The OWG process shall be concluded by July 2014, in order to be presented to and to be discussed by the UN General Assembly in September 2014. This process can be followed at http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/owg.html.

It is thanks to feminist interventions that “Gender equality and the empowerment of women” was taken up as one of the proposed “focus areas” in this process around the Sustainable Development Goals. As could be observed at the 8th Open Working Group session in February, the discussion point “Inequalities” represented a major entrance point to raise the issue of gender equality – it was originally not specifically mentioned as a topic of discussion! After several side events and a very engaged discussion at the 8th OWG session – with input from Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN WOMEN director, and Babatunde Osotimehin (UNFPA) –, there seemed to be a widely shared consensus that both a specific gender goal as well as a gender mainstreaming strategy should be constituting elements of a post 2015 sustainable development agenda.

Feminist interventions necessary!

Though it is an achievement that gender equality as a focus area has been included, it is important to follow up how it is formulated. For any gender equality goal it is decisive what specific policy areas are highlighted at the end of the day. While (among “new” areas) the fight against violence against women is widely supported and will likely be on the agenda, other issues remain highly disputed. These issues concern the gendered division of labour (the unequal burden of care work for women and girls, limited access to resources, prevailing gender stereotypes in the labour market), the resulting discrimination of women (regarding their access to education and vocational training, the gender pay gap, precarious status of migrant women), as well as sexual and reproductive rights (beyond health issues). But: at the moment, several of these issues are on the provisional agenda – we will see in the course of the negotiations if they will find enough support. A “gender mainstreaming” strategy is not yet defined, though the need for disaggregated data is expressed.

Still, the SDG focus areas show various weaknesses, for example the type of desired “migration management” not being defined. Overall, issues of economic inequalities and redistribution, such as production and consumption patterns of the richer parts of the world which are the main cause of the environmental degradation and climate change that are affecting the poorest worst, are very contentious. At the same time, the shift in international development discourses and practises towards the “private sector” cannot be ignored. In this context, it is a big challenge to negotiate and agree on a “sustainable development agenda” which deserve this name – with concrete obligations for environmental protection and financial contributions under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Vested interests likely play a strong role behind the scenes, as the shift from the term “sustainable development” towards the phrase “sustained economic growth” (repeated like a “mantra” in the discussions) indicates.

Further international debates on a post 2015 framework are discussions hosted by the President of the UN General Assembly in different countries on a range of topics, among them “The Contributions of Women, the Young and Civil Society” in March 2014 (see http://www.un.org/en/ga/president/68/settingthestage). Other bodies deal with the financing for development agenda, and – last but not least – conferences on climate change will take place in 2014/15.

Post 2015 policy dialogue in Austria

The focus of organizations participating in the Post 2015 Women´s Coalition is of course not only towards the international processes. Members follow up on what their nation state or region is doing. Same goes for WIDE Austria. While at international level discussions on SDGs are going into a preliminary final round of discussion, the Austrian Foreign Ministry is still defining its priorities for the Post 2015 agenda. Together with other Austrian NGOs, WIDE has given input to this discussion at national level. We highlighted the dividend which can be gained from more attention and support for the care sector, especially through promoting high quality public care services. This is true for both gender equality as well as sustainable development ambitions, as care activities are not very resource but labour intensive. Yet we are very concerned that Austria does not take global development challenges serious, as we are once more experiencing budgetary cuts for the bilateral development cooperation and the UN development institutions.

Conclusion: Gender, Economic, Social and Ecological Justice

While there can be doubts raised on how committed governments will be to tackle climate change and related challenges, the Feminist Declaration Post 2015 has united feminist voices into a clear call on what is needed to change.

In this declaration, “We demand a paradigm transformation from the current neoliberal model of development which prioritizes profit over people, and exacerbates inequalities, war and conflict, militarism, patriarchy, environmental degradation and climate change.

Instead, we call for economic models and development approaches that are firmly rooted in principles of human rights and environmental sustainability, that address inequalities between people and states, and that rebalance power relations for justice so that the result is sustained peace, equality, the autonomy of peoples, and the preservation of the planet.

This transformational shift requires redistribution of unequal and unfair burdens on women and girls in sustaining societal wellbeing and economies, intensified in times of violence and conflict, as well as during economic and ecological crises. It also must bring attention to the kind of growth generated and for this growth to be directed towards ensuring wellbeing and sustainability for all. It must tackle intersecting and structural drivers of inequalities, and multiple forms of discrimination based on gender, age, class, caste, race, ethnicity, place of origin, cultural or religious background, sexual orientation, gender identity, health status and abilities.”

The feminist declaration for post 2015 gave a strong signal that hopefully reaches people and decision makers in many countries.