Gender equality and women’s empowerment are not just one of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to global challenges such as poverty, hunger, education and climate change. Both are the key to accelerating progress toward the achievement of the entire spectrum of goals.
Women’s participation in conflict resolution and peace building has been expanding since the adoption of Resolution 1325 by the UN Security Council in 2000. But awareness of the importance of including women’s perspectives in the process of meeting global challenges is not limited to peace and conflict resolution. There’s much more to it.
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. There is also emerging international recognition that women’s participation is key to effective climate action.
I would like to propose that the United Nations 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 to 2030, the culminating year for achieving the SDGs, as an opportunity for intensifying efforts to empower women and increasing momentum for attaining the SDGs.
Women’s empowerment is not an optional agenda; it is an urgent priority. It can serve as the driving force to restore hope and the ability to advance in the face of the most challenging circumstances.
A Syrian woman in a refugee camp in Jordan who started to work as a tailor in a centre operated by UN Women, recounts, “We no longer feel helpless, our work makes us feel productive and empowered.”
Grounded in the Buddhist commitment to uphold the dignity of all people, the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) has been consistently working to expand the scope of women’s empowerment. As a civil society organisation, we have regularly supported the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
A global Platform on Gender Equality and Religion was launched at the CSW session in March 2017, and the SGI is determined to support this platform and collaborate with other faith-based organisations 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.
I am convinced that the ideal of a world in which no one is left behind, articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals, 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 create societies where all can live with hope and dignity.
As I envision the challenges that lie ahead between now and 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.
(Daisaku Ikeda is President, Soka Gakkai International and founder, Soka University and the Toda Peace Institute.)