Gender and the SDGs

When the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or Global Goals) are officially adopted on Friday, The United Nations begins a comprehensive strategy to make the world a safer, healthier, more prosperous, sustainable and peaceful place for all its citizens by 2030.

We see one thread — gender — woven throughout the 17 goals that give the SDGs a fighting chance for success. Achieving the SDGs by 2030 demands the equality of men and women throughout every country, city and home.

The Millennium Development Goals went a long way toward elevating women’s lives by helping guide the world toward strong education and economic policies, nutrition, water and sanitation programs and reduction of diseases like malaria and HIV. They did not however, come anywhere near meeting the goal to reduce maternal mortality globally by 75% by 2015. That’s because the root cause of poor maternal health outcomes is gender inequity.

Jessica Bowers, Every Mother Counts’ Portfolio Director, has seen the impact of gender inequities in every country in which we fund grants. She says, “Gender equity is essentially about not treating women as second class citizens. It’s about giving them equal chances and opportunities in life from birth. The sustainable development agenda recognizes the staggering inequities women and girls face. In many places where poverty seems intractable, women have the least power and agency. Because of this, they’re disproportionately affected by the issues targeted in the SDGs.”

A commitment to gender equality is featured throughout the SDGS and highlighted in its own stand-alone SDG. Goal #5 — to achieve gender equality and empower all women by ending all forms of discrimination of girls and women everywhere — includes the elimination of gender-based violence and harmful practices like female genital cutting and child marriage. It recognizes the value of unpaid work usually done by women and promotes shared responsibility by both genders for household and family duties. It promotes women’s full participation, equal opportunities for political, economic and public leadership and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. It outlines reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources and financial services, and access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance rights, and natural resources.

What about the other goals?

Bowers says, “Even goals that don’t specifically mention women generally try and address the fact that most global issues disproportionately impact women.” For example, Goal #1 to end poverty in all its forms everywhere ensures that all men and women have equal rights to economic resources, basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property and access to finance.

Goal #2 to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture specifically addresses the nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating women. It also addresses fair equities and opportunities for farmers. Bowers says, “Many people, who’ve grown up reading about Farmer Brown, don’t realize that most of the world’s farmers are women — subsistence farmers who may farm a piece of land their whole lives but never have a chance to own it because they’re women.”

Goal #3 ensures healthy lives and promotes wellbeing for all at all ages. This includes reducing the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 deaths per 100,000 live births and ending AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and other communicable diseases, which directly impact maternal mortality rates.

Goal #4 ensures inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Bowers says, “Girls need to stay in school longer and they a need provisions for quality and safety. In many countries, girls aren’t safe in school, not even from their teachers. It’s common for girls to be forced to trade sex for school supplies or uniforms. Girls also continue to leave school earlier than boys because they have to tend other children, fetch wood and water, or because they get pushed into early marriages and/or get pregnant, which impacts their economic and health outcomes. Hopefully, Goal 6, which concerns availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all and Goal 7, [ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all] will also help address the health inequities. When women and health workers have easy access to clean water and sanitation facilities, they’re less likely to be exposed to infection and disease. Clean, safe bathrooms mean more girls will go to school. Access to water in the home means girls will not have to walk so far to fetch water, keeping them safer and leaving them more time for studies. When communities have access to modern energy, they’re more likely to have light and equipment at healthcare facilities. It’s all integrated and we see the impact on women and girls everywhere.”

Goal 8 addresses sustainable and equal employment growth and opportunities, specifically targeting full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men. That includes equal pay for equal work, and more access to the formal economy.

Goal 9 addresses infrastructure, sustainable development and innovation. Bowers says, “Infrastructure such as roads means women can travel more quickly and easily to access healthcare. Technology and innovation lead to stronger health systems.”

Goals 10 and 11, to reduce inequality within and among countries and make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable address safety and violence issues where women live and the high-conflict and refugee situations in which women and children often suffer the most. Goals 12 through 15 tackle climate change. In countries where climate change has already caused the most damage, the poorest people who are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods usually women, suffer the most from drought, flood, and extreme weather conditions.

Goal 16 promotes peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provides access to justice for all and builds effective, accountable and inclusive

institutions at all levels. It includes goals to significantly reduce all forms of violence everywhere. In conflict situations, as we’ve seen in the DRC, Syria, and elsewhere, it is women and girls who often suffer the most from the violence.

Goal 17 strengthens the means of implementation and revitalizes the global partnership for sustainable development. That means all stakeholders will implement the SDGS more effectively and efficiently.

We know it’s complicated, but we think the success of the SDGs comes down to a few simple ideas — prioritize the wellbeing of women and girls, address the issues that keep women disempowered and work together to create a safety net upon which women and their families can thrive.

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