UNITED NATIONS (IPS): 2015, the final year of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), heralds the beginning of the most critical fifteen years for the realization of the new Sustainable Development Agenda that the international community launched along with renewed Climate Change and Financing for Development (FfD) compacts.

It also marks a historic conjunction in the realization of the Gender Equality Project – perhaps the most important for humanity in the 21 century. The UN at 70 signaled that it is integrally and unequivocally committed to realizing it.

Great strides were made in the prioritization of women’s human rights through the encompassing lens of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all the UN’s defining normative endeavors in 2015. Women’s economic, social and political rights, their security and integrity, and their voice, participation and leadership were placed at the core of its ambition to ‘Transform the world” and “leave no one behind”.

Realizing gender equality and women’s empowerment is not only regarded as a moral imperative but also as “crucial” to achieving the first ever set of universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other related intergovernmental compacts including those on peace, security, and humanitarian action.

The world commemorated the 20th anniversary of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing with national, regional and global reviews of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA). UN Women mobilized Member States, UN System entities, private sector, civil society, youth and media through high impact knowledge generation, norm setting, advocacy campaigns, programmes on the ground, coordination and strategic partnerships to join this introspection and call for action.

The 59th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) undertook a global review of progress made in implementing BPA and based its report card on a record 168 national reports and regional reviews. The verdict – there has been progress, but it has been uneven and unacceptably slow. Change has not been deep and irreversible and a gender financing gap persists.

Despite significant advances – in laws to promote gender equality and address violence against women and girls, in educational enrollment, labour force participation, women’s access to contraception, in declining rates of harmful practices, and gains in women’s representation in national parliaments – twenty years on, many of the same structural barriers remain in force globally. These barriers needed to be comprehensively addressed in Agenda 2030.

Violence against women is a global epidemic taking different forms. The majority of the world’s poor are women. Gaps persist in education, labour force participation, wages, income, social protection, unpaid care work and domestic work. Inequality in corporate, parliamentary and government participation and leadership is big. No country has achieved substantive gender equality.

The review also concluded that at current slow pace it will take another century to achieve gender equality. It underlined the need to fast forward change or ” hurry history ” as feminists would say, to overturn the patriarchal systems and structures that have undervalued women and girls for centuries, stripped them of equal rights, and denied them and humankind the opportunities to realize their full potential.

The Political Declaration adopted by Member States at the 59th session of CSW reaffirms their political will to tackle these challenges and remaining implementation gaps and structural barriers. They vowed full, accelerated and effective implementation of the Beijing Platform and to strengthen laws and policies and their implementation, to transform discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes; to significantly increase investment to close the gender resource gap including through prioritization in official development assistance (ODA) and in domestic resource mobilization; to strengthen data, monitoring and accountability on implementation; and to strengthen national gender mechanisms.

The valuable role of civil society and women’s organizations was acknowledged and commitment made to support them including by providing a safe and enabling environment. These commitments are carried forward and reiterated in the 2030 Agenda and FfD outcomes.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda, adopted this year at the World Conference on Financing for Development pledges to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment and to mainstream it including through targeted actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of all financial, economic, environmental and social policies. It commits to sound policies, enforceable legislation and “transformative actions” at all levels.

UN Women’s “Addis Ababa Action Plan on Transformative Financing for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment” involving significantly increased investment in gender equality from all sources and at all levels, and prioritized and targeted allocation as well as mainstreaming” garnered wide support. The urgency of these unprecedented resourcing commitments have now been framed against the 2030 deadline.

The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with gender equality at its center represents a significant and hard-earned victory for advocates of gender equality including UN WOMEN. We welcome the recognition that “sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities”.

The universal framework’s trifold and indivisible dimensions of sustainable development – the economic, environmental and social – and its strong references to human rights, ending discrimination, violence and inequality is important for all women and girls, individuals and countries – developed and developing.

The giant leap is that the 2030 Agenda positions the Beijing Platform for Action as a foundational framework for sustainable development -“a normative motherboard” with all gender goals and targets transformed into sustainable development ones! There is an overarching commitment to significantly increase investment to close the gender gap, to strengthen support for gender equality institutions at all levels, to systematically mainstream gender perspectives into the implementation of the Agenda, and determination to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence including through engagement of men and boys.

A strong stand-alone SDG 5 to achieve –not just promote –gender equality and empower all women and girls has been secured. Gender equality is also integrated across 11 other SDGs including on poverty, hunger, health, education, water and sanitation, employment, just and peaceful societies, sustainable cities, and economic growth. Data and follow up and review are to be gender sensitive.

SDG 5 itself has six transformative targets – on ending all forms of discrimination, on all forms of violence against women and harmful practices like child marriage , female genital mutilation (FGM), on equal participation and leadership in economic, political and public life, on valuing and reducing women’s unpaid care work and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection and shared responsibility within the household, and on universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. Economic empowerment through access, ownership and control over resources, legal reform and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are critical means of implementation.

As a desperate migration crisis rocked the world, the 2015 Global Forum on Migration and Development in Istanbul also focused on women’s concerns and role. It affirmed that the Addis Accord and SDGs enable the mainstreaming of migration into development–that SDG 5 fully apply to women migrants–constituting over 50 percent of all migrants–and that both source and destination countries should act to promote those rights at all ends of the migration spectrum.

(Lakshmi Puri, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women)