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The Sustainable Development Goals, the post-2015 agenda and future opportunities

With the MDGs drawing to a close in 2015, much work has already been done in preparing for a new global development agenda. At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in 2012, it was agreed that a new set of development goals would be drawn up, leading to the UN General Assembly's Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals presenting a first draft in 2014. The proposal consisted of 17 goals, with 169 targets; much more expansive than the previous MDGs, and covering a broad range of issues with a focus on sustainable development. The goals will be finalised later in 2015.

The stand-alone goal on gender proposed by the Open Working Group: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” incorporates many more areas than the MDGs. It has targets on violence against women and girls, harmful practices, unpaid care work, women’s political, economic and public participation, sexual and reproductive rights, access and rights to economic resources, use of enabling technology, and policies and legislation on gender equality.

While this stand-alone goal is a definite improvement on MDG 3, it is unclear to what extent gender mainstreaming will occur across the other goals. At present, only two other goals, those concerning the elimination of poverty, and the provision of equitable and quality education, make explicit reference to gender dimensions. The challenge of reliable, regular, and consistent data collection also remains.

Gaps and opportunities

In addition to a strong new SDG on gender equality, along with the mainstreaming of gender across all other goals, what further progress needs to be made, and what opportunities exist for this?

At the global level, gender indicators could be developed for gender specific agreements and conventions such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action. Recent progress has been made on international standards on gender equality and women’s empowerment, with the development of a minimum set of 52 gender indicators by the United Nations Inter-agency and Expert Group on Gender Statistics. The indicators cover five themes, the first four of which - education, health and related services, human rights of women and girl children, and public life and decision making - now have internationally agreed standards. The fifth theme: economic structures, participation in productive activities and access to resources, contains important indicators for which international standards still need to be agreed upon. These include gender gaps in wages, as well as sex disaggregated data concerning access to credit, land ownership, and access to mass media.

Work could be done to evolve existing measures of change; moving beyond binary notions of gender, and distinguishing between gender blind, gender neutral, gender specific and gender transformative indicators. More needs to be done to design frameworks and approaches that go beyond assumptions of linear change around cause and effect, and can capture the results of larger scale women’s empowerment processes that build collective power and deeper change, including accounts of sustainable success as well as of challenges and backlash. Women’s and gender justice organisations and movements represent a significant untapped resource for building more effective approaches and indicators for measuring the hard to assess dimensions of changes in gender power relations.

Key Resources

From Commitment to Action: Financing gender equality and women’s rights in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals
This four-page brief provides an overview of OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members’ aid to gender equality since the MDGs and identifies priorities for financing gender equality in the implementation of the post-20...
Open Working Group proposal for Sustainable Development Goals
The outcome document of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (RIO+20) set out a mandate to establish an open working group to develop a set of sustainable development goals that should be coherent with, and in...
Measuring women’s empowerment and social transformation in the post-2015 agenda
C. Harper; K. Nowacka; H. Alder / Overseas Development Institute 2014
While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have made some progress in certain areas of gender equality, they will ultimately fail to produce the sustainable human rights-based social transformation that is needed. If the post-2015 ...
Policy Brief & Recommendations -Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Open Working Group (OWG) - Promoting Equality, including Social Equity, Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment
High Level Task Force for ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development) 2014
Only two out of 130 countries with available data have reached gender parity in all levels of education. If women had the same access to land, productive assets and farming inputs as men, farm yields could increase by 20-30 per cent, ...
Gender equality and women’s rights in the post-2015 agenda: A foundation for sustainable development
Development Assistance Committee, OECD 2013
Why focus on gender equality in the post-2015 agenda? The post-2015 framework presents a unique opportunity to build on the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), while also addressing the dimensions that...
Gender goals, targets and indicators for sustainable development: problems and opportunities
K. Lanz / Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies 2013
While ground-breaking in their scope and ambition, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have also sparked controversy, not least in the choice of goals, targets, and indicators. This policy brief, produced by the Interdisciplinary ...
Women’s empowerment and gender equality in the post-2015 framework
J Woodroffe; S Smee / The World We Want 2012
This is a background paper for the Addressing Inequalities Global Thematic Consultation for the post-2015 development agenda. Based on learning from MDG3, existing research, and the experiences of GADN members, authors Jessica Woodrof...
Communique - Women's Consultation on the Africa We Want Post 2015
African Women's Development & Communication Network 2012
This communique from the African Women's Regional Civil Society Consultation on the Post 2015 Development Framework conveys a collective desire for a re-orientation toward issues perceived to have been neglected by the Millennium Deve...
A transformative stand-alone goal on achieving gender equality, women's rights and women's empowerment: imperatives and key components
UN Women 2013
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have played a critical role in mobilising integrated international action on global poverty issues, including recognition in the Millennium Declaration that inequality and discrimination based o...
Capturing change in women’s realities: A critical overview of current monitoring and evaluation frameworks and approaches
Association for Women's Rights in Development 2010
Are all instruments for measuring social change adequate, effective, and sensitive? This document questions these and other assumptions in the context of women’s rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment work. It is ...