Promoting Equality, Empowerment and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for AllSeptember 27, 2013 | United Nations, New York

High-Level Task Force Members emphasized the rights of women and young people during UN Week.

It’s an understatement to say that it was busy at the United Nations as diplomats, dignitaries and activists, including more than 1,000 representatives of civil society, gathered here for the opening week of the General Assembly, where one day was spent reviewing progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and chart the way forward.

But in spite of the crowds and the procedural, logistical and security measures in place, members of the High-Level Task Force made their presence felt, through speaking engagements, advocacy opportunities, alliance forging and generally sizing up the complex and fluid policy landscape.

Some thirty side events organized by Member States and NGOs were directly related to Task Force priorities, and most of those were attended or tracked by members.

Task Force Members in New York this week included Maria Antonieta Alcalde, Renate Bähr, Lola Dare, Bience Gawanas, HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Pinar Ilkkaracan, Musimbi Kanyoro, Alessandra Nilo, Gita Sen, and Keizo Takemi as well as Darren Walker, the newly appointed President of the Ford Foundation and the Task Force’s newest Member.

Task Force Members contribute in different capacities

At various side events, several members spoke eloquently on Task Force issues. For example, at a panel on Freedom from Violence for Women and Girls, convened by the Governments of Finland and Liberia with UN Women, Ms. Bähr shared Task Force priorities for eliminating violence for women and girls in the post-2015 framework.

In presenting the views of Southern civil society at a side event on Major Challenges related to Global Health Beyond 2015, Ms. Dare discussed the ‘One Voice’ Coalition and Campaign recommendations for action in six key action areas. She also participated in The Road Forward; What’s Next for Global Health?

HRH Crown Princess Mary offered remarks from the floor at an event on the elimination of female genital mutilation as called for by UN GA resolution 67/146.

Dr. Kanyoro called for an independent goal and specific targets related to gender equality, as well as investments in women in the new global agenda in an interview captured on a Guardian podcast, entitled “Big ideas for post-2015 development agenda”.

In addition to several speaking engagements on women’s health, rights and freedom from violence, Dr. Sen participated, on behalf of the Women’s Major Group, in the inaugural meeting of the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which will be the main forum for the follow-up and implementation of sustainable development commitments and objectives, within the context of the post-2015 development agenda.

In her speech, Dr. Sen places sexual and reproductive health and rights in the context of core sustainable development issues. She also appeared at a high level Big Debate to be televised by SABC on ‘Maternal Health: Why are women dying?’ She also participated in a panel on the Power of Numbers, which brought together a team of researchers to critically analyze the MDGs framework and the measurements used for lessons learned to take into account in crafting the new development agenda.

The Outcome

Young people, as well, made a strong showing and in many side events announced their determination to have their voices heard and to continue advancing their rights. But they also expressed frustration about their role: “The outcome document was already drafted when we got here, so young people have no impact except to give leaders credibility,” said a Ghanaian panelist at one side event on mapping the way forward.

The outcome document adopted at the September 25 Special Event to review progress made towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and to discuss the way forward reaffirms governments’ commitments to achieve the goals, and resolves to target those goals lagging behind, citing “universal access to reproductive health, including maternal health”. It emphasizes the importance of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls to all development goals, and calls upon governments to promote “peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all.”

The outcome document, however, makes no reference to several key Task Force issues, including young people, broader issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights, nor violence against women and girls – which are core aspects of women’s empowerment. Few Member States who gave statements at the Special Event placed emphasis on these critical issues either.

With just over 800 days until the end of the MDGs and the launch of the new post-2015 framework, it appears there is still much work to be done to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights, and true empowerment of women and young people are central to the next global sustainable development agenda.