Advancing Women’s Empowerment in Fragile and Conflict-Affected States
On the topic of gender equality, admirable progress seems to have been made in the Eighth Session of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) discussion of “Promoting equality, including social equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment.” As the Co-Chairs’ concluding remarks and summary bullet points summed up, “gender equality was affirmed as an end in itself and as an essential means for sustainable development and poverty eradication.” There was also “very broad support for a two-pronged approach to reflecting gender equality and women’s empowerment in the SDGs: through a stand-alone goal and mainstreaming gender equality in other goals.” In fact, as UN Women counted more than 100 states to be supporting the inclusion of gender equality in the post-2015 agenda, gender equality appears to be one of the most, if not the most, supported issue areas for the post-2015 development agenda yet.
This should come as no surprise as support for gender equality is largely in line with the current MDGs themselves in addition to past international agreements including the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, and the 2013 UN Conference on Sustainable Development’s Rio+20 outcome document.
In making a potential goal and related targets more tangible, the following potential action lines were cited as broadly supported by OWG participants by the Co-Chairs:
- Preventing and eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls
- Empowering women legally and economically
- Strengthening women’s voice, participation in decision-making and leadership in all areas of life
As gender is an incredibly cross-cutting issue, if violence against women is reduced, if women are empowered and women’s voices are strengthened, promoting gender issues will also have the positive externality of promoting peace, as I mentioned in my previous post on peace and gender equality in post-2015 development, and economic development in fragile and conflict states. As Nicole Ameline, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said during the OWG discussion on February 5, while women “continue to be primary victims of suffering, violence and conflict,” they are also “primary actors in peace and democracy.” On a related note, Patti Petesch found in a 2011 USAID study that in post-conflict states, “the set of conflict-affected communities that experienced the most rapid recovery and poverty reduction were also characterized by more empowered women than the set of conflict-affected communities with lower rates of poverty reduction.” Empowering women is not only a just end in itself, but also a means through which to promote peace and development, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected states.
Advancing women’s issues can have a positive cross-cutting effect of promoting peace as well as economic development in fragile and conflict states. If states can continue with this momentum on including gender equality and women’s empowerment issues in the OWG report and consequently in the SDGs, there is some hope for positive outcomes on these grounds alone for economic development and peace in today’s fragile and conflict-affected states.