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The Economist got it wrong

A letter to the editor signed by Rutgers, together with 85 other organisations, was published in the Economist on 11 April. The letter is a response to three articles on the Sustainable Development Goals which were published in the international business weekly on 28 March.

logo EconomistThe Sustainable Development Goals are to replace the Millennium Development Goals and will be agreed upon in September 2015. In the three articles the Economist argues there are too many sustainable development goals proposed, they are too complicated and cannot be measured. The weekly questions the purpose of these new goals, while many of its predecessors were achieved by a developing world economy. Any development agenda should be to the point, achievable and measurable.​

In our letter we explain why our work on including gender equality and women’s empowerment in de new goals is not some kind of pet project but an effort to end a systemic injustice. To read the full letter please scroll down. You can read the letter as it was published in the Economist.

This week our advocates are attending the Commission on Population and Development in New York, which is to provide input for the Sustainable Development Goals meeting in September. You can follow their blog here.

Letter to editor

For those of us who have followed the consultations on the sustainable development goals (SDGs), it is difficult to recognize what has really happened at the United Nations since July 2011 in your articles on the SDGs in The Economist (March 28 – April 3). As organizations and groups working on gender equality and women’s empowerment, we are not dealing with our own “particular bugbear, ” as your article seems to imply – we are working to ensure that the SDGs fully and appropriately address the systemic injustices that women worldwide experience on a daily basis.

The earlier Millennium Development Goal 3: ‘Promote gender equality and empower women’ merely pointed to gender disparity in primary and secondary education; the situation of women in waged employment in the non-agriculture sector; and the representation of women in parliament. This was based on data then easily available, but fell far short of addressing gender inequalities.

The six targets of the proposed SDG Goal 5: ‘Achieve gender equality and empower women and girls’, however, although not perfect, are much broader and stronger. They will cover discrimination against women everywhere; violence against women and girls; child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation; unpaid care and domestic work; women’s participation in decision-making; and their sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, including HIV vulnerability.

In 2015, as pointed out by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women last month, not one single country has achieved gender equality. Women are still having to fight for their rights. Thus, women’s and other organizations and many governments are standing firm to keep this agenda in the SDGs, as a bare minimum, and are unwilling to give up any of these targets. At the same time, gender must be mainstreamed throughout the SDGs.

This post-2015 development agenda is universal; it is to apply to all countries and all people. It is not a bureaucratic process that is “out of control”. It is one in which not only governments, but also civil society organizations and others, are involved in negotiations at the UN General Assembly level. Indeed one of the Co-facilitators, H. E. Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya, on March 25, challenged anyone to find a historical precedent for such a far-reaching agenda.

Women and girls make up more than half the world’s population and have a right to this agenda for the achievement of gender equality in the next 15 years. These targets are for all women and girls in every country, developed and developing and truly aim to “leave no one behind.”