The UN Global Leader's Meeting on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The meeting was co-hosted by the People's Republic of China and UN Women. During the meeting, more than 80 heads of state and government or their UN representative committed to concrete and measurable action steps for change in his or her respective country. This event brought the issue of gender equality to the forefront of the UN Summit held from September 25-27, 2015. The UN Summit was organized in order to adopt Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals on January 1, 2016.
This meeting highlighted the central roles which gender equality and women's empowerment play in sustainable development. In 1995, 189 nations committed themselves to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action at the Fourth World Conference on Women which took place in China. This declaration laid out a comprehensive strategy for attaining gender equality and advancing the rights of women and girls everywhere. Since the Beijing Declaration, five-year reviews have been in place as a progress marker, but much work remains to be done before women everywhere are fully equal in law and in practice. Now in 2015, while the nations of the world met in NY to commit themselves to the post-2015 agenda, UN Women together with China seized the opportunity to position the issue of gender equality at the center of the strategy for sustainable development moving forward.
The format of this global leader's meeting was what is called a "commit event.' The objective of the event was to provide a platform for country leaders to re-commit themselves collectively to the goal of gender equality and women's empowerment by re-committing to the Beijing Declaration, now in its 20th year. The meeting was also intended to garner financial contributions to be used in support of the realization of the objectives of the Beijing Declaration. Chinese President Xi Jin Ping, who co-chaired the first hour of the meeting with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, opened the event and pledged $10 million to UN Women in support of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his opening remarks, "As Heads of State and Government you have the power and the responsibility to ensure that gender equality is-and remains-a national priority."
Throughout the day, one leader after another shared his or her determination to end gender inequality in his or her respective country by 2030. Remarks were limited to Heads of Sate and many individually addressed the particular challenges which they face in their home country. The Honorable Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania, spoke about the need to increase access to credit to women and the need for improving employment programs for women and girls in Albania. He said, "The government that I lead has placed gender equality at the center of its agenda." H. E. Natasha Stott Despoja, Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls, addressed violence against women, committing new funds to "primary prevention initiatives to change the attitudes of young people towards violence against women and their children." Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf each declared his and her respective country's commitment to ending the practice of female genital mutilation. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated broadly, "We need Women for peace. We need women for development."
Leaders also shared their successes in implementing the Beijing Declaration over the last twenty years. Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, spoke about success achieved in the area of female employment, sharing that more than 90,000 women entered the Japanese labor market in the last three years. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto shared the success of a political reform that required 50 percent of candidates to the legislature be women. As a result, today the elected Chamber of Duties in Mexico is 42 percent women. Namibian Deputy Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah likewise shared his country's success with female participation in government. In the Namibian National Assembly, female representation has increased from 24 percent in 2009 to 46 percent today.
It was an uplifting day, with 89 countries sharing successes and re-committing themselves to the goals of gender equality and female empowerment. The day was brought to a close by closing remarks from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He shared his observations from the day, stating,
"With our leaders on the podium all talking about women and girls, we looked into the future we want: where women are not treated as a small interest group but as the majority issue that is mainstreamed in every facet of life and at the highest tables."
He concluded by urging leaders to get to work and "Step it up." He set the year 2020 as the time for re-evaluation and re-direction, if needed, and he urged those present, "We therefore urge you not just to think about 2030 but about 2016, 2017, 2018 because every year we will report on the progress that we are making."
During the UN Global Leader's Meeting on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment, a parallel event took place at CUNY's Graduate Center. The event, entitled "Civil Society Watch: Governments' Commitments to Action" was co-sponsored by the NGO CSW New York and Planned Parenthood Federation of America in partnership with Bahai International Community, Center for Women's Global Leadership and Post-2015 Women's Coalition. The event was supported by UN Women. Deputy Director of the WFWPI UN Office, Alexa Ward and WFWPI UN representative, Nandi Bengu, had the opportunity to attend the parallel event.
Following the speakers in the opening session, the conference participants attended one of five breakout sessions. The NGO CSW NY event organized breakout sessions which provided participants the opportunity to give recommendations to UN Women which will be followed up on during the UN Women strategic meeting in November 2015 as well as at the CSW in March 2016. The first breakout sessions covered the topics of accountability; civil society action and community pledges; civil society access; youth; and outreach, songs and stories. Mrs. Ward joined breakout session two, entitled "Commitment and Strategies for Implementing and Monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals." Mrs. Bengu attended breakout session three, entitled "Beyond What is Given: Strategies for Increasing Civil Society's Access to the UN."
At the conclusion of the discussions, the entire conference gathered together in order to share the result of each breakout session. In the session on accountability, participants discussed strategies for holding leaders accountable to their commitments to gender equality, such as social media campaigns and the development of scorecards. In the session on civil society action and community pledges, the main issue was gender equitable development. The session on civil society access called on UN Women directly to do more in the area of partnerships with and ongoing support of civil society. The session on youth expressed concern that youth are only mentioned as a target group within the SDGs, rather than as active participants in the implementation of the SDGs. The final session was more of a networking opportunity than a discussion. The event concluded, just as at the UN, with a call for action and implementation.
September 27th was a hopeful day for women everywhere. More and more the role of women in peacemaking and development is being recognized and appreciated. While progress was made in the last 20 years since the Beijing Declaration, there is still much to be done. Now is the time for women and men everywhere to take ownership and take action.