Reflections on the first week of the General Assembly: More or less on gender equality?

By UN Women, Intergovernmental Support Division

As leaders from around the world discuss current challenges, and their expectations for the future at the 68th session of the UN General Assembly, gender equality issues are receiving relatively modest attention.

The UN Secretary-General raised expectations when he emphasised in his opening statement that women’s empowerment and rights were central to the goals pursued by the UN, and called on world leaders to “Let the 21st century be the century of women.”  By the mid-point of the debate on Thursday, 26 September, only a very small number of world leaders had forcefully and extensively discussed the centrality of gender equality and women’s empowerment to their nations’, and global, economy, productivity and wellbeing.   The few who did, voiced strong support for UN Women and its role in leading global advocacy and support for gender equality and women’s rights. 

Leaders also voiced support for continued attention to gender equality in the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), recognising that progress towards Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3, on gender equality and women’s empowerment, and MDG 5, on maternal health, lagged behind expectations.  This was similarly echoed in the statements made at the Special Event of the President of the General Assembly on the MDG, held on 25 September.

Leaders widely deplored the plight, and killing, of women and girls in conflict situations, and stated their commitment to the promotion and protection of women’s human rights, and for vulnerable groups of women.

At the inaugural meeting of the High level Political Forum on Sustainable Development held on 24 September, a number of Member States underscored that gender equality and women’s empowerment remain a key priority in the post-2015 development agenda and in the achievement of sustainable development. The Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF),in her opening remarks, mentioned gender equity as one of three priorities for economic growth. She noted that ignoring women’s contributions leads to lower levels of growth. In his closing remarks, the President of the General Assembly referred to gender equality as crucial to human progress.

At the Special Event on the MDGs, Member States reported on their achievements in meeting the MDG targets, including on education and maternal health, but equally stressed that further efforts were needed to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women. On priorities for the post-2015 development framework, a focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment was underscored, covering women’s access to sexual and reproductive health, maternal health, education, labour markets, and science, technology and innovation. The importance of promoting women’s leadership, including in the political arena, and the centrality of gender equality in the achievement of other goals were stressed.  Equally, there was a call to address gender-based violence, as well as ensuring universal access to justice.