Creating a successful interaction between social and gender development

20 years ago, the United Nations implemented two cardinal declarations: the Copenhagen Declaration focusing on social development for all and the Beijing Declaration aiming for equal participation of women in all dimensions of human development. Moving into a new era of development, with the post-2015 agenda ahead, an evaluation of previous commitments and accomplishments is crucial to the success of future implementation.

In this context, representatives from the UN DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development, UN Women, UN Habitat, ILO, NGOs, as well as gender-rights advocates, gathered to discuss the outcome of these two declarations and the interlinkages between social development and gender issues.

The meeting, titled “Copenhagen Meets Beijing: The gender dimensions of social development policy and praxis,” which was held at the UN Headquarters on 19 March, aimed to promote dialogue between the stakeholders and strengthen partnerships to make future collaborations well-considered and constructive. Youth, as well as families were presented as potential target groups and important agents for ensuring effective interconnected implementation of social and gender objectives.

Opening and setting the tone for the meeting, Ms. Daniela Bas, the Director of the UN DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development and the moderator of the panel, stated that “gender equality and social development are always inseparably interconnected and therefore the society cannot be fully developed without the great contribution of women and the equity and equality between women and men.”

Ms. Bas also placed the key question the meeting would try to address “How can the Declaration of Copenhagen on Social Development and the Declaration of Beijing on Women support each other in this amazing challenge waiting ahead of us?,” referring to the upcoming post-2015 global development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals to be established by Member States in September.

“I think it is time for all of us to look at that age group of 10 to 14 of girls and boys. They are going to be the young leaders who will be holding our societies together in the fifteen years during the term of the SDGs that are now being debated”

Ms. Patience Stephens
Special Advisor on Education at UN-Women

Taking the floor, H.E. Ms. Inga Rhonda King, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, noted that with the adoption of both Declarations, great progress has been made in improving people’s wellbeing across the globe but that persistent and emerging challenges must be examined. She noted the importance of culture and the agency of people to achieving the interlinked objectives of Copenhagen and Beijing.

“It is people who create culture and therefore it is people who must change cultures when necessary to ensure that there is gender equity in our social and economic development,” she said. Aiming to end on a positive note, H.E. Ms. King also described the impressive experience of gender balance in her country. “Many of our policymakers are female. In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines women sit at the decision making table,” Ms. Rhonda King said, highlighting that the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines today has an almost even gender distribution, with males accounting for 50,5 percent and females 49,5 percent.

Despite positive examples like this, Ms. Patience Stephens, Special Advisor on Education at UN-Women, expressed a need to strengthen the relationship between the two declarations and their objectives. “Unfortunately, instead of generating strong synergies between Beijing and Copenhagen these two fruits of major intergovernmental processes have often taken parallel rather than intersecting paths,” she said.

Ms. Stephens underlined the need for a stronger communication and collaboration between the organisations managing the two declarations. She also stressed the importance of reaching out to youth. “I think it is time for all of us to look at that age group of 10 to 14 of girls and boys. They are going to be the young leaders who will be holding our societies together in the fifteen years during the term of the SDGs that are now being debated. If we don’t invest in them now we are going to be running in[to] major problems in fifteen year.“

This viewpoint was acclaimed by many of the meeting participants, including Mr. Ravi Karkara, Global Advisor on Youth and a representative of UN Habitat, who also stressed the importance of addressing young men as allies in the pursuit of gender equality. In his words, “gender equality benefits young men as much as it benefits young women. Also, intergenerational partnership and dialogue ensure that gender equality is part of a life cycle whether it is the children’s agenda, adolescence agenda, youth agenda, adult or elderly agenda.”

Sparked by a question from the audience, Mr. Karkara also underlined the power of socialization within the family and the important role that this plays in facilitating social development and realizing gender equality.

Mr Kevin Cassidy, the Senior Communications Officer of the International Labour Organization stressed that for ILO “Both Declarations, Copenhagen and Beijing, are intertwined and are human rights based arguments.” He also noted the centrality of gender equality addressing justice for workers and achieving economic growth and poverty reduction.

Ms. Bette Levy, Executive member of the NGO Committees on Social Development and the Status of Women represented civil society’s voice on the panel. She highlighted the strong interlinkages in the issues addressed and language used in the two declarations. Ms, Levy also addressed the need for both administrative units to work together, learn from each other and move forward not just in parallel paths but hand in hand.

The engaging and enthusiastic, discussion during the event made clear that social policy and gender policy could not be effectively formulated or implemented in silos. With initial suggestions for thematic and practical collaboration, the event should serve as a viable springboard for future dialogue and future work.

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