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Opinion: Will the SDGs Serve to Bridge the Gender Gap?

Paloma Duran is Director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund.

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 16 2015 (IPS) - Increasingly gender equality, rooted in human rights, is recognized both as a key development goal on its own and as a vital means to helping accelerate sustainable development. And while the field of gender has expanded exponentially over the years, with programmes focused exclusively on women and girls and greater mainstreaming of gender into many development activities, a range of challenges remain.

Women are still facing unequal access to economic and environmental resources. They often face numerous barriers linked to clear discrimination as well as bear the burden of low wages or unpaid work, and are susceptible to gender-based violence.

So despite the significant advances for women, the fact is that unless women and girls are able to fully realize their rights in all facets of society, human development will not be advanced. The year 2015 is a crucial time to further equality and if the new post-2015 development agenda is to be truly transformative, women must be at the front and also at its centre.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contain a stand-alone goal on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. All the goals are intrinsically interrelated and interdependant – and ideally gender will be adressed and mainstreamed amongst all goals. SDG 5 calls on governments to achieve, rather than just promote, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

The proposed targets include ending violence, eliminating harmful practices, recognizing the value of unpaid care, ensuring that women have full participation – and equal opportunities – in decision-making, and calling for reforms to give women equal access to economic resources. The new post-2015 agenda is a universal idea with high hopes to “leave no one behind,” but to make this a reality, we must keep pressure on governments to follow through on their commitments.

The Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund) has placed gender equality and women’s empowerment at the heart of its efforts to acceleterate progress towards the SDGs. By directly empowering women and by bringing a gender perspective to all development work we can build a more equitable, sustainable future for all.

Stemming from the comitments established in 1995 at the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, the SDG Fund adopted a dual strategy for advancing gender equality to support both gender-targeted programmes while simultaneaously mainstreaming gender as a cross-cutting priority. Gender mainstreaming entails transforming existing policy agendas by integrating a gender perspective into all policies and programming.

There is no set recipe to creating programmes that will solve gender inequality and perhaps it would be good if there was one single universally applicable and empirically proven method for achieving gender equality in every country around the world. A multi-dimensional issue such as gender inequality is deeply rooted in economic and cultural structures of society and it requires comprehensive approaches. Furthermore, one needs to explore the issue in the specific context of the country in question to effectively improve the quality of life for women and girls everywhere.

The private sector, together with NGOs and governments, are key actors in addressing the variable causes of gender inequality. In other words, achieving equality and empowerment for women is a challenge that requires the synergistic intervention of multiple actors.

For example, the Fund is working in Bangladesh, where women are employed at the lower end of the productivity scale. Labor force participation of rural women is only 36.4 per cent compared to 83.3 per cent of men. Creating employment and income generating opportunities for women as well as enhancing women’s access to social protection will help reduce gender disparities which are exacerbated by women’s poverty and vulnerability.

The SDG Fund programme entitled “Strengthening Women’s Ability for Productive New Opportunities” is led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), local governments and private partners with the overall goal to assist 2,592 women from ultra-poor households. As part of a pilot programme, women are trained in maintenance or rehabilitation of key community assets, public works and community service activities.

Furthermore, the programme is targeting 2,600 women in Kurigram District which has the highest incidence of poverty in Bangladesh. In particular, it aims to assist those who are alone because they are divorced, have been abandoned by their husbands or widowed and/or with low economic status including those with no assets or forced to beg due to poverty. The results will be replicated, targeting 1,900 women, in Satkhira district and the government is further committed scale-up this pilot in a further 20 districts. Overall, the 18 month programme is designed to:

– Helping primary beneficiaries permanently move out of poverty.
– Support human capital with activities to boost knowledge, skills, and confidence.
– Enhance economic inclusion with vocational skills training linked to viable job placement.
– Provide livelihoods options that are resilient in the face of climate change.
– Encourage wage saving or issued as a graduation bonus.
– Facilitate partnership linkages with small and medium enterprises and public-private partnerships to hire participant women after the programme ends.
– Integrate social protection, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
– Enhance good local governance and develop the capacity of local government institutions.
Gender equality is often seen as the key to addressing the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals and accelerating global development beyond 2015. There is strong evidence that closing gender gaps accelerates progress towards other development goals. Poverty, education, health, jobs and livelihoods, food security, environmental and energy sustainability will not be solved without addressing gender inequality.

Urgent action is needed to empower women and girls, ensuring that they have equal opportunities to benefit from development and removing the barriers that prevent them from being full participants in all spheres of society. In the words of UN Women’s Executive Director, “equality for women, is progress for all” and so let us embark on this journey together.


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