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Women of all ages gather at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium to enjoy an International Women’s Day concert in 2010. Nina Loacker
Women of all ages gather at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium to enjoy an International Women’s Day concert in 2010. Nina Loacker

Step it up for gender equality

Today marks International Women’s Day, when we focus on ending discrimination against women and girls. A life free of discrimination is a basic human right that the female half of the population is still struggling to realise in a world where no country has yet achieved gender equality. Women’s empowerment and gender equality are also essential ingredients for sustainable development.

This year the theme of International Women’s Day is Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step it up for gender equality, highlighting the need to accelerate our efforts.

It has been over 20 years now since world leaders committed to gender equality and women’s empowerment at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

These commitments were reinforced in 2000 when world leaders signed up to the Millenium Development Goals which set goals and targets to promote gender equality and empower women with an end-date in 2015.

Here in Cambodia, the government has included gender equality in national strategies and policies such as the National Strategic Development Plan. The role of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has been strengthened and the ministry is now leading the implementation of Cambodia’s fourth national strategy for gender equality, Neary Rattanak IV.

These commitments have resulted in concrete gains for Cambodian women and girls. Gender equality in primary education has been achieved and even surpassed, with more girls enrolled than boys.

There are increasing numbers of young women who graduate from high school and attend university. Pregnancy and childbirth are safer and more women are able to exercise choice over the number of children that they have.

There are more women in public service and leadership roles. At the National Assembly, women parliamentarians have formed Cambodia’s first bipartisan Women’s Caucus.

These gains mark considerable progress against Cambodia’s international commitments from Beijing and the MDGs and the United Nations has been pleased to partner with the royal government, civil society, women’s organisations and other partners to support these achievements.

We have now reached an important transition. Real global transformation is in our sights, but we need to step up our commitment and effort to make it happen.

In 2015, the world leaders, including from Cambodia, committed to a new sustainable development agenda to be achieved by 2030, and a new set of global goals. Gender equality is central to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

These goals are ambitious and emerged from a process of grassroots consultation around the world. They combine the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development with the aspiration for peaceful and inclusive society, leaving no one behind.

The SDGs apply to all societies in the world, not just developing countries, because they highlight inclusion, inequality and human rights. They demand more from all of us, calling on us to step it up to make change happen.

As Cambodia begins the process of localising the SDGs into the national context, the United Nations looks forward to continuing to support national efforts to achieve sustainable development, which cannot be a reality without gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Building on our experience and partnerships, we will continue to support Cambodia to take forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and support national institutions to fulfil their commitments to international treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

We will do so with a renewed attention to issues such as violence against women and girls, women’s rights to decent work, recognition of unpaid work, resilience to climate change, increasing participation in leadership, the rights of women facing particular discrimination such as women with disabilities and women from ethnic minorities as well as broadening the gender focus to address the discrimination facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Women’s empowerment and gender equality benefit the whole of society contributing to the equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. Everyone will benefit if we seize this opportunity to step it up for an equal world by 2030.

Claire Van der Vaeren is the UN resident coordinator on behalf of the United Nations system in Cambodia.

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