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Achieving gender equality by 2030: A reality check and a roadma

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Achieving gender equality by 2030: A reality check and a roadmap

SDG 17bIn 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and promised to transform our world, making gender inequality a thing of the past. As members of the United Nations, G20 countries have committed to follow up these commitments with action—promoting gender equality and sustainable development through both domestic policies and international cooperation.

Three years later, where do we stand? And what will it take to turn the 2030 Agenda’s promises into a lived reality for all women and girls? Our global monitoring report Turning Promises into Action provides both a reality check and a road map for moving from rhetoric to sustainable change.

It’s a mixed picture.  At the global level, girls’ enrolment in primary and secondary education has almost caught up with that of boys, though significant gender gaps remain in some regions. In other areas, progress is too slow to achieve the targets set out in the 2030 Agenda. Maternal mortality ratios, for example, went down by 44% between 1990 and 2015, but to achieve our targets we still need to triple the annual rate of decline. Finally, there are areas where progress has been minimal and wide gender gaps persist. With the exception of Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, the gender gap in labour force participation has remained relatively unchanged over the last 20 years and the global gender pay gap stands at a stubborn 23%.

The report makes it starkly apparent that women are more affected by extreme poverty. Across regions, the gender gap for those living on less than $1.90 a day is widest for the 25-34 age group, with women 22 per cent more likely than men to be living with this extreme deprivation. These are peak productive years where many women and men are earning a living to sustain themselves and their families; but they are also prime reproductive years, meaning that many of them have small children to care for. The fact that women in this age group are so much more likely to be poor than men shows that the responsibility for ‘reconciling’ production and reproduction falls disproportionately on their shoulders. For many women this implies harsh tradeoffs: either leaving their children unattended or sacrificing an income that could lift them and those very same children out of poverty.

In most G20 countries, women are more likely to be income poor than men, with single mothers particularly affected. In the United States, Brazil, South Africa, Luxembourg and Italy more than 40 per cent of single mothers live below the 50 per cent of median income, a measure of relative poverty. There are solutions that the G20 can lead the way on: by promoting a supportive policy framework, at home and abroad, which enables women and men to care for their family members without being condemned to poverty. That will take solutions such as universal social protection, affordable childcare services, paid maternity and parental leaves as well as long-term care solutions for rapidly ageing societies.

Investments in these areas can yield important benefits for women, for families and for economies. The expansion of quality early childhood education and care services, for example, has rightly been recognized as an important pillar of inclusive growth by the G20 Development Working Group. Broad-based and affordable access to these services can help women increase their participation in paid employment, create jobs in the social service sector and contribute to children’s development, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.SDG 1.Adults poverty

Such investments have price tags, but they also generate important pay offs. In South Africa, for example, a gross annual investment of 3.2 per cent of GDP would not only make quality childcare services available to all. It would also create more than 2 million new jobs and raise female employment rates by 10.2 percentage points. The new jobs, in turn, would generate additional tax and social security revenue.

We live in a world where resources are plentiful, but do not reach those who need them the most. The financial resources flowing out of developing countries are 2.5 times the amount of aid flowing in. Unrecorded capital flight, including illicit financial flows, constitute the bulk of these outflows—compared to which gender allocations in official development aid are a drop in the ocean. Since 2016, developed and developing countries alike have been eroding safety nets and essential services on which so many women and girls depend. In virtually all countries, there is scope for raising additional revenue from both domestic and external sources to avoid cut-backs and prioritize gender-responsive investments.

We can afford the resources needed to achieve the SDGs. It is a matter of political will and of using all the available policy tools. The cost of inaction is simply too high.

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