In September 2015, world leaders launched the new global development agenda encompassing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In December, at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, a new international climate agreement was reached. These agreements offer a once-in-a-generation opportunity to achieve the sustainable and inclusive development that people everywhere seek. Gender equality and women’s empowerment must be priorities in these agendas.
Despite notable progress in some areas, gender inequality remains a major impediment to the advancement of women and to development. While the number of women in paid employment has increased, women remain disproportionately represented in vulnerable employment. Women’s wages continue, on average, to be between 4% and 36% lower than men’s. Overall, women are less likely than men to have access to decent work, assets and formal credit. And women comprise just 22% of the world’s parliamentarians.
Countries have made many commitments to gender equality, from the time of agreement to the provisions of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, right through to the Millennium Declaration. Their commitments are reiterated in the 2030 Agenda for Global Action, which sets out the new SDGs. The challenge now is to turn words into action with and for women.
There is now widespread recognition that gender equality is both a matter of human rights and a catalyst for growth and development. Studies show that children born to women with some formal education are more likely to survive to their fifth birthday, receive adequate nutrition, and be immunised and enrolled in school. Access to sexual and reproductive health services enables women to plan their families and expand their opportunities, and it also helps reduce both maternal and child mortality.
Steps towards equality
Empowering women helps drive economic growth, making investing in gender equality important to the G20 agenda. At the G20 summit in Brisbane in 2014, leaders rightly agreed on “the goal of reducing the gap in participation rates between men and women in our countries by 25% by 2025, taking into account national circumstances, to bring more than 100 million women into the labour force, significantly increase global growth and reduce poverty and inequality”. This is an important step.
Reducing gender inequality in a major sector such as agriculture is vital for enhancing economic growth, food security, and the well-being of families and communities. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization, while women supply nearly half of global agricultural labour, they do not reap the same rewards as their male counterparts. The report contends that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30%. That could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4% per annum, and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17%.
The need to level the playing field for women farmers is recognised in SDG 2 on ending hunger, which includes the target of doubling by 2030 the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, namely women, through equal access to land, and to resources such as financial services and markets. Under the leadership of the Turkish presidency, G20 members adopted the Action Plan on Food Security and Sustainable Food Systems, through which they will support food system employment and entrepreneurial opportunities, in particular for smallholders including women and youth.
In many places, women bear the primary responsibility for growing food, managing natural resources and securing the energy needs of their families. The new climate agreement must respond to and support the central role of women in building climate resilience and supporting low-emission development. Because women are so often on the frontlines of climate change and disasters, their full participation in global policymaking and implementation, including in the new Paris accord, is vital for action on climate change.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) makes achieving gender equality a central focus of its efforts to eradicate poverty. Our work includes preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence, which persists everywhere. It includes providing support for gender-responsive economic policymaking and women’s participation in decision-making, including for peacemaking and peace building. This focus is reinforced by SDG 16, which aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, including by ensuring responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.
There is no silver bullet for achieving sustainable development, but investing in gender equality is certainly a critical component of our efforts to build a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient world.