Women’s Empowerment and the Sustainable Development Goals

Statement by Sarah Poole at 9th Kuwait Women’s Conference

Your Excellency, Mrs. Mariam Aqeel Al-Aqeel, the Minister for Economic Affairs,

Her Highness, Dr. Sheikha Shama bint Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan, Chairperson of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalid Al Nahyan Cultural Center, the United Arab Emirates,

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be with you here in Kuwait and to join the discussion on achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls across the Arab States region – and, in particular, to explore ways that the international community can support stronger progress on the ground.

At the outset I commend Her Excellency Minister Mariam Al Aqeel and Dr. Lubna Al-Kazi for being inspirational leaders for women’s empowerment, and I recognize Kuwait for its efforts and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which was widely acknowledged during this summer’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, at UN Headquarters in New York. Dr. Khaled Mahdi, the Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Planning and Development led the delegation team of a perfect gender balance, bringing the government, private sector and civil society representatives together to present the Voluntary National Report on SDGs. Kuwait’s presentation attested to participatory endeavours for data collection and analysis towards sustainable human development for all.

Its also a delight to join stakeholders from the widest range of institutions – civil society, private sector, government, youth groups, policy makers, regional development organizations, and colleagues from across the United Nations Development System – only together can we support the change we all know is needed.

Dear Colleagues,

I am visiting from our UNDP headquarters, in New York, where it is my honour to serve as the Deputy Director of UNDP’s work in the Arab States region, so it is incumbent upon me to relay what we are seeing on the SDGs agenda at the global level.

At this year’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, during the 74th General Assembly, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted that the 2030 Agenda now is truly coming to life. Governments have begun integrating the goals into national plans; the private sector is coming to understand that sustainable business is good business; cities, civil society, young people and more are stepping up and taking action.

The commitment to the 2030 agenda is stronger than ever – and the world is making progress.   

But as the Secretary-General also made clear, we are far from where we need to be. We are, in his words, off track.

Across the SDGs spectrum, progress is uneven.

And nowhere is this more the case than for the most central issue of all: gender equality. We know well around the world that progress is being achieved. Women are stepping up as leaders. Education rates for women are higher than ever. More girls are growing up with confidence in their abilities.

But in the words of the Secretary General, No country is on track to meet the goal of gender equality – without which, none of the other SDGs will be met.

At UNDP we are committed to advancing gender equality within our own house and in the regions and countries we serve.

Here in the Arab States region, the women’s empowerment agenda has for long been central to our values, to our advocacy and to our programme support.  Some of you may remember our seminal Arab Human Development Report, put out in 2002 and authored by scholars in the region, which memorably called for the advance of women as one of the three pillars that would drive a renaissance across the region.

And while today the region is faced by a range of challenges, especially in crisis contexts, it is often the progress on the women’s empowerment agenda which gives us hope as practitioners, advocates and partners.  

At UNDP, we see three key areas of action which we are keen to advance in support of women and along with partners.

The first is women’s economic empowerment, which lags in the region and yet is so central to progress in every area of life. At UNDP we are supporting women’s economic empowerment across the region, be it in relatively traditional sectors or also now increasingly in pursuit of innovation, including work benefiting from behavioural insights approaches.

The second is political participation.  It has been our honour at UNDP to provide support for women’s political participation across the region, including in countries where we’ve seen that temporary special measures such as quotas have truly made a difference.  But there are also practical issues around making elections and participation more accessibly for women, which is why UNDP is pleased to have participated in the launch a new network of women in elections.

And a third is Gender Justice. At UNDP it has been an honour recently to support national partners including civil society, along with UN Women, UNFPA, and ESCWA, to put together an updated, comprehensive benchmarking of laws and policies affecting gender equality and protection against gender-based violence in countries across the region.

In this work, it is vital that we be responsive to national contexts and that we listen with all our partners.  We place special emphasis on being in line with the Women, Peace and Security agenda, including Security Council Resolution 1325, and we extend special support to women and girls who are disproportionately bearing the brunt of conflict – and who must play at least a proportional role in peacebuilding and recovery.

Excellencies, colleagues, we are at a crossroads whereby accelerated action is needed to achieve the SDGs by 2030.   At UNDP, under the leadership of Administrator Achim Steiner and with the support of Member States, we are redoubling efforts to deepen impact.

This is particularly relevant for our support of women’s empowerment.

At UNDP, we are keen to ensure that local lessons feed into national, regional and global policy and discussions. This happens best when we work closely with partners, when we support broad coalitions of stakeholders drawn together in common cause and motivated by a sense of urgency.

We want for all stakeholders to come together, more effectively, to support major change that we can implement together, in our different spheres, but pushing for the same objective.

That’s why I am particularly pleased to be with you today. And that’s why I am looking forward to our discussion, with optimism for the road ahead for women’s empowerment and gender equality in the Arab States region.

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