The meeting «Inclusive State and Gender Equality: Public Policies in the New Framework for Sustainable Development Goals» is posed in the broadest context of the processes that will be generated around the implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals. The expert group meeting is an important time to begin an exchange of experiences, reflection, debate and concrete proposals that help the actors carry out the necessary changes to address the challenges that persist in the implementation of the SDGs.

The new development agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals provides a unique opportunity to ensure that real political commitment toward new inclusive, universal and sustainable development models, positioning women’s rights and gender equality in Latin America and the Caribbean as a central issue. To achieve this, this new development framework proposal combines the double strategy of having a specific gender equality and women’s empowerment goal (goal 5) and guaranteeing mainstreaming gender equality into the other proposed goals, with specific goals and indicators.

In order to address these issues, 4 virtual dialogues have been hold in the framework of the new SDG with focus on the inclusive state and the gender equality. Three previous virtual dialogues were already hold regarding the Latin America’s context with the participation of 40 experts of the region. The fourth virtual meeting was focused on the Caribbean context, in which 20 experts of the region participated.

Global and Regional Context

The Beijing Platform for Action was a turning point for women’s empowerment and gender equality, which clearly outlined how to establish accountability mechanisms for gender equality policies. This was reinforced by the MDGs and now the SDGs take us a step forward in establishing broad and effective accountability mechanisms for gender equality policies.

The Caribbean region has made great progress in developing and adopting relevant legislation on gender equality. The culture generally supports equality, there is equal access to education, health and every citizen has the right to vote and represent in government.

However, in spite of significant progress the region seems to be losing ground in many critical aspects of gender equality. There are high levels of violence against women, and the regional challenges of high debt, reduced growth, increasing inequality and impacts of climate change have a greater negative impact on women and youth.

The new SDGs are an important step because they situate gender and gender responsive policies more clearly within the context of a broader range of issues, which link Planet, Peace, Prosperity and Partnerships.

Have we made progress?

There is now greater acceptance at the policy making level of the importance of gender equality in achieving sustainable development. Often policy makers seek to deflect the emphasis away from women by posing questions like ‘What about the boys?’ The challenge with this is that instead of looking at the underlying causes of gender inequality which negatively impact boys and girls and women and men, it becomes an either/or dialogue. This however, presents an opening for dialogue, shifting perspectives away from a competitive, either/or frame. Girls in certain groups are doing better than boys in the formal educational system. However, this success is not translating into jobs and lower comparative levels of poverty for women. There is increasing inequality between rich and poor and women are among the poorest. Violence against women is at unacceptable levels and there continues to be a general challenge in terms of reliable statistics on key indices including poverty data. The Caribbean ranks with the Arab and pacific States as having among the lowest levels of women in political decision-making globally. This is a problem related to gender equality and specifically women’s empowerment, which is an important aspect of gender equality.

What is critical for accountability?

Enhanced Legislation, policy, data and strengthening civil society and government accountability are important. However, they are not enough. Without a value system that supports the policy, policy and legal frameworks will remain unimplemented and inequality, including gender inequality will continue to increase. The present development paradigm is not serving us. It has prioritized financial wealth and compromised the environment, people, society and good governance. A few corporations have incomes much larger than many countries.

The recent discussions of the wealthiest nations in Davos, which seek to set the direction for the way forward indicated a disconnection for the reality on the ground. The big leap forward that the top global financial leaders predicted was the increasing role of robots in production. Robots are replacing not just working class labour but higher up the production stream. This economic model runs counter to the goals of ending poverty and undermines the SDGs.

The gap between rich and poor is growing. Unless we challenge the existing paradigm, which is based on many forms of inequality including gender inequality, the global community and the region will experience less power of the State, democracy compromised, growing inequality and poverty including gender inequality, increasing violence and social instability, deepening climate change impacts, and eventual financial collapse. Varoufakis, the former Greek minister of finance, spoke of capitalism eating democracy because the power of corporations has become so large.

We need to learn from nature. An interesting model has been put forward by Ethan Roland based on Permaculture which identifies 8 forms of capital. They are: Financial capital, Living capital (such as the air that we breathe and water that we need to survive), Intellectual capital, Social Capital, Spiritual capital, Cultural capital, Experiential capital and Material capital (built infrastructure)

Peace, Prosperity, Equality and Sustainability are dependent on the shift of the global and local value system and dialogue to a new understanding of the integration of all these elements. Without peace women are at risk and gender equality is compromised.

How can the SDGs support the way forward?

The SDG framework which prioritises Dignity, Planet, People and Partnerships gives us important indicators and signposts. The SDGs also point in the direction of the need for a new development paradigm that promotes dignity, peace, sustainability and the equality of all.

We need new principles, new values which make it clear that while financial capital is critical, so is social capital (care economy) and environmental, and not just as adjuncts to the economic agenda.

The SDGs call for a new emphasis on quality education which balances the MDG focus on access to education. Equal emphasis on emotional intelligence which builds capacity in self discipline, mutual respect, ethics, honesty and integrity are key to reframing the development paradigm. This will enable a more viable foundation for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Promoting more women in decision-making and building leadership capacity are critical steps forward to enhancing sustainable peace and more inclusive accountable institutions.

Strengthening partnerships at all levels including enhancing the partnerships with civil society as well as regional and global partnerships is an important SDG call to action. A regional approach in this context is a key to maximizing potential. The CARICOM/ UN Women data initiative based on the SDS is a step in the right direction

The SDG framework requires the UN system to redouble its commitment to UN working as one. The SDGs provide a sound framework and indicators which when approached in an integrated way and effectively monitored, will support the achievement of gender equality and empowering women and girls.

Text by Rosina Wiltshire (Gender justice advocate for CARICOM)

Latin America virtual meetings (in Spanish): HERE