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Some Reactions To The HLP Report On The Post-2015 Agenda from a Women’s Rights Perspective

FRIDAY FILE – AWID offers a collection of initial reactions from women's and human rights advocates and organizations to the recommendations made on how a development agenda post-2015 could look. The first formal proposal was presented in a report prepared by the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons (HLP) released to the public on May 30, 2013.

The HLP, a group of 27 individual “experts”[1], was appointed by the UN Secretary General in June 2012 to gather inputs and produce a final report containing recommendations on the framework for a new development agenda post-2015, when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire.

A series of consultations at country, regional and international levels in meetings and online were supposed to contribute to the substance of that report. However, many civil society organizations, including women’s rights advocates, have expressed frustration with the results that fall short of calls for bold transformations, and that ignore many of the recommendations made by affected people and communities. Many believe the report puts business and economic growth at the centre instead of people and human rights.

How far is gender equality and women’s rights integrated?

Despite the inclusion of a gender equality goal, women’s rights and gender equality advocates across the board are concerned about the lack of an integrated gender perspective throughout the entire report. The Post-2015 Women’s Coalition[2] released a detailed reaction to the report stating, “the goals are missing critical inter-linkages, specifically in terms of women's rights and gender equality. Targets related to energy, agriculture, transport, deforestation and food security need to articulate the inter-linkages, e.g., in terms of women's access to and control of natural resources, their role in sustainable energy solutions and capacity building, or they will not be prioritized” (p. 5). Further, they say the report “fails to […] provide a transformational approach to address […] growing feminization and intergenerational transfer of poverty”.

Members of the Rio Women’s Major Group (WMG)[3] note in a joint reflection that although the HLP report says it addresses gender equality as a cross-cutting issue, “at close scrutiny, neither the narrative nor the goals and targets framework go far enough in identifying how women's and girls' experiences of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination result in deeper experiences of poverty, deprivation and social marginalization; how women and girls face unequal and unfair burdens in sustaining the well-being of their societies and economies in both the wage and the care economy; and how women face multiple violations of their human rights that obstruct their equitable participation in economic, social and political life”.

Several women’s rights organizations also note that the report makes no specific recommendation to allocate resources for advancing women’s rights and gender equality. The WMG says “We appreciate efforts to define clear financing targets to achieve the goals, but we believe the report should also have given attention to how funding is delivered in ways that maximize its impact. Research from recent years has shown that effective financing for gender equality moves away from fragmented, short-term funding cycles towards longer term partnerships of predictable, flexible, and multiyear support.”

On the other hand, almost all women’s groups that responded to the HLP report acknowledged some improvements over the MDGs framework in terms of including concrete recommendations on women's and girls' empowerment and gender equality[4]. However, the HLP misses the opportunity to build the targets on the internationally agreed normative framework of women's rights as human rights, failing to recognize the declarations, plans of action and subsequent agreements stemming from the Conferences of Vienna, Cairo and Beijing just to name a few.

The International Women's Health Coalition notes, "we worry that the High Level Panel did not get it exactly right. Sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights are well-defined in international agreements, such as the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, but they tend to be a political lightning rod especially when government diplomats are not familiar with the terminology or just why it is so critical that they be addressed.[…].”

The Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development (APWLD) also nuanced the report’s recommendations pointing to the fact that "while [these targets] are significant, the report fails to fully recognize that women constitute the majority of the world’s poor, make up the majority of workers in the most vulnerable sectors: domestic workers, garment workers, subsistence farming and suffer disproportionately from climate disasters that they are least responsible for. Women need more than non-discrimination measures. They need real economic transformation, redistribution and justice. They need to have a genuine say over development, their bodies, their communities and global systems.”

Regarding the situation of young women and girls, the Post 2015 Women's Coalition notes that the report attempts to "position young people and adolescents as a cross-cutting theme by highlighting education (albeit overlooking the discussion on transition to secondary and quality education), access to health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, and job creation. The report opted to address these concerns from an instrumentalist approach rather than a human rights one."

In a similar line, RESURJ, a global alliance of young feminist activists working across generations towards realizing sexual and reproductive justice, stated that "It is a shame that the report seems to view young people as key groups within an economic framework necessary to be healthy, educated and employed, in order to achieve greater economic development. This lack of a human rights perspective obfuscates the current opportunities to do not only what is necessary for economic development, but also for social, economic, and gender justice.”

Was a human rights perspective integrated?

Reactions to this seem to be almost unanimous across human rights organizations - the HLP report does not go far enough despite the initial rhetoric affirming that, “new goals and targets need to be grounded in respect for universal human rights”.

The Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) notes that "overall, the report exhibits a fragmented reading of human rights, at times reinforcing the out-dated notion that civil and political freedoms are more ‘fundamental’ than economic, social and cultural rights. In particular, the human rights to adequate health, to social protection and to decent work are undercut by their treatment as aspirational goals, whose fulfillment is contingent on national circumstances."

Further, Amnesty International points out that, “human rights are too often narrowly framed in terms of civil and political rights with lack of explicit reference to economic, social and cultural rights. […] Although in places it recognizes economic and social rights, in other places such rights are referred to as 'basic needs', which is a backward step particularly given states’ existing obligations under international law”.

The response by the Campaign for People's Goals rightly notes that, "disappointingly, the right to development makes a fleeting appearance in the principles to underpin global partnerships but is not connected to substantive recommendations to realize this right and to ensure that it underpins all rights enumerated throughout the text. […] This is a missed opportunity to link the human rights accountability mechanisms with comprehensive development policies."

Social Watch asserts that “instead of advancing a new development agenda this report lowers the bar, both in terms of the objectives proposed as well as conceptually. It is not even an expression of minimum common denominator, because on most of the issues it deals with there is already agreed UN language that goes beyond the report recommendations.”

The CESR succinctly sums it up, “Human Rights norms and principles should not be considered an optional extra. Instead, they represent the pre-existing and universal normative standards, which must underpin all aspects of the agenda, from its guiding vision and goals, to targets and indicators, and systems of both implementation and review. Anything less than this risks resulting in yet another round of unfulfilled promises.”

Business at the centre

The privileged role that the HLP report gives to the business and corporate sector in driving development is also cause for concern for many CSOs, particularly because its contrasts with a very weak framework to hold corporations accountable. As CESR points out "the report promotes a woefully inadequate approach to business regulation, arguing that business should not be 'hamstrung by unnecessarily complicated regulations'.

Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) also calls attention "to the consistent foregrounding of the business sector as a fundamental driver of development throughout the HLP Report. […] The private sector must be accountable to governments and citizens on human rights obligations and environmental standards, including extraterritorial obligations. This is especially the case today, where state and non-state military-industrial investments have major powerful vested interest in international development.”

What next?

Important as it is, the HLP report is only one input, among many, to the UN Secretary General's report due for the UN General Assembly in September 2013, to guide member states in their deliberations. Women's right organizations are working together with human rights organizations and other social movements to push for a better framework than the one contained in the HLP report. They are contacting government representatives and putting forward innovative proposals, while also participating in the processes following the Rio+20 Conference that is debating a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that should merge with the post-2015 agenda.

You can submit your own responses to the HLP report via the online consultation set up by the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) until July 12, 2013.

See more in AWID's special coverage of the post-2015 development agenda from a women's rights perspective.

[1] The Panel is co-chaired by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, and it includes leaders from civil society, private sector and government. See more at

[2] 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. See more at

[3] The Women’s Major Group brings together 400 organizations and individuals working on sustainable development from a women’s rights perspective at local, national, regional and global level. More in

[4] Namely to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against girls and women (target 2a); End child marriage (target 2b); ensure the equal right of women to own and inherit property, sign a contract, register a business and open a bank account (target 2c); eliminate discrimination against women in political, economic, and public life (target 2d); ensure universal sexual and reproductive health and rights (target 4d)