International

Beyond 2015: High time to shift the balance of decision-making power

Woman standing Dhaka, Bangladesh
Rachael Stokes
By Rachael Stokes: February 1st, 2013

As the High Level Panel on Post-2015 meets for the third time in Liberia this week it is clear that the debate on what should replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is beginning to heat up. (See VSO UK’s blog for more on the Panel and the outcome of its previous meeting in London)

An immediate challenge the Panel faces is how the post-2015 framework should respond to the uncertainties and threats that now surround us, notably greater economic financial instability, depleting natural resources and increased vulnerability to climate change.

A second challenge concerns how to address the development problems that remain almost as pervasive as they did when the MDGs were formulated more than a decade ago – none more so that the persistent inequalities that exist between women and men.

It is true that significant gains have been made to tackle gender inequalities and empower women since 2000, such as reducing disparities in school enrolment or increasing women’s access to paid work. It is also true that the current MDG framework has played a role in bringing about these achievements.

However, we equally know that progress has been slow and uneven, and that advances in equality have yet to translate into the genuine empowerment of women.

At VSO we are concerned with what we see as one of the deepest and most persistent fault-lines of gender inequality today: the lack of decision making power that women have compared to men.
It is a sad irony that women – who are most affected by poverty and comprise the majority of the world’s poor – have the least access and influence over decisions being made to tackle it. For us, this is an injustice and a huge waste.

The work of VSO volunteers on the ground reveals that women face multiple barriers to engaging in political and public life. In Zambia, women who want to stand as parliamentarians are put off by the huge financial costs of running a campaign or the lack of political networks. In Bangladesh, women on village committees face the prejudices of their male counterparts and the lack of self-confidence.

In our recent submission to the UN-led consultation on addressing inequalities in the post-2015 framework we argued that the post-2015 framework must contain clear targets to increase women’s representation in decision-making bodies at all levels – from the local village committees through to international institutions. We believe women’s increased decision-making power is not only as an end in itself but a means to ensure women gain the power to confront the wider discrimination and injustices they face.

When civil society organisations met in Monrovia earlier this week, the power of citizens and communities to drive change themselves was in fact one of the key themes emerging from their discussions. They also argued that support for women’s empowerment will be critical to the success of the post-2015 agenda.

So let us not squander the opportunity the post-2015 framework presents to transform the lives of women and girls around the world and place the power to create change directly in their hands.

For more information see:

The Gender and Development Network report: Achieving Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in the Post-2015 Framework

VSO’s response to the Inequalities Consultation: Advancing Equality in Women’s Participation & Influence in Public Life through the Post‐2015 Framework

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