It is increasingly clear that empowering women empowers humanity — economies grow faster, families are healthier and children are better-educated. Recognizing this, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by world leaders at the United Nations on 25 September, 2015, has set 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by the year 2030. Goal-5 of the SDG is to achieve gender equality and to empower all women and girls in 15 years’ time.
SDG-5 underlines the crucial role gender equality can play in progressing towards growth and sustainable development for countries around the world. It is also a sad acknowledgement that despite the passage of over three decades since the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and 20 years since the Beijing Declaration that stated its “determination to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity”, women continue to face discrimination in many parts of the world.
In 2000, when world leaders met at the United Nations to charter the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), the precursor to the present SDG, gender equality was once again on the agenda. However, by the end of the 15-year MDG period in 2015, women worldwide still continue to face persistent social, economic and political inequalities.
In many societies gender inequalities still remain deep-rooted. Women and girls continue to be denied access to basic education and health care, and are often victims of violence and discrimination. Globally, three out of every 10 women report having experienced physical or sexual abuse, or both.
Worldwide women are under-represented in political and economic decision-making processes. Women hold only 21.4 percent of the world’s parliamentary seats and less than a quarter of all senior corporate management positions.
It is true that as a result of previous declarations and goals several concrete changes have taken place in individual countries. Today, more women serve in political offices, are protected by laws against gender-based violence, and live under constitutions guaranteeing gender equality; nonetheless, a lot more remains to be realized.
Though many more girls are now in school compared to 15 years ago, an estimated 31 million girls of primary school age, and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age, still remain out of school.
While literacy and poverty among women have increased under the MDG, women still account for over 500 million of the 774 million illiterate people around the world and 60 percent of the world’s chronically hungry are women and girls.
In 2013, the male employment to population ratio stood at 72.2 percent, while the ratio for females was 47.1 percent. Also, globally, women are paid less than men. It is estimated that if employment disparity and wage gap between women and men were closed, women could increase their income globally by up to 76 percent resulting in a global value of US$17 trillion.
In virtually every country, men spend more time on leisure each day while women spend more time doing unpaid housework. When paid and unpaid work are combined, women in developing countries work more than men, with less time for education, leisure, political participation and self-care.
Educating girls has a huge impact on society; for instance, if all women had access to primary education, deaths during pregnancy and child-birth could be reduced by two-thirds, saving nearly 100,000 lives annually worldwide.
If all women had secondary education, child deaths could be cut in half, saving three million lives and 12 million children would be saved from stunting resulting from malnutrition.
If all girls had primary education there would be 14 percent fewer child-marriages; if they had secondary education there would 66 percent fewer child marriages.
Targets set for SDG-5 include ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere and ending all violence against them and ending every type of exploitation, including trafficking, sexual and other types of exploitation and harmful practices.
Other targets aim to ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life, as well as to provide universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.
SDG-5 also calls for undertaking reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.
The new SDG not only builds on the MDG but also aims to go further and address the root causes of poverty and the universal need for development that works for all people. It presents new opportunities to mobilize the public to work for gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls everywhere.