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Gender and the U.N. Secretary-General's Report: In Larger Freedom

by The Washington Office of Public Policy


Contact: Office of Public Policy GBGM-Women's Division 100 Maryland Avenue, NE Room 530 Washington, DC 20002 (202)488-5660 Fax:(202) 488-5681
Office of Public Policy
GBGM-Women's Division
100 Maryland Avenue, NE Room 530
Washington, DC 20002
Fax:(202) 488-5681

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On March 21, 2005, the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan submitted a report to the U.N. General Assembly entitled In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all.  In this document, Secretary-General Annan outlined a set of actions that the international community should take to follow up on the principles and development goals set out in the Millennium Declaration of 2000.  The report identifies the most urgent needs of developing nations -- development, security, human rights, health care, and environmental sustainability, among others - and discusses strategies for meeting those needs.  Below is a summary of the Secretary-General's report, followed by a critique of the report offered by women's human rights organizations.

Summary of In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all

Report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, March 21, 2005

Now more than ever, the members of the international community have the potential to better protect human rights and improve the quality of life of people all over the world by taking bold action and working together.  A serious effort to reform the United Nations would prepare the organization to more effectively contribute to a movement to make the good life a reality for everyone.

By signing the Millennium Declaration, member states of the U.N. called for a global partnership to achieve an agreed-upon set of development goals by 2015.  They agreed that the U.N. needed to become more, not less, actively engaged in shaping the common future. 

Five years since the Millennium Declaration was implemented much has changed, causing a need to revitalize consensus on key challenges and priorities.  The September 11th attacks have caused many changes in the world.  Non-state actors - terrorists - have made even the most powerful States feel vulnerable.  There is an imbalance of power in the world and there are major divisions among major powers on key issues.  Violent conflict has also resulted in rising numbers of internally displaced people.  HIV/AIDS has killed over 20 million people and the number of those infected has surged to 40 million.  More than one billion people still live on less than one dollar a day and 20,000 people die from poverty each day.  Overall global wealth has grown but is less and less evenly distributed around the world.  Also, in recent years there has been declining public confidence in the U.N. itself. 

Some positive things have happened in the last five years.    Many civil conflicts have been resolved.  There has been an increase in resources for development and there has been progress in building peace and democracy in some war-torn areas. 

The United Nations must be guided by a commitment to serve the needs of the world's people.  This can be done when development, security and human rights are promoted together - in a way that acknowledges how they reinforce each other.  Conflicts all over the world are fueled by a cycle of poverty, violence and instability.  Poverty, when allowed to fester, triggers political unrest.  Human rights violations impede social and economic development.  Development, security and human rights will be achieved when they are addressed not as separate goals but as pieces of a whole.

Problems like poverty and war - that reach across political and geographic boundaries - illustrate how the fates of far-flung countries can be bound together.  The only way to find lasting solutions to these urgent challenges is through cooperation among the members of the international community.  The state governments, civil society, the private sector and regional and global intergovernmental institutions must act now to achieve development, security and human rights for all people.

The challenge of development cuts across many interlinked issues.  The U.N. conferences held in the 1990's helped to build frameworks by mapping out a broad vision.  They helped lay the groundwork for the Millennium Summit which led to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).  The MDG helped put into gear efforts to build a better world.  The Goals became aguide used by donors, developing countries, civil society and major development institutions.  The Millennium Project's January 2005 report provides an action plan to achieve the MDG.  The only way this agenda will be achieved is if it is supported by global development assistance. 

The MDG should be viewed as part of a larger development agenda.  The MDG do not in themselves represent a complete development agenda.  There are many issues that the MDG does not address.  Despite this, the urgency of achieving the MDG cannot be overstated.  Despite progress in some areas, the world is falling short of what is needed, especially in the poorest countries.  The Goals can still be met if we dramatically accelerate our efforts over the next 12 months.  Success will require sustained action across the entire decade between now and the deadline of 2015.  That is because development successes cannot take place overnight and many countries suffer from a lack of capacity. 

There are many causes of extreme poverty which pull countries into a vicious circle of destitution.  Countries cannot afford the basic investments needed to move forward without external assistance.  To address these problems countries must adopt frameworks for the next 10 years aimed at increasing investments to achieve at least the quantitative MDG targets.  To do this we need a different approach to the design and implementation of investment projects. 

Investment strategies to achieve the MDG will not work in practice unless supported by states with transparent and accountable governments.  Without good governance, strong institutions and a clear commitment to rooting out corruption, broader progress will prove elusive.  States must also have economic growth oriented policies.  Civil society organizations [like women's groups, unions, and faith-based organizations] have a critical role to play in driving this implementation process forward.

Each national strategy needs to take into account seven broad "clusters" of public investments and policies which directly address the MDG and set the foundation for private sector-led growth.  These investments and policies are; gender equality (overcoming pervasive gender bias), the environment (investing in better resource management), rural development (increasing food output and incomes), urban development (promoting jobs, upgrading slums and developing alternatives to new slum formation), health systems (ensuring universal access to essential services), education (ensuring universal primary, expanded secondary and higher education), and science, technology, and innovation (building national capacities).   
The world's least developed countries can not raise enough money to meet the MDG.  Development assistance is needed for these countries.  While there has been an increase in official development assistance (ODA) in recent years, the total estimated ODA would still be about $50 billion short of the recommended levels needed to meet the MDG, let alone broader development priorities.  Developed countries should establish timetables to provide at least 0.7% of their gross national income for ODA.  Starting in 2005 developing countries that put forward sound, transparent and accountable national strategies should receive a sufficient increase in aid to enable them to achieve the MDG.  Steps must also be taken to increase the quality, transparency and accountability of ODA.  By September 2005, donor countries should set timetables and measurable targets for aligning their aid delivery mechanisms with partner countries' MDG-based national strategies.     

Other related issues to ODA include debt and trade.  To move forward, we should redefine debt sustainability as the level of debt that allows a country to achieve the MDG and reach 2015 without an increase in debt ratios.  Members countries of the United Nations should provide duty-free and quota-free market access for all exports from the least developed countries. 

The international community's efforts to defeat poverty and pursue sustainable development will be in vain if environmental degradation and natural resource depletion continue unabated.  Today there are three major challenges for the international community that require particular urgent action.  These major environmental challenges are: desertification [the growth of deserts onto formerly arable land]; loss of biodiversity [through the destruction of natural habitats]; and dramatic changes in climate patterns around the world. 

In addition to these main concerns, a range of other critical development issues need to be fully addressed.  The international community needs to improve its response to global health threats, especially to easily preventable infectious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS.  Action to contain public health threats is most effective when national health authorities coordinate with global organizations like the World Health Organization.

Natural disasters pose a formidable obstacle to the achievement of the Millennium Development goals.  As the tsunami demonstrated, natural disasters can destroy a nation's infrastructure and economy, proving most devastating for poor populations.  A worldwide early warning system for natural disasters would complement existing national and regional networks.

Infrastructure improvements like paved roads and bridges would facilitate the exchange of goods and services that fuels economic growth.  Policy reforms would help to stimulate economic activities that boost development.

International financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have a key role to play in ensuring global development.  They should make a commitment to supporting projects around the world that are ambitious enough to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  These organizations should also institute internal reforms that reflect the changes that have taken place in the global economy since their creation in 1945.

The international community should dedicate resources to the study of the global phenomenon of migration.  When countries have a greater understanding of the social, political, and economic consequences of migration, it can be managed in a way that makes the most of the opportunities it has to offer.

The urgent task in 2005 is to fully implement the commitments already made to promote development and to make the existing framework operational and effective.  The September 2005 summit must produce a plan of action, to which all nations subscribe and according to which all can be judged.  The MDG’s should no longer stand as floating targets referred to now and then to measure progress.  Without a bold breakthrough in 2005 that lays the groundwork for rapid progress in the coming years, the poorer countries of the world will not meet their development targets.  Missing this opportunity will have devastating costs for the world. 


United Methodist Women have a long-standing commitment to improving the status of women throughout the world.  A number of women's human rights organizations that advocate for the empowerment of women have responded to the Secretary-General's report, focusing their analysis on the issue of gender. 

Several women's organizations - such as MADRE, the Center for Women's Global Leadership, Women's Environment and Development Organization, and the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security - note that the report's greatest strength is its emphasis on the links between development, security and human rights and the potential for greater impact of combined efforts in those areas.  However, the report's greatest weakness, according to these organizations, is the glaring lack of gender analysis and perspectives.  In the section on the right to freedom from fear, there is no mention of violence against women, despite the fact that this problem has serious consequences for development, security and human rights.  It fails to acknowledge that the Millennium Development Goals cannot be achieved without vast improvements in women's welfare.  The Secretary-General himself once stated that "There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women."  Unfortunately, this was not reflected in his report.

The report is also flawed in its portrayal of poverty as simply a need to be met, despite the fact that several international human rights treaties clearly identify the consequences of poverty -- lack of housing, discrimination, lack of access to development -- as violations of human rights.  In addition, the action steps laid out in the Secretary-General's report overlook the fact that the free trade economic model that has been promoted as a vehicle for development has also led to environmental destruction, economic exploitation, and other human rights violations all over the globe.  While the report calls for debt "sustainability" for heavily indebted poorer countries, it does not recognize the illegitimacy of developing countries' debt burdens, many of which were incurred under repressive and corrupt regimes.  To truly succeed, women's organizations affirm that the process of development should be firmly rooted in a human rights framework.


  • Read Resolution #326 In Support of the United Nations (Book of Resolutions 2004, pp.814-16.)
  • Visit the United Nations website and read the Secretary-General's report:  In larger freedom: development, security and human rights for allhttp://www.un.org/largerfreedom/contents.htm 

UN Publications                                    Phone: 800-253-9646
2 UN Plaza, Room DC2-853
New York, NY 10017

  • Join the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA).  UNA-USA is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that supports the work of the United Nations and encourages civic participation in international issues.  UNA-USA educates Americans about the work of the United Nations, and encourages public support for strong US leadership in the United Nations.  Visit http://www.unausa.org or call (212) 907-1300 to join UNA-USA or to find a local chapter in your area.
  • Learn more about the women's human rights organizations that responded to the Secretary-General's report:
    • MADRE -- MADRE is an international women's human rights organization that works in partnership with women's community-based groups in conflict areas worldwide. 212-627-0444,  http://www.madre.org
    • Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) - WEDO is an international organization that advocates for women's equality in global policy. It seeks to empower women as decision makers to achieve economic, social and gender justice, a healthy, peaceful planet and human rights for all.  212-973-0325, http://www.wedo.org
    • Center for Women's Global Leadership – The Center for Women's Global Leadership develops and facilitates women's leadership for women's human rights and social justice worldwide.  732-932-8782, http://www.cwgl.rutgers.edu
    • Non-Governmental Working Group on Women, Peace and Security - The NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security (NGOWG) was formed in May 2000 to successfully advocate for a UN Security Council Resolution (SCR) on women, peace and security.  212-682-3633, http://www.peacewomen.org/un/ngo/wg.html



Date posted: May 11, 2005