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Post-2015 Development Agenda - A Strong Call for Human Rights and Justice for All

FRIDAY FILE – From 20-22 March, about 250 people, largely from civil society organizations (CSOs) and another third from other stakeholders such as the United Nations (UN), gathered in Bonn, Germany for an international conference on Advancing the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda. There was an active group of women’s rights organizations and advocates who made it clear that “We will not be mainstreamed into a polluted stream!”

By Anne Schoenstein[1]

One of the overriding messages at the conference was that any development agenda must be rooted in existing international human rights architecture, which includes economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR), women's rights (including sexual and reproductive rights), rights towork and rights at work and rights of indigenous people, socially excluded communities, children, migrants, people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities (SOGI) and those living with disabilities, among others.[2]

Exchanges, demands and cautions

The meeting was a space to exchange ideas about the advances, challenges and ways forward for two distinct but intersecting processes – (i) the intergovernmental discussions on sustainable development goals (SDGs) from the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20); and (ii) the UN led process on the new development framework that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) post 2015. AWID, with other women’s rights organizations and CSOs contributed to the conceptualization[3]of the meeting and worked hard to make their demands and proposals heard. They also worked to ensure that the debates went beyond mere discussions on goals and targets; with a strong call for human rights, including women’s rights, to be central for truly transformational changes to result.

The three-day agenda included plenary discussions, but was mainly structured in parallel sessions, which included thematic debates and exchanges on coordination and mobilization. CSOs used the presence of High Level Panel (HLP) and official post 2015 development planning members as an opportunity to highlight, the importance of addressing the structural factors that hinder poverty eradication, the fulfillment of women’s rights and development for all; importantly addressing inequalities in all their forms. All of this in light of un-encouraging speculation about the forthcoming HLP report.

There were several outcome statements[4] from the Bonn conference that were developed by thematic and other groupings during the meeting. Some of them specifically addressed the HLP meeting in Bali following the Bonn conference; and drew a “A Red Flag for the Post 2015 High Level Panel“. Others aimed at filtering into and contributing to shape the overall post 2015 agenda moving forward. The collective women’s rights organizations and advocates statement cautions against developing another set of reductive goals, targets and indicators that ignore the transformational changes required to address the failure of the current development model rooted in unsustainable production and consumption patterns exacerbating gender, race and class inequities.

The statement calls for deep and structural changes to existing global systems of power, decision-making and resource sharing; and points out that this includes enacting policies that recognize the unequal and unfair burdens of women and girls in sustaining societal wellbeing and economies and that this intensifies in times of economic and ecological crises. Demands in the statement include: that gender equality and women’s human rights be prioritized throughout the post-2015 development framework; that the human rights architecture be its basis; and that it include concrete means of implementation that prioritize public financing over public-private partnerships in order to realise states obligations to allocate the maximum availability of resources. The agenda should also promote innovative, democratic financing mechanisms, including long-term, flexible support for civil society organizations, including women's organizations.

The Gender Equality to End Poverty statement stresses that first and foremost, combating poverty, especially stemming and reversing the feminization of poverty and the structural drivers of women’s poverty and inequality, and addressing the root causes of inequality and poverty is essential in developing a new framework, which has sustainable development at its core. Moreover, that overcoming all forms of gender-based violence is essential to ending poverty.

Going beyond rhetoric - making a human rights based framework a reality[5]

The human rights statement for all - based on the thematic discussions in Bonn – underscores that a human rights based framework moves from a model of charity to one of justice; based on the inherent dignity of people as human rights-holders. This model sees domestic governments, as primary duty-bearers, and all development stakeholders sharing common but differentiated responsibilities. The new framework should be designed as a tool to empower and enable people—individually and collectively—to monitor and hold governments, businesses, international institutions and other development actors accountable for their conduct, because it affects people’s lives within and beyond borders. A sustainable development framework founded in human rights can serve as an instrument for stakeholders to address the structural obstacles to sustainable, inclusive and just development; and stimulate implementation and enforcement of all human rights—civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, the right to development and to environmental protection.

The statement further highlights that the post-2015 framework must, at the very least, respect and reflect pre-existing human rights legal norms, standards and political commitments to which governments have already agreed. International human rights, environmental and humanitarian law, the Millennium Declaration, as well as related international consensus documents agreed in Rio, Vienna, Cairo, Beijing, Monterrey and Copenhagenand their follow-up agreements must be its non-negotiable normative base. Along with economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, any successor framework must include commitments to protect freedom of association, expression, assembly and political participation if it is to ensure an enabling environment for an empowered civil society, and protect human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, as central agents to translating international political commitments into lived realities. Human rights principles and standards must go beyond the rhetorical, and have real operational significance.

From Bonn to Bali: growing concern and disappointment

The HLP met following the Bonn conference from 25-27 March in Bali to discuss opportunities to shape a global consensus on the new development agenda, as well as strategies for implementation. Several CSO representatives travelled from Bonn to Bali to strongly urge for a more ambitious framework for transformative, universal, people centred development, as stated in the Civil Society Communiqué.

The results of the Bali meeting can be considered poor in terms of substance, because there are no advancements on the structural changes required to develop and implement new models of consumption and production and promote inclusive growth. Discussions about the environment, the economy and sustainable development were superficial, with no clear vision for a new, sustainable, inclusive and just development framework. The absence of human rights language; combined with growing recognition, and space being given to private sector stakeholders, as drivers for development, among other things, added to the disappointment of many women’s organizations and CSOs engaging in the process. Norma Maldonado, a Guatemalan human rights activist branded the procedure as “shallow, [and said] consultation on the internet is a joke…”.

CSOs in Bali collectively reacted and raised concern about, among others, the private sector being increasingly emphasised by governments as an important development actor, despite lacking strong regulation and accountability. It will be important to ensure that the conditions for private sector engagement do not risk undermining development gains, through sharply escalating human inequalities, rather than supporting them.


Next steps

The final report from the HLP is expected to be handed over to the UN Secretary General in May, after which, he will issue his annual report in September that will present results on accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and proposals for the post-2015 agenda to the General Assembly (GA). Once the HLP report is available it will be crucial for women’s rights organizations to analyze the information and take stock of the lessons learned from the post 2015 process and consultations so far. It will be important to develop a strategy for the road to the September GA and beyond. Timely information, process transparency and resources are also needed to engage and influence the agenda in a substantive way. It is imperative that different development stakeholders, including women’ s organizations and other CSOs in all their diversity, work together to strategize on a collective and inclusive agenda.

Stay Informed!

Keep up to date with information on the post-2015 process, including debates from a critical women’s rights perspective, for example through the Post-2015 Women’s Coalition website and newsletter.

The Post-2015 Women’s Coalition is a coalition of feminist, women’s rights, women’s development, grassroots and social justice organizations working to challenge and reframe the global development agenda. It aims at claiming a space for women´s rights organizations and advocates, expanding their participation in the process and providing substantive inputs.


[1] The author thanks Alejandra Scampini for her contributions to this article.

[2] Source: Preamble to conference statements:

[3] The Post-2015 Women’s Coalition and the Women’s Major Group were, represented by DAWN, part of the Steering Committee of the conference.

[4] Given the diversity of CSOs there was agreement that moving forward it will be important to reflect this diversity and thus have several statements coming out of the conference instead of just one CSO position. The statements can get used for advocacy and policy purposes in the process moving forward and are available online, together with further conference documentation and a preamble accompanying the statements:

[5] This section presents parts of the human rights for all statement coming out as a follow up to the discussions in Bonn and that will be open shortly for endorsements at the WorldWeWant website.