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Achieving Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in the Post-2015 Framework

The Gender & Development Network
Publication year: 
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Authors: Sharon Smee & Jessica Woodroffe

‘The problem is not a lack of practical ways to address gender inequality but rather a lack of change on a large and deep enough scale to bring about a transformation in the way societies conceive of and organise men’s and women’s roles, responsibilities, and control over resources.’1 UN Millennium Task Force on Education and Gender Equality. To achieve real and sustainable change, the post-2015 framework should focus on the social transformations required to eradicate poverty and empower the most marginalised and excluded people. Such transformation cannot happen without tackling the underlying causes of gender inequality and removing the barriers to women’s empowerment.

The need for a ‘twin-track’ approach 
Examination of the current post -2015 debates suggests a general consensus on the need to promote gender equality (although not always women’s empowerment). However there is much less agreement on how best to do this and some proposals represent a significant backtrack for women’s rights. For example, we argue that suggestions that a women’s empowerment goal should be subsumed under a general inequalities theme would send a dangerous signal that gender inequality is now of less priority, and would therefore result in the scaling back of resources and political commitment. Evidence from academic research and our members’ own experience, together with lessons learnt from the current MDG framework, suggests that the best way forward is Achieving Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in the Post-2015 Framework a ‘twin track’ approach that combines a standalone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment with mainstreaming throughout the framework. 

The report draws out two major policy lessons from the available evidence. Firstly, to be effective, mainstreaming gender needs sufficient resources, leadership and political will, and must be based on targets that transform social relations and tackle the root causes of inequality.

Secondly, a standalone goal on gender equality is necessary because gender equality is a goal in itself, deserving the political commitment and dedicated resources that a specific focus brings. A dedicated goal also allows for targets which tackle the root causes of inequality, rather than just supporting the achievement of other development goals and creates space for issues which are specific to, or have a higher priority for, women and girls than men and boys. Mainstreaming efforts to promote gender equality across a framework are also far more likely to succeed if complemented by the resources, commitment and expertise that a standalone goal can bring.
What a gender goal might look like
The report proposes that while the goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment should be universal, resources should be clearly focused on the poorest and most marginalised women and girls.In identifying possible priority areas under a gender equality goal, it reviews some of the many consultations that have already taken place. Not all of these surveys specifically address a post 2015 framework, but they are a valid expression of women’s choices nonetheless. A number of areas emerge as priorities including violence against women and girls, women’s leadership and empowerment, and women’s economic 
In this report, rather than making own suggestions for targets within a new framework, it examines criteria which may be useful for selecting targets on gender 
equality and women’s rights. Such criteria could consider whether potential targets are:
  • Reflective of the priorities of marginalised women; 
  • Transformative - addressing the structural causes of gender inequality;
  • Politically relevant for the international community and national governments; and
  • Not already covered or best placed under another goal. 
Improving targets, indicators and data
Within the ‘twin track’ approach to gender equality proposed in this report, targets and indicators must be transformative so that they reflect a lasting change in the power and choices women have over their own lives, rather than just an (often temporary) increase in opportunities. The report argues that transformative targets should: provide voice and agency for marginalised women; address the root causes of gender inequality; recognise all the barriers that women face in accessing their rights, including those created by social norms and values; and address unequal power relations at all levels of society including within the household.
It argues that indicators should reflect development priorities and not the availability of existing data, particularly given that capacity for data collection is, at least in part, a reflection of political choices. Indicators must also measure inequalities within the household such as control over resources and income and the distribution of household tasks. The collection and analysis of sex disaggregated data must also be central to the new framework. Without this data it is impossible to measure progress and make informed decisions about what works for women and girls.