Women’s Empowerment: Key to Resolving Global Challenges

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Section thirteen of thirteen of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s 2018 peace proposal, “Toward an Era of Human Rights: Building a People’s Movement.”

A Syrian woman, now a refugee in Lebanon, shows off knitted woolen clothes that she’s learned how to make through an aid program [Photo by Russell Watkins/DFID/CC BY]

Lastly, I would like to take up the question of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as it relates to the SDGs.

Gender equality and empowerment should not be regarded as just one of the seventeen SDGs, but rather should be recognized as key to accelerating progress toward the achievement of the entire spectrum of goals. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, the lead organization for gender equality, made the following statement to the UN Security Council in October 2017:

The women, peace and security agenda continues to expand its footprint on global policymaking. It is now an essential pillar in global affairs. [82]

The Preamble of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) states that the equal participation of both women and men is an indispensable factor for attaining sustainable peace and security. It also calls for supporting and strengthening the effective participation of women in the nuclear disarmament fields. Women’s participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding has been expanding since the adoption of Resolution 1325 by the Security Council in 2000, and the TPNW now explicitly highlights the importance of women’s involvement in disarmament as well as in recasting national security policies.

This awareness of the importance of including women’s perspectives in the process of meeting global challenges is not limited to peace and conflict resolution. The Sendai Framework launched in 2015 at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction notes that empowering women within disaster preparation is vital to enhancing resilience. More recently, the annual Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 23), held in Germany in November 2017, adopted a Gender Action Plan. These moves are evidence of emerging international recognition that women’s participation is key to effective climate action.

Here, I would like to propose that the UN proclaim an international decade for women’s empowerment to encourage these transformative effects to take hold in all spheres of society. The decade could run from 2020, the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of Resolution 1325, to 2030, the culminating year for achieving the SDGs. The decade would be an occasion for intensifying efforts to empower women and increasing momentum for attaining the SDGs.

Women’s empowerment cannot be an optional agenda: It is an urgent priority for many people in dire situations.

One Syrian woman in a refugee camp in Jordan started to work as a tailor in a center operated by UN Women. She recounts, “We no longer feel helpless, our work makes us feel productive and empowered.” [83]

Another woman, who fled her home in Burundi, is currently living in a refugee camp in neighboring Tanzania. Lacking employment, she was overwhelmed by uncertainty about her future. As she participated in the vocational training programs run by UNHCR, however, her outlook changed to the point that she expressed hope of one day returning to her homeland where she could make use of her newly acquired skills in bread making to earn a living and send her children to school. [84]

As evidenced by these testimonies, women’s empowerment can serve as the driving force to restore hope and the ability to advance in the face of challenging circumstances.

related article Educational Access for Migrant Children Educational Access for Migrant Children In his 2018 Peace Proposal, Daisaku Ikeda urges that human rights be identified as the thread connecting the elements in the new global compacts for migration and for refugees. Securing educational opportunities for refugee and migrant children and improving conditions for them should be a priority objective. Grounded in the Buddhist commitment to uphold the dignity of all people, the SGI has been consistently working to expand the scope of women’s empowerment. As a civil society organization, the SGI has supported the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), sending delegates to the annual sessions at UN Headquarters and, since 2011, collaborating with other organizations to organize side events. The SGI has also engaged with the activities of the UN Human Rights Council by cosponsoring events focusing on such themes as the role of faith and culture in advancing women’s rights and nonformal education for gender equality.

A global Platform on Gender Equality and Religion was launched at the CSW session in March 2017. It aims to elevate recognition of the importance of women’s rights and contributions through faith-based discourse and to shape policy and legislative efforts for gender equality on the local, national and international levels. [85] The SGI will support the platform and collaborate with other faith-based organizations so that it becomes a source of empowerment for women and girls in difficult situations. Together with these partners, we wish to spin the “Ariadne’s thread” of women’s empowerment by which humankind can emerge from the current labyrinth of global challenges.

In all these ways, I hope we can bring together the voices of civil society to build momentum for the establishment of an international decade for the empowerment of women.

I am convinced that the ideal of a world in which no one is left behind, articulated in the SDGs, will be shared and embraced by all as we strive to protect the rights of women and girls—who constitute half the world’s people—and through our efforts to create societies where all can live with hope and dignity.

As I envision the challenges that lie ahead between now and the year 2030, I recall these words which Rosa Parks shared with me: “There’s no law that says people have to suffer.” These words were spoken to her by her mother, who herself struggled against discrimination. The earnest determination distilled in these words is the spirit we all need as we work across differences to advance the entire SDG agenda with a focus on the struggle for gender equality.

It is the pledge of the SGI to continue striving to create a groundswell of people’s solidarity with which to surmount the challenges facing humanity, grounded in efforts to safeguard the life and dignity of each individual.

Notes

82. UN Women, “Speech.”
83. UN Women, “UN Secretary-General Visits UN Women Centre.”
84. See UNHCR, “Opportunities to Earn a Living.”
85. See UN Women, “Global Platform on Gender Equality and Religion Launched.”

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