UN forum calls on Asia-Pacific governments to prioritize gender equality as a pathway to achieving sustainable development

A high-level panel on the role of gender equality and women's empowerment in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Asia and the Pacific today called for greater efforts by governments to prioritize women’s rights in the region.

In her opening remarks, United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Shamshad Akhtar said, “We must not be complacent about the 2030 deadline to realize gender equality and the SDGs. We cannot afford to regress on the development gains made so far, but we must continue to build momentum in successfully completing the task at hand. Let us not miss this window of opportunity to take bold and transformative steps in this collective journey – a journey to achieve equality between women and men, and a better future for all”.

Dr. Akhtar noted that despite progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment made in Asia and the Pacific on several fronts, significant gaps still remain. Women continue to be paid less and are more likely to find themselves in vulnerable employment with low wages, no formal contracts or labour rights and minimal social protection. In 2015, the gender pay gap in the region as a whole reached an astounding 20 per cent.

Moderated by Dr. Sharman Stone, Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls, the high-level panel held during the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD 2017) in Bangkok this week, identified key recommendations to support gender equality and women's empowerment in strengthening implementation of the SDGs in the region.

The panel comprised of high-level government representatives, gender experts from the academic community as well as civil society actors from across the Asia-Pacific region.

“We see the SDGs as an opportunity to strengthen partnerships between governments, civil society and commercial sector to support opportunities for women and girls,” said Dr Stone.

“What are considered ‘the root causes’ of inequities faced by women and girls in the region are taken to vary from oppressive sociocultural norms and practices, to legal and policy-based discrimination, to the burden of unpaid work responsibilities, to household power dynamics, to sexual and gender based violence and so on,” Professor Maithree Wickramasinghe, founding Director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka told the panel.

“Without prioritizing and addressing these ‘root causes’ that affect half the population in the region, it would not be possible to make a dent, let alone fulfill the SDGs,” she added.

The panel also highlighted that reducing gender gaps in health, education and labour markets have been shown to contribute to lower poverty, higher economic growth, greater productivity and more resilient communities. Equally, failure to address gender inequality is likely to derail the achievement of the SDGs.

APFSD 2017 is being held by ESCAP in Bangkok from 29 to 31 March 2017. The conclusions and recommendations at the forum will inform discussions of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) at the global level, to be convened in New York in July 2017.