In a paper entitled "No empowerment without rights, no rights without politics", that was written for a Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) assessment project, we argued that: "...progress towards gender equality and women's empowerment in the development agenda requires a human rights-based approach, and requires support for the women's movement to activate and energize the agenda. Both are missing from Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3. Empowerment requires agency along multiple dimensions--sexual, reproductive, economic, political, and legal. However, MDG 3 frames women's empowerment as reducing educational disparities. By omitting other rights and not recognizing the multiple interdependent and indivisible human rights of women, the goal of empowerment is distorted and "development silos" are created..."
We also drew attention to
"women's organizations...[as] key actors in pushing past such distortions and silos at all levels, and hence crucial to pushing the gender equality agenda forward. However, the politics of agenda setting also influences funding priorities such that financial support for women's organizations and for substantive women's empowerment projects is limited" (Sen and Mukherjee, 2014, p. 188).
Much has changed since the MDGs were first formulated soon after the Millennium Declaration in 2000. Or has it? It is undoubtedly true that, as compared to the formulation of the MDGs, the sustainable development goals (SDGs) has been a more open and more inclusive process driven by United Nations Member States, and generating intense and wide debate. And yet, when it comes to gender justice, the goals sound eerily similar. MDG 3 committed to "Promote gender equality and empower women"; SDG 5 (as agreed thus far through the process of the General Assembly's Open Working Group (OWG)) (United Nations, 2014) calls to "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls". However, two important differences at this level are the explicit inclusion of girls, and of the word "all", which can be used to address the challenges faced by the most marginalized and oppressed. More differences appear at the level of the targets under the goal: whereas MDG 3 had a single target focused on education, SDG 5 proposes a range of targets to end discrimination, violence and harmful practices, recognize and value unpaid care work, participation and leadership in decision-making, and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and...