Women’s Empowerment Key for Development, Istanbul Summit Concludes

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An international summit in Istanbul, titled “Women’s Perspective on the Post-2015 Development Agenda,” has called for women’s empowerment as a condition for sustainable development. The summit was held in Istanbul on May 31 – June 1, 2014.

Women’s empowerment is the cornerstone of sustainable and inclusive development. This encompasses … recognition that peace and development are inextricably linked and that peace cannot be achieved without women’s empowerment.

Excerpt from the Istanbul Summit’s final declaration

Organized by the Journalists and Writers Foundation’s (JWF) Abant Platform and Women’s Platform, the two-day summit kicked off on Saturday at the Congress Center of Fatih College. The program was dedicated to women’s perspectives on a variety of topics, including women’s empowerment, gender equality, and food security, as part of the UN’s post-2015 development agenda.

More than 300 participants from different parts of the world, including members of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), parliamentarians, academics, activists, and journalists, discussed the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will be worked towards after the 2015 deadline passes for the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Nafis Sadik, a special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and Professor Shirley Randell, one of Australia’s 100 Inaugural Women of Influence in 2012 in the Global Category, were among the participants at the summit.

Summit participants underlined the importance of equality between women and men and proposed gender equality before the law, in the workplace, and in the home as a stand-alone goal as well as one to be integrated into all other goals.

While emphasizing the need for a smart, kind, and inclusive sustainable development agenda that respects people and the planet, the summit also called for universal SDGs for all people in all countries.

The summit suggested that SDG priorities should include women’s empowerment, the eradication of poverty, health, education, food security, water supply, sanitation, the environment, climate change, energy, sustainable economic development, peace, and good governance.

Encouraging governments to work in collaboration with civil society and the private sector, the summit urged participants to reach out and mobilize their networks and communities to actively engage in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda at the local, national, and global levels.

Barbara Adams, senior policy adviser at the Global Policy Forum, suggested that the major agenda for the post-2015 world needs to be a new accountability framework that is evenhanded and will bring equality. She voiced a well-known women’s slogan, saying, “Nothing about us, without us.”

A special session of women parliamentarians from numerous states, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Japan, Kazakhstan, Switzerland, Ukraine, and Norway, was also held over the weekend as one of the parallel sessions in which MDGs and the countries’ commitments to SDGs were discussed. Participants in the parliamentary session agreed that more girls should get education, saying, “Education is key for development.”

Somali Cerise, a research specialist at the UN Women Research and Data Section, said the new framework for the UN’s development agenda should promote gender equality and achieve changes in women’s lives and goals.

Many civil society organizations and other stakeholders have been working on the post-2015 development agenda. The summit, organized by JWF, which holds General Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council, aimed to contribute to the new agenda’s SDGs and to open the floor to women’s perspectives and opinions on the proposed goals.

Summit aims to develop consistent perspective

Muserref Ozer, secretary-general of the JWF Women’s Platform, took the stage at the opening ceremony of Saturday’s program to deliver a speech on the aims and importance of the summit. Offering a warm welcome to participants from 45 countries, Ozer said the summit was a result of JWF’s wish to bring the interactive, open, and bureaucratic model of UN meetings, which also value the opinions of civilians, to Turkey.

“We would like to dedicate the first summit on women’s perspectives on the post-2015 UN development agenda, as the development agenda is one of the most-discussed topics in the international arena and it is also important for issues relating to women. But while doing so, we would like to develop a point of view where we can bring together multiple ideas together, develop a consistent perspective without negative connotations, and lift women from the state of objects to subjects, instead of seeing them as beings who must be rescued,” she said.

Ozer pointed to the active participation of women in becoming part of solutions to international problems, such as the May 13 Soma disaster, in which 301 miners died in the Turkish town of Soma, and the abduction of schoolgirls by terrorist groups.

Sadik, who also delivered a speech at the opening, pointed out the appropriate timing of the summit, adding that governments should take steps to help women gain power in society, in addition to the support from NGOs. The adviser underlined the need for zero tolerance of gender discrimination, the prevention of child marriages, and equality for women in all decision-making processes.

Following the opening speech, the summit’s first discussion session, “Civil Society and Development Goals,” focused on the topic of conducting projects with a more human-oriented perspective. Renate Bloem, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS) UN representative of Geneva and one of the speakers at the session, briefly touched on the identity problems that women suffer. “In Bangladesh, for example, women do not have the right to choose their husbands freely … They are often intervened by their parents and subjected to violence,” she said.

“My Egyptian intern said they all know women participated in the Arab Spring uprisings. But when they ask for their rights, they are accused of giving priority to themselves rather than their national interests,” Bloem added, saying that such issues must be addressed.

‘Water scarcity also a problem for developed countries’

One of the most interesting sessions of Saturday’s program was “The Environmental Dimension,” with a focus on climate change, food security, sanitation, and water scarcity. Dr. Dionysia-Theodora Avgerinopolou remarked in her presentation, “Water scarcity is not only a problem of the undeveloped countries but also of developed countries.” She underlined the significance of having appropriate infrastructure and integrated water resources management and making waste water usable again, along with partnering with neighboring countries for better water management.

Jai-Ok Kim, president of the Green Start Network in South Korea, said climate change has caused $25 trillion of harm to the world economy and that her country is battling against the problem by offering education on climate change and environmental issues to more than 500 business leaders. “Plans should be made to mitigate the dissemination of greenhouse gas, and women have significant roles in establishing such aims,” she said.

‘Going forward means going together’

Speaking in “The Social Dimension” session, Professor Shirley Randell gave Rwanda as one example of social change, as women had to work for themselves following the 1994 genocide in which nearly 1 million people were cruelly slaughtered. “Social change is a path to recovery. People were killed, women were raped in Rwanda. After the genocide, 70 percent of the population was women. And these women led a huge transformation,” she explained.

Randell emphasized the significance of investing in girls’ education, challenging cultural attitudes, politically empowering women, recognizing women’s equal rights, and supporting affirmative action to increase women’s representation in politics and social life, elaborating on the example of Rwanda. “Going forward means going together,” she concluded.

Lawyer Rajat Khosla, who works as a human rights adviser for the Department of Reproductive Health Research at the World Health Organization (WHO), gave another interesting speech in the “The Social Dimension” section. The adviser drew attention to the number of births from child brides, the insufficient health services for women, and infant mortality during birth in his speech on sexual and reproductive health. The problem of 21 billion unsafe abortions, 222 million women who do not have contraception, 54 million unwanted pregnancies, and the facts that 6 out of 10 women who do not want to have babies do not have access to the necessary services in low- and middle-income countries and an estimated 16 million births occur to young women between 15-19 years old were among the most critical observations in his speech.

“We should ask what is happening and why such things are still happening,” Khosla said. “When we talk about health care, we are not talking about mathematical problems, they are about humans. We need to push the health agenda forward.”

The last session was “The Economic Dimension,” with speakers Roxanne Alvarez, grants manager of the Women, Girls, and Population team at the United Nations Foundation in Washington, D.C.; Simita Tewari Jassal, a sociology lecturer from Ankara’s Middle East Technical University; and Professor Thomas Kesselring.

Alvarez, who participated in the conference online, focused on the need to provide proper education for women, take risks, be open to competition, eradicate sexual discrimination, and support the private sector so as to strengthen women’s economic independence, while Kesselring pointed out the significance of changing gender stereotypes. Kesselring also talked about the increasing gap between rich and poor, not only on the national level but also on the international level, as well as political and economic liberalization and economic priorities.

Final declaration supports women’s empowerment

“Women’s empowerment is the cornerstone of sustainable and inclusive development,” concluded the summit’s final declaration, drafted by members of the Istanbul Summit Executive Board on Sunday.

The declaration stated that women’s empowerment should encompass the promotion of women’s rights in terms of access to health, education, and productive resources and opportunities, including safe and secure employment conditions for the developing world.

The final declaration will be submitted to relevant UN agencies and other stakeholders.

Originally published on Today’s Zaman / Sunday, June 1, 2014 / Authors: Irem Karakaya, Hatice Kubra Kula

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