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Half full or half empty? Will UN and Member States use their power to advance a transformative development agenda?

Today we stand at the last milestone of the post 2015 development agenda process. In the coming two weeks of negotiations at the UN – and the months of informal consultations to follow - there will be debates on the language of the initial declaration, the SDGs and their targets, the means of implementation (MOI); and follow up and review mechanisms outlined in the draft outcome document.

Governments from around the world meeting at United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York for the last round of negotiations on the outcome document of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda (20-31 July 2015) have in their hands the power to set global development priorities and guide the UN system as a whole for the next fifteen years.  Feminist and women’s rights activists trying to influence this process are ready for the final battle to revamp global efforts towards a development framework based on human rights as well as gender, economic and environmental justice. But this is proving a far from easy task.

Following thirteen rounds of intense negotiations, United Nations Member States have been able to propose a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and identify specific targets for each. The period to agree on the new post-2015 development agenda comes to an end in September 2015 when the agenda will be adopted at the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly.

Since 2012, diverse women’s rights and feminist activists have provided analytical thinking, expertise and evidence-based input that call for a transformative and inclusive agenda grounded on human rights for all and protection and respect of the planet and have contributed immensely[1] to ensuring that the SDG’s takes cognizance of the gender issues.

Civil society organizations, including women’s rights and feminist organizations and activists, must continue to be a central watchdog in this process. They have a crucial role to play in assessing the implementation of the agenda from the local to the global, and how it impacts global development financing, the role of the UN and states in promoting sustainable development, and the efforts to address climate change and environmental destruction.

Financing and accountability are still major challenges

There is a general sense of disappointment in the financing framework to enable the implementation of the agenda, especially following the outcome of the recent Third Financing for Development Conference (FfD3) that just concluded in Addis Ababa.

For the majority of women’s rights activists and civil society organizations involved in post 2015, FfD3 was an opportunity to tackle structural injustices within the current global economic and financial system. However, the FfD3 outcome document, called the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) is almost entirely devoid of actionable deliverables. A civil society statement on July 16 was clear to point out that the outcome of FfD3 “does not rise to world’s current multiple challenges, nor does it contain the necessary leadership, ambition and practical actions”. The women’s rights activists in Addis shared similar concerns.

Among the issues that Member States failed to address in Addis FfD3 are global systemic issues in macroeconomic, financial, trade, tax, and monetary policies to positively affect human rights, including women’s rights and gender equality globally. These issues remain valid for the upcoming two weeks of negotiations on the post-2015 agenda.

Wealth redistribution to challenge the power of the richest 1% of the world’s population remains an untapped issue despite its importance in tackling multidimensional poverty, inequality within and between countries, as well as social justice - including gender justice.

Though there was global recognition in the AAAA that strong public finance backed by domestic resource mobilization is an important source of financing for development especially for developing countries, developed countries – whose multinationals are top tax avoiders – opposed creating an UN intergovernmental tax body that was backed by the group of G77[2] developing countries. Such a body would be able to address illicit financial flows that rob developing countries of crucial resources as well as monitor taxation policies that affect the capacity of national governments to provide access to education, healthcare and social protection.

In addition to the failure to address the international tax system, accountability for private sector financing is still a major concern. Private sector resources in the form of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) continue to be promoted as the silver bullet for global development financing, but with insufficient binding accountability mechanisms to ensure their activities are in compliance with human rights standards and norms, including environmental and social safeguards.

The FfD3 outcome is bound to have a significant impact in the politics and debates of post-2015 negotiations. While developing countries have welcomed the advance on issues around infrastructure, debt sustainability, technology and capacity building, much remains unmet. For example, developed countries still resist assuming their historical responsibilities as mandated by the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR)[3], which stems from the Rio92’ sustainable development process, the direct predecessor of the current SDGs process. This issue is bound to generate further debate in the coming weeks as it directly links to the funding and implementation of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

Another challenge on the road ahead has to do with the separate yet connecting follow-up and review of both the FfD3 agreed commitments and the SDGs processes with clear timetables. In this regard, it is necessary to find synergies while observing the corresponding mandates and follow-up mechanisms for each process as a way to strengthen (not reduce) commitments in both processes. There is no doubt that mobilizing resources will need a strong global partnership.

Old and new concerns for gender equality and women’s rights

Women’s rights organizations and feminist activists have expressed a series of concerns on the outcome document of the post-2015 agenda. For example, The Post-2015 Women’s Coalition released a response to the zero draft on June 16. In addition, the Women’s Major Group released a set of 10 Red flags on June 22th highlighting areas that need to be strengthened in the upcoming negotiations.

Speaking specifically to the issue of funding for women’s rights and gender equality, UN Women called to the Addis FfD3 Conference for transformative financing to end gender inequality by 2030.  The UN entity promises to work with Member States to implement an Action Plan on Transformative Financing for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, to ensure that the gender commitments that were included in the agreed AAAA text will be turned into actions.

AWID’s key messages for the coming weeks:

  • The level of ambition needs to be elevated, while touching on key goals that countries have outlined for the agenda. Multidimensional poverty needs to be addressed from a human rights perspective, as one of multiple challenges that must urgently be addressed to achieve sustainable development. References to human rights need to be stronger, with concrete recommendations regarding the key principles of non-discrimination, equality, non-retrogression, and maximum available resources.
  • The outcome document must recognize and address power imbalances and structural barriers in line with the CBDR principle -  reaffirming a global partnership based on principles of equity, human rights, international solidarity, mutual and differentiated responsibilities; stronger mutual accountability mechanisms; wealth redistribution, and where gender equality, women´s human right and empowerment are central.
  • Recognize combating gender inequality as a key-cross cutting goal and issue, as well as eliminating discrimination of any kind, and ensuring a rebalance of wealth, resources and power including redistribution of unpaid care work. Gender equality is a basic human right, a fundamental value for social justice, not just a means for economic growth or prosperity. Implementation must build on, and carry forward existing commitments to gender equality and the empowerment of women, such as those contained in the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
  • The goal of the agenda is economic development, which should not be conflated with economic growth. Economic growth does not always lead to development, and in fact can undermine it, especially when it results in greater inequalities within and between countries.
  • Equitable and progressive tax systems at the national level are critical for the mobilization of the maximum available resources to advance human rights, including access to adequate public services, especially those related to the delivery of health care, education, water, sanitation and energy.
  • All development actors, and the private sector in particular, need to be responsible for their actions, with clear and binding accountability mechanisms showing compliance with human rights standards and norms, including environmental and social safeguards. Timelines for reporting and evaluation must be agreed ex-ante and with full participation of the affected communities, including women and girls, indigenous communities and people facing structural discrimination. The post-2015 framework still has the chance to recognize the important process unfolding in the UN Human Rights Council to develop a legally binding instrument on Transnational Corporations for its potential to address these crucial questions.
  • International public financing commitments and obligations by governments must be realized, including on overseas development assistance (ODA). The share of ODA for achieving gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights at large should be scaled up, ensuring that there are year-on-year increases by an agreed upon level. Additionally, ODA allocated to standalone gender equality programming should be increased, and a sufficient portion allocated to women’s organizations directly.
  • Civil society participation in all stages of design, implementation and review of the SDGs is a key issue at stake, considering the eroded role of States and the lack of enabling environment guaranteeing meaningful participation, including from women’s rights advocates and organizations. References to the situation of women human rights defender (WHRDs) in particular are missing despite UN resolution 68/181, which reinforces that protection of WHRDs is essential for peace, security, development and the respect of all our human rights.

How to keep informed and get involved

Follow the latest AWID coverage on the post-2015 process here and via Twitter and Facebook.
See the recent documents produced by the Women’s Major Group and the Post-2015 Women’s Coalition.

[1] See for example, the contributions from the Women’s Major Group and Post-2015 Women’s Coalition

[2] The Group of 77 is the largest intergovernmental organization of developing countries in the United Nations, which provides the means for the countries of the South to articulate and promote their collective economic interests and enhance their joint negotiating capacity. Learn more here:

[3] This principle argues that developed countries, which carry a larger share of responsibility for causing environmental crises, must take the lead in solving the problems, including through financial means.