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Gender Equality as an Integral Component of Global Sustainable Development

By Helen Clark
Admistrator, UNDP

cq5dam.web.221.289In September 2015, world leaders launched the new global development agenda encompassing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In December, at COP21 in Paris, a new international climate agreement is expected to be reached. These agreements offer a once in a generation opportunity to achieve the sustainable and inclusive development 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 do remain disproportionately represented in vulnerable employment. Women’swages continue on average to be between four to 36 per cent lower than men’s.  Overall, women are less likely than men to have access to decent work, assets, and formal credit. And women comprise only 22 percent of the world’s parliamentarians.

Nations have made many commitments to gender equality from the time of agreement to the provisions of the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, right through to the Millennium Declaration. Their commitments arereiterated 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 rightsand is catalytic 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 immunized and enrolled in school.[1] 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.[2]

Empowering women helps drive economic growth, making investing in gender equality important to the G20 agenda.  At the last G20 Summit in Brisbane, leaders rightly agreed on “the goal of reducing the gap in participation rates between men and women by 25 per cent by 2025, taking into account national circumstances, to bring more than 100 million women into the labour force, and significantly increase global growth and reduce poverty and inequality”[3]. This is an important step.

Reducing gender inequality in a major sector like agriculture is vital for enhancing economic growth, food security, and the well-being of families and communities. According to a report by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, while women supply nearly half of global agricultural labor, 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 twenty to thirty per cent. That could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to four per cent per annum, and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by twelve to seventeen per cent.

The need to level the playing field for womenfarmers is recognized 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 are about to adopt an 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 policy-making and women’s participation in decision-making, including for peace making 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 build a more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient world.

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