Post MDG, An Opportunity to Ring in a New Era in Women’s Empowerment

October 8, 2014 - October 10, 2014

From left to right: Fessi, Imtiaz, Radwan and Veberyte pose for a picture outside the President’s Palace in Vilnius.Vilnius, Lithuania – Come November 30, 2014, the world will have fewer than 400 days to achieve the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that were adopted to solve the world’s largest problems – eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, reduce child mortality rates, improve maternal health, combat disease such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, ensure environmental sustainability and a global partnership for development. 

While the progress varies by country and goal, it is increasingly clear that although advancements have been made, the world is far from ending the stifling problems faced by the majority of the world’s population.  This fact remains true for gender equality and empowerment of women.  With a little more than a year left until the United Nations’ target deadline, the world will face the reality of how far we still have to go until the ultimate goal is achieved. 

Erika Veberyte, director of WDN, had a chance to offer her views on the importance of ensuring that the agenda on women’s empowerment after the MDG deadline is more focused when she moderated the opening panel at the “Empowering Women in Development: Challenges Beyond 2015” event in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The event, held October 8-10, brought together world leaders and nongovernmental organizations to look at a path to ensuring that the MDG gender equality goal is upheld and even a primary focus beyond the closing date.

In her remarks, Veberyte noted that gender equality is a goal within itself but it is also a means to achieving success in other sectors, and ultimately achieve sustainable development.  Echoing the remarks of Maria Leissner, secretary general of the Community of Democracies, Veberyte noted, “It is important to promote [gender equality] and also incorporate it into the next steps of the post-MDG agenda to ensure that our words turn into actions.”

The organizers of the two-day discussion, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania and the Eastern Europe Studies Center, engaged more than150 participants in five panels that looked at possible approaches to achieving the goal of gender equality.  In order to have a meaningful and action-oriented conversation, partner institutions, including WDN, Nordic Council of Ministers, Community of Democracies, Center for Equality Advancementand Vilnius University Gender Studies Center and Swedish International Liberal Centre, were asked to invite prominent representatives within their own networks to contribute to the conversation as panelists and participants. 

WDN invited long-time members Semia Melki Fessi from Tunisia, Sameena Imtiaz from Pakistan and Mohamad Fares Radwan from Syria who shared their personal insights into the challenges and opportunities of gender equality in their countries. 

Fessi spoke on the topic of women’s leadership for democratic development, sharing her prospective as a political activist and the leader of the new Social Democratic Party of Tunisia.  Representing the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, Radwan’s remarks, focused on countering gender-based abuse, violence and harmful practices.  Lastly, Imtiaz, who is executive director of the Peace Education and Development Foundation in Pakistan, offered her voice to two interactive panels, one on benefiting from social media and another on possible prospects for a new post-2015 agenda. 

One of the most memorable moments of the conference was when Imtiaz was speaking about the situation of women and girls in Pakistan and moderator Annette Young, of France 24 television channel, announced the breaking news that Pakistani youth activist Malala Yousafzai was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.  This moment was an acknowledgement of the important of women’s rights, particularly in countries that often deny women and girls access to certain services, such as education, because of their gender. 

The conclusions of the event, drawn up according to participants’ presentations, discussions and interventions during the conference can be found here.