“The future of the planet concerns all of us, and we should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree” (Wangari Maathai)
Inclusiveness and Sustainability start with Equality! In recognition of the critical contribution of equality to sustainable human development, the SDG framework includes a stand-alone goal for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls (Goal No. 5) as well as gender-sensitive targets in other goals.
There was also a standalone goal for gender equality in the MDGs. Though we have made progress in the last 15 years, few deny that it is has not gone far enough.
Gender equality is more than numbers and the promotion of empowerment involves more than providing access to credit or increasing representation. Fostering equality and empowerment is about increasing voice and influence, and about control over resources, choices and the power for decision-making about oneself. Evidence on inequality and exclusion demonstrates that race, ethnicity, caste, religion and location are among the most commons markers of exclusion and that gender cuts across all of these so that women and girls – particularly from marginalized groups – generally fare worse than men and boys. Political and economic empowerment, leadership and voice are elements that can help turn around the gender bias. Being sensitive to the differences between men and women is also necessary but not sufficient on its own to achieve equality. A Goal on gender equality will give the world another opportunity to address an issue that affects half of the world’s population.
A journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step. Promoting equal rights for women goes above and beyond ensuring that policies and laws are fair. In many cases, it means challenging centuries of entrenched traditions that dictate that even when women work as hard as their male counterparts, they do not receive equal compensation. Such traditions can also limit opportunities for men in areas of work traditionally seen as ‘female’. Globally, women’s earnings are 24 per cent less than men’s, earning half as much income as men over their lifetimes and across most professional grades and care work often goes unvalued.
For too many women and girls, boys and men, resource inequality remains a significant barrier to sustainable development and resilience. Those currently being ‘left behind’ include people often engaged in own-account or family work and women largely dependent on part-time employment (see our blog on Decent Work and Inclusive Growth). Collecting firewood (due to a lack of access to energy) and water (due to a lack of access to improved water sources as well as sanitation) is still a daily chore for millions.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment is therefore a pivotal multiplier for many of the SDGs. The Beijing Platform for Action of 1995 and the RIO 1992 Conference recognized these links. Research by Smith and Haddad (2014) shows women’s education and economic empowerment having a powerful reducing effect on stunting and malnutrition, in some cases more than some environmental goods like access to water.
Recent advances in a number of areas are all the more important for not just the “what of the SDGs” but the “how”:
- The HeforShe Campaign by UN Women, a solidarity movement for gender equality, of men and women, numbering more than 460,000 people worldwide and benefitting from spokespersons such as the Prime Minister of Japan;
- The Lima Call to Action on Gender at COP 20 in Peru;
- The investments and increasing sophistication of gender-based budgeting over the last two decades including its application to a number of economic, social and environmental challenges;
- The Gender and Environment Index by IUCN which tracks governments’ progress on gender responsiveness in key areas of the environment;
- The campaign to ensure that land rights targets in the SDGs reflect not just ownership but security of tenure rights recognizing the multiple forms of deprivations experienced by women and indigenous peoples;
- The OECD’s Gender Initiative focused on education, empowerment and entrepreneurship;
- The elaboration of the 1st Global Gender and Environment Outlook, a decision from the 2012 RIO+ 20 Conference;
- The W+ Standard launched by WOCAN and the increasing availability of results-based finance and crowdsourcing initiatives that focus on women’s economic empowerment.
The RIO+ Centre has published several papers and articles on gender in the current climate discourse, e.g. our Working Paper on Gender and Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA). It is also worth looking at our Youtube Channel, in which we feature various informative videos on our CSA and Gender project, in collaboration with FANRPAN.
The Post-2015 Agenda embraces a number of principles: universality, leaving no one behind and equality at the same level of priority as sustainability. It also embraces innovation! Innovation that must include: moving away from terms like ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ and towards ‘optimising.’ That must embrace reconciling or distinguishing needs at different scales to balance between household and communal sustainability, between community and national sustainability and between national and global sustainability. The Gender SDG serves as a great call for action in this regard.
Gender equality will make or break the SDGs. Get to know them all at www.globalgoals.org and join in!