UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at last week's Commission on the Status of Women curtain raiser press conference.
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at last week's Commission on the Status of Women curtain raiser press conference.

UNITED NATIONS (WOMENSENEWS)–As the United Nations crosses the 15-year finish line on one set of enormous international development goals and prepares to launch another set, policies affecting girls and women are at the center of attention here this week.

That’s because the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which drives the U.N.’s agenda for women’s empowerment, is turning 20 with a huge splash of meetings and reports released in a thicket of official and sideline gatherings.

All that activity is tied to the annual March 9 -20 meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Things got started on Sunday, March 8, International Women’s Day, with a march for gender equality and women’s rights from Dag Hammarskjold Plaza outside the U.N. to Times Square.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is executive director of UN Women, the secretariat for the Commission on the Status of Women. While the meeting provides a time for her to hail major milestones since 1995, Mlambo-Ngcuka is also seizing the chance to flag stalled progress and disappointments.

"This is a critical year of taking stock," Mlambo-Ngcuka, said in a recent speech before her executive board.

With an eye to the new set of 15-year development goals launching this year, she called for "Planet 50:50 by 2030" and urged member states to achieve measurable progress in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action within the next five years and to commit to definitely ending gender inequality within the next 15.

At the same time, she said member states must redouble their funding commitments to meet the target of $500 million in annual voluntary contributions to UN Women.

Funding Falls Way Short

That funding goal is way off target.

At a 2014 pledging conference  15 member states pledged just under $79 million for UN Women. Of these, only six countries committed $1 million or more while five contributed between $1,000 and $10,000. Denmark was the only country to pledge $10 million, a target Mlambo-Ngcuka would like to see at least 10 countries meet.

Last week, at a kickoff press conference for this week’s annual gathering, Mlambo-Ngcuka also flagged countries’ failure to implement laws to protect women from violence in nations where discriminatory customary laws prevail on a collective failure of leadership.

She asked countries to "step it up" by recommitting themselves to meeting the targets and rethinking the implementation strategies that haven’t proven successful.

She called on all governments to study the newly released 20 year-review and embrace its recommendations. Those include closing gaps between legislation and implementation, reducing the prevalence of violence against women, remedying insufficient sex-disaggregated data, increasing funding for action plans, redressing the low participation of women in the labor market and the disproportionate and negative effect of the financial crisis on women.

Higher Hopes for New Goals

Declarations and demands like these–which flow out from the Beijing Platform for Action–are now being issued with an eye to influencing the new Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. These in turn will set the international development agenda through 2030 and be finalized at a conference in September.

The needs of girls and women are supposed to receive more consistent attention in the new goals. In contrast to the Millennium Development Goals, they are expected to include a standalone gender equality target and to "mainstream" gender-sensitivity throughout the framework.

Of the eight MDGS, only two– No. 3 to promote gender equality and empower women and No. 5 to improve maternal health –are explicitly focused on girls and women. (Find out how those fared as of a 2014 report.)

By contrast, each of the 17 SDGs will take a holistic approach that acknowledges the inextricable links between poverty alleviation, food security, health, education, gender equality and sustainable economic growth.

Here’s how a retiring goal–MDG No. 5–gets incorporated into SDG No. 3.

MDG No. 5 focused on improving maternal health by pursuing four targets: reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent from a baseline year, improving access to antenatal care, increasing the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel and achieving universal access to reproductive health.

SDG No. 3, by contrast, incorporates maternal health into one big promise to "ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages." It promises to reduce global maternal mortality to less than 70 deaths per 100,000 births and to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health care. Alongside those two goals it also presents several more that tackle an array of issues, including the preventable deaths of newborns and young children, shortage of vaccines, substance abuse, pollution, traffic accidents, inadequate health financing and the need to recruit and train more health care workers in developing countries.

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