This article is part of UNU’s “17 Days, 17 Goals” series, featuring research and commentary in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, 25-27 September 2015 in New York City.
Goal #5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
In addition to being the year when UN Member States agree to the 2030 Agenda on sustainable development, 2015 stands out regarding actions for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. This year bears witness to many landmark events that have changed how these issues are viewed within the global community and at national level.
The year 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Although 189 states pledged to work towards gender equality, they believed rather optimistically that gender parity could be achieved within 10 years. Today, two decades later, we see positive signs of progress, but many challenges remain.
Countless studies show that inequality between men and women remains embedded in the laws of many countries; that basic human rights of women and girls are violated; that pay gaps remain in place across the globe; and that gender-based violence is endemic. Equality between men and women remains a chronic, global challenge.
This year we also celebrate the 15th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security.This resolution highlights the importance of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response, and post-conflict reconstruction. Yet the involvement of women in all these efforts remains far from equal.
From another angle, the human rights bill for women — the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women — which 36 years ago defined discrimination against women, continues to play an important role in national action plans to end gender biases.
But the mainstay is now the 2030 Agenda, with its 17 equally important Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These set development priorities for the next 15 years, following upon the previous Millennium Development Goals.
Gender equality is now prioritised to ensure that women’s and girls’ rights are recognised as a core principle of sustainable development. Gender-sensitive targets are spread across the SDGs, as many feature strong gender components, supporting findings from a UN study asserting that comprehensive sustainable development pathways cannot be achieved without explicit commitments to gender equality, women’s rights, and the empowerment of women.
SDG #5 is much more comprehensive than its predecessor, MDG #3, and takes into account many important dimensions, such as gender-specific needs, risks and vulnerabilities, roles and responsibilities, and power relations. SDG #5 proposes a range of targets to end discrimination, violence, and harmful practices; recognise and value unpaid care work; increase participation and leadership in decision-making; and assure universal access to sexual and reproductive health care and reproductive rights.
The special needs of women and girls are also considered in targets linked to other SDGs. Viewed through a gender lens, the 2030 Agenda highlights in many ways how women’s empowerment is a pre-condition for eradicating poverty and hunger, improving health, and finding ways to tackle inequality and violence against women. It includes, among other things, the right of women and girls to live their lives free from violence and have their basic human rights protected, in addition to the removal of legal barriers that hinder the realisation of gender equality.
Once approved, the next step for countries is to move towards a realistic but equally ambitious implementation plan for the 2030 Agenda. Specific country policies are needed that deal with the many underlying causes of inequalities addressed in the SDGs. How the agenda will be implemented, and what policies and actions will drive progress, is of utmost importance.
Without sound implementation — based on the mainstreaming of gender equality across all goals, on sound financing, and on solid political will — the 2030 Agenda is unlikely to succeed. Sufficient resources for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls can guarantee that women’s needs are met in development planning. Therefore, a clear rise in funding is needed to close the gender gap, to ensure gender mainstreaming, and to strengthen support for institutions in countries.
The 2030 Agenda on sustainable development will make it difficult for policymakers to ignore the gendered dimensions of development. If the agenda moves successfully from goals to policies to strategies and actions, by 2030 child marriage will be a disgrace of the past. Fewer girls will experience unwanted pregnancies or become infected with HIV. Girls will stay in school, and have access to essential and often-lifesaving sexual and reproductive health information and care. Women will be paid the same as their male counterparts for doing the same job. Men and boys, women and girls, will have a chance of a life free of violence.
Without the full and equal participation of both women and men, it will be impossible to make real and lasting progress in addressing sustainable development challenges, such as ensuring welfare and educational services and food security, or building peace and accountable institutions. An agenda on sustainable development is, therefore, only possible by addressing gender issues: they are, in short, a prerequisite for achieving sustainability.
A Question of Parity and Empowerment by Kristjana Sigurbjörnsdóttir is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.