At the UN: New Goals for Sustainable Development

October 30, 2015

Want to stand up for
women and girls at the United Nations?

You could join AAUW’s U.N. delegation in March.
Apply now

In September 2015, among much applause, the member countries of the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will be implemented over the next 15 years. These 17 goals will provide a framework for international cooperation based on agreed strategic objectives and will bring money and effort to the most globally pressing issues, one of which is equality for women and girls.

The United Nations' sustainable development goals in illustrations

Image via the United Nations

The SDGs are the outcome of a collaborative effort between member states, United Nations agencies, businesses, and the input of millions of ordinary citizens through online platforms, regional meetings, and research submissions.

The SDGs pick up where the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) left off — eight anti-poverty targets established in 2000 that the global community aimed to complete by 2015 with the focus of leaving no one behind. The MDGs, according to the United Nations lore, were developed by a select few men from developed countries in the basement of the U.N. As a result, several issues that are vital to the progress of women, such as child marriage and violence against women, were not included in the objectives. The MDGs also made no mention of human rights and the root causes of poverty and gender inequality. By contrast, the SDGs are a human-rights-centered framework with 17 goals that address the root causes of issues that include eradicating poverty and hunger and providing access to clean energy, clean water, quality education, and decent work.

Organizations like AAUW are key to holding governments accountable for policies and financing that are critical to girls’ and women’s empowerment. AAUW worked with coalition groups, such as the Working Group on Girls and other like-minded NGOs, to ensure that the SDGs contained a stand-alone goal to specifically address the unique needs of women and girls.

The fifth goal of the SDGs is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” Equality means having power, self-determination, access to information, and equal opportunities. Gender equality demands that women have a seat at the table and are also valued for their skills and contributions. It bears noting that equality does not always mean diversity, nor does it mean tokenism. The goal of diversity is variety, and in the context of gender parity it means increasing the number of women college graduates and women in certain professions and legislative positions. Tokenism comes when we focus on those numbers instead of the root causes of inequality.

Goal five aims to give women the tools they need to participate to their fullest potential by employing a suite of cross-cutting solutions. The targets, a checklist to make sure the world is on track, are

  • end all forms of discrimination
  • eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, which includes trafficking
  • eliminate all harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation
  • promote shared responsibility within the household and recognize unpaid care work
  • ensure women’s participation for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic, and public life
  • ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health care
  • undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, including land ownership, financial services, and inheritance
  • enhance the use of enabling technology, particularly information and communications technology
  • adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls

Between now and March 2016, an inter-agency and expert group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs), comprised of member states and regional and international agencies, will develop indicators that will measure each target. These measurements are important because the SDGs should not be merely a counting tool but rather a measurement of equality, attainment of skills, and the impact and contributions of women. Women’s groups are lobbying for the collection and analysis of disaggregated data that would better reflect the situation of women and girls in measuring success of all 17 goals. Women’s equality will not be achieved by hitting the targets of goal five alone.

Speaking to the press after the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda, Ban Ki Moon, secretary-general of the U.N., said, “These goals are a blueprint for a better future. Now we must use the goals to transform the world. We will do that through partnership and through commitment. We must leave no one behind.”

And that means women and girls, especially.

In March, AAUW will join other NGOs at the 60th U.N. Commission on the Status of Women to affirm the priority theme, women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development. We will collaborate with other organizations to present a panel session that highlights actions needed to reach gender equality and close persistent gaps. Apply to join our delegation today to help us achieve gender equality.

This post was written by AAUW United Nations Representative Melissa Guardaro.


AAUW U.N. youth representatives (from left) Antoinette Gingerelli and Katherine Moreira

Join the AAUW Delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

Apply now for a chance to participate in the 60th U.N. Commission on the Status of Women in March 2016.

Use documentary films and ready-made tool kits to raise awareness about human trafficking, girls’ education, or other global feminist issues.

Films to Spark Discussion and Action on Global Issues

AAUW’s collaboration with Women and Girls Lead offers you films that you can use to organize an event or action in your community.

Photo credit: Claus Tom Christensen

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  27. […] 15-year plan for global issues like empowering women and girls. The United Nations’ new Sustainable Development Goals include specific targets to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, which includes […]

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