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The UN Post-2015 Development Agenda – A Critical Analysis

FRIDAY FILE - As 2015 and the deadline for the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaches – with progress limited, narrow and uneven – and on the heels of a disappointing Rio +20 Conference on Sustainable Development, the UN is advancing a process to define a new global development agenda beyond 2015.

Building on the Friday File recently published by AWID, this article presents a critical analysis of the Post-2015 Development process thus far and key information on how feminists and women’s rights groups are organizing to influence this important process.

By Natalie Raaber

The elements of this new development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (mandated as an outcome of Rio +20) are being discussed and negotiated in a context of challenges and uncertainties. The end of poverty and inequalities will be impossible if we do not have additional resources and critically challenge the root causes of the multiple crises.

The fall-out of the 2008 financial crisis continues: the disproportionate impact on particular women, the intense challenges women face in maintaining livelihoods and the erosion of women’s human rights persists. Responses to the crisis have failed to address the root cause – a failed (in ideology and in practice) mainstream development model. Marginalized communities continue to bear the brunt of the crisis’ fallout as well as the harsh austerity measures governments, particularly in the North, have implemented. Insecurity has risen, social safety nets, where they existed, have diminished and unemployment (and underemployment) has grown, deepening the crisis of decent work, with youth and migrants particularly hard hit.[1]As a result, inequality has risen within and between countries.[2]

Challenges and hopes for the Post-2015 global development agenda

The content, processes and possible impact of this agenda are still vague with little clarity about the connection of the post-2015 process to actual policy making. The context is one in which the UN is seen as weak with limited credibility and resources and in need of significant reform to be effective in addressing the world’s most pressing issues; yet, women’s rights advocates in many parts of the world are seeing this as a potential opportunity to renovate the UN’s mission towards countries in the South, to reframe the development model and pressure for a more democratic, accountable and inclusive UN and international development system that will address the structural factors at the root of multiple crises, deepening inequalities, poverty and environmental degradation.

While the MDGs became an important tool for sustaining global attention and galvanizing international support to promote development, they had definite shortcomings. The MDG3 specifically called for the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment, but overall, the MDGs failed to recognize that gender equality is not just an objective in itself but that it is essential to achieving all of the development goals. Formulated to support a neo-liberal model of development, the goals were also not necessarily supportive of women’s or marginalized groups’ rights – also representing women as vulnerable victims rather than change agents – and did not analyze nor address the root causes of under-development.

A new development framework must draw from lessons learned from the MDGs: critically question the long-standing assumptions driving dominant development models and be based on different macroeconomic policies and ways of understanding development beyond economic growth. Development must therefore confront the injustices of the neoliberal model and patriarchal societies, enable social and gender justice and be sustainable, applying an "ecosystem lens" to the challenges the world faces.[3]

Additionally, post-2015 discussions cannot be seen in isolation from other on-going processes; policies and frameworks that shape a country’s development possibilities and the advancement of women’s human rights are being hashed out in different spaces. Inside the UN, for example, development policy is being discussed in the review of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD+20), the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the Conference of Parties (COP), the negotiations of the Sustainable Development Goals and the work of the UN Development Cooperation Forum (UN DCF), to name a few. There is a need for strong advocacy at the national and local levels to hold States accountable for implementing existing human rights agreements.

Finally, excessive and complex consultations do not necessarily lead to meaningful participation and success will be contingent on a genuinely participatory process, in which civil society's participation is not simply an exercise in ticking boxes on consultation, but rather, one where the diverse voices, demands and calls are taken on board and clearly reflected in the documents that feed into the official process.

Engagement by women’s rights and feminist groups

Over the past months, a women’s coalition on post-2015[4] has been emerging, developing demands for a post-2015 framework. The coalition thus far is comprised of organizations working on a range of issues from a women’s rights, feminist and social justice perspective – including women, peace and security; sexual and reproductive health and rights; governance; HIV and AIDS; sustainability; climate change; macroeconomic policies and movement building. In addition to an emerging global women’s coalition, broader civil society platforms have developed, including Beyond 2015. Some feminist and women’s rights groups are working within that platform to influence broader civil society messages from a feminist perspective.

Among others, we highlight the recent Africa Women's Regional Civil Society Consultation on the Post 2015 Development Frameworkthat took place in Monrovia, Liberia from October 21-22, 2012. Representatives of regional, sub-regional, national and grassroots women’s organizations and networks participated, highlighting priority issues and recommendations for action on women’s human rights in Africa. These recommendations will feed into wider processes, including the Africa wide CSO consultation.

During the beginning of November, several women’s and civil society networks also gathered in Bangkok for the Regional Dialogue on Sustainable Development and the Post-2015 Development Agenda[5].Issuing the statement, The Future Asia Pacific Women Want, they declared that,

In the Asia-Pacific region today, it is clear that social inequalities – of gender, disability, caste, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity among others – result in systematic exclusion and discrimination. International human rights norms and standards may have already been established but many governments are still not meeting their obligations as duty-bearers. These challenges are particularly of concern for women workers’ rights, for women in conflict and transitions to peace, for sexual and reproductive health and rights, and for women’s political agency.

For each of these particular concerns presented, they provide analysis of key challenges faced and also include recommendations for interventions needed in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.

The Gender and Development Network from the UK has produced a briefing as well, Gender Equality and the Post-2015 Framework, which argues that gender equality must be central to a post-2015 framework and proposes the shape of a new gender equality goal.

A Civil Society Conference on the post-2015 process called Advancing the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda: Reconfirming Rights – Recognising Limits – Redefining Goals[6] will be held from 26-28 March, 2013 in Bonn, Germany. According to the conveners “the conference strives to bring together key actors in the Post-2015 Sustainable Development discussion helping them to exchange information, learn from each other benefiting from our sector’s diversity and agree [on] joint demands and strategy where this is possible. This could be a moment for feminist and women’s rights activists and organizations from different regions to influence broader civil society messaging, as well as come together to self-organize across regions. But this will depend on funding, among other factors. The deadline for applications to participation in this conference is January 13, 2013.

Various women’s groups – including the emerging women’s coalition – are engaging in the official UN led processes in different ways, through submissions to the consultations, at the national, regional and global levels; advocacy within and through Beyond 2015 (one of the CSO platforms created for the post-2015 process); meetings with UN agencies, political decision-makers and the High Level Panel (HLP) as well as outreach to local groups. It will be essential that the messages put forward in the UN led consultations actually reach and are included in the HLP report – being drafted by lead author, Homi Kharas – and feed into the intergovernmental process.

Key messages from women’s groups: A work in progress

The emerging post-2015 women’s coalition’s statement outlines the initial perspective of the coalition, which calls for any UN post-2015 framework to be explicitly shaped and grounded in human rights norms and agreements, including the principles of equality and non-discrimination – and that gender equality, women’s human rights and empowerment be at the core.

There is a concern that a rush to define goals takes attention and energy from more fundamental questions and discussions crucial for building an effective development framework for post-2015 and obscures the fact that other widely internationally agreed upon goals on human rights are still far from being implemented. It will, therefore, be important to examine the type of development we want to see and rethinking the ideology underlying the mainstream development model is critical.

A post-2015 framework must recognize the ways in which macroeconomic policies – including those espoused by IFIs and financial flows in general (trade, debt payments, foreign direct investment, taxation etc.) shapes women’s human rights and possibilities.

While broader outreach and an open and fully participatory process to the development of a post-2015 framework is welcome, it will be critical that the outcomes of consultations are actually taken on board. If genuine and meaningful participation by a range of stakeholders is the goal, the UN must make all information on post-2015 available in a timely manner and in multiple languages – and must hold information sharing sessions with groups at the local and national levels not just at the international level.

While it may be politically convenient to present the HLP and other decision makers with a few key messages as civil society, the HLP, the UN and others must understand that civil society is diverse (in political ideology and practice) in their diagnoses of the present global challenges, the critiques leveled and the recommendations offered. The UN must not conflate the array of civil society voices to one platform or group but rather reach out to a wide range of groups, particularly feminist and women’s rights groups from the grassroots to the national, regional and global levels.

Funding for collective mobilization among women’s rights and feminist groups to coordinate among themselves to influence the process is essential. Engaging in consultations and advocacy, both global and national, takes significant time and resources and the UN and the donor community have a role to play here.

A monitoring and accountability system that builds on already existing human rights accountability mechanisms and that can hold all governments, North and South, subject to review for their obligations is needed.

The task ahead requires considerable debate and discussion on these and other critical questions before proceeding to draft a set of goals that essentially reflect an updated version of the MDGs. It is important that we are able to introduce messages and demands from ongoing and emerging movements and other expressions of social unrest (eg. indignados, Occupy, ongoing mobilizations in the MENA region and elsewhere) that are key to this agenda. At AWID, we believe this is another opportunity to strengthen the transnational women and feminist movement and solidarity and to push for development that is inclusive of visions, strategies and approaches that emerge from local forms of resistance and struggles. We must strongly advocate for a development framework that serves the full range of women’s human rights, addressing the historical and structural factors that perpetuate crises, insecurity, inequality and violations of human rights.

[1] In Spain, for example, youth unemployment has reached 50%. See: See: ILO Global Employment Trends 2012:;

[2] and

[3] See AWID’s paper on Addresing Inequalities - Getting at the roots: Reintegrating human rights & gender equality in post-2015 development agenda

[4] Organizations participating in this early stage of the creation of the coalition are: Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), Baha’i International Community, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Feminist Task Force, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders - International Civil Society Action Network, Huairou Commission, International Women’s Health Coalition, Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), World Federalist Movement – Institute for Global Policy.

[5] Meeting Convened by Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) and Asia Pacific Gender and Macroeconomic Network (APGEM) in collaboration with United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

[6] Supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), the conference is being shaped by a Steering Committee composed of many of the major international civil society networks such as CIVICUS, Beyond 2015, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP), Global Campaign for Climate Action (GCCA), Social Watch, VENRO and the Baltic Sea Forum.