Agenda 2030: Opportunities and Challenges for Women Empowerment

Published on 8th March 2016

Last year was a watershed year for global development, including on gender equality and women’s empowerment. We celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, with the Beijing+20 review taking stock of progress and challenges encountered on gender equality since the adoption of the Declaration in 1995. We also marked the fifteenth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, on the occasion of which the Security Council adopted a new and a more ambitious resolution on Women, Peace, and Security - Resolution 2242.

In 2015, UN Member States also reached major new global agreements, which together set the broader context in which progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment will take place. These include the Sendai Agreement on Disaster Risk Reduction; a positive and realistic new framework on financing for development – the Addis Ababa Action Agenda; the new global climate change agreement reached in Paris; and – a central focus of my keynote address here today - Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Agenda 2030: opportunities and challenges for gender equality

Agenda 2030 and the SDGs have the potential to make a real difference for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Among the seventeen SDGs are goals seeking to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality significantly, and promote peace, security, good governance, and the rule of law. Gender equality is asserted as a fundamental human right, and as a driver of progress across all development goals. Reflecting this, it is both the sole focus of one of the goals - Goal 5 - and is also integrated into the other goals.

The SDGs address important structural drivers of gender inequality. They include targets on eliminating gender-based violence, child marriage, and female genital mutilation; and calls for equal rights to economic resources, including access to land and property; equal leadership opportunities; and a more prominent role for women in peace and state building.

Many voices helped shape Agenda 2030. UNDP along with agencies across the UN Development Group contributed to shaping Agenda 2030 and the SDGs. By facilitating national, thematic, and global consultations, as well as the MY World survey which has now engaged almost ten million people, we helped to ensure that the goals were informed by an unprecedented global conversation about a UN process. Women participated equally in the My World Survey, representing fifty per cent of respondents.

Of course, having had a say on the new global agenda, people are expecting to see results. Agendas are mere words on paper, unless concrete action is taken to implement them. We all have work to do to drive progress, including with and for women.

In today’s development context, this must be done amid major global challenges – challenges which often have unique and specific impacts on women. For example:

•We are living through the most profound displacement crisis since World War II. The Syria conflict has had major spillover impacts on the sub-region – and beyond.

As women and girls comprise about half of any refugee, internally displaced, or stateless population, it is imperative that their voices and needs inform decision-making on their conditions and/or the environment in which they find themselves, and that they are equal beneficiaries of initiatives designed to support displaced people. We must also recognize that in some settings for displaced people, women are particularly vulnerable to violence and to trafficking.

It should be noted that when women stay behind as male members of families migrate, they must then fend for their families alone, sometimes with limited access to services and livelihoods. This underscores the importance of empowering women economically, reinforcing their resilience when faced with such circumstances.

•Economic and social shifts are creating new opportunities, but also new risks. Fast technological progress and deepening globalization offer opportunities for some, but also profound challenges for others. Compounding these challenges is a less than robust global economy in which a number of major developed countries continue to record low growth, and a number of the emerging economies which held up global growth in recent years have now themselves slowed.

As UNDP’s 2015 Human Development Report on the role of work for human development made clear, women continue to be disproportionately represented in the informal work sector. Within the formal labor market, they are concentrated in lower waged jobs. The higher-paying jobs of the technology and science sectors will remain out of reach for many women until they have greater access to training and education in these spheres.
•Many countries are being affected by unprecedented natural disasters. Recurrent severe weather events in the Sahel and in the Horn of Africa, for example, are devastating people’s lives. This year we see particularly severe drought impacts in Southern Africa and Central America too. With climate change, we can expect worsening weather for decades.

While climate change and natural disasters affect everyone, women and girls bear the heaviest burden because of structural issues, including unequal access to credit, land ownership, and decision making. As generally the providers of food, water, and fuel for families, changes in the climate and environment impact on women directly.

How to realize the gender equality ambitions of Agenda 2030?

These challenges have implications for women’s lives. Addressing them not only calls for targeted, gender-focused programmes, but also requires that all development efforts take the experiences, needs, and contributions of women into account.

With the integration of gender equality throughout the SDGs, the 2030 Agenda provides the international community with an ambitious roadmap to do just that.

In particular, to make progress towards the targets of the new agenda, there is a need for:

•Getting more women into decision-making positions. Today, women comprise only 22.7 per cent of the world’s parliamentarians – a level well below parity. In some regions, the average is much lower, and some countries still have no elected women members of Parliament. A gender imbalance is also widespread in other forums for decision-making in many countries, from the executive branch of government to the judiciary, the private sector, and beyond.

Increasing the proportion of women in decision-making is not just a matter of equity – a critical mass of women decision-makers also makes a difference in bringing forward issues which previously went unaddressed.

•Investing in women and girls as active agents of change: investments in gender equality and women’s empowerment not only improve the lives of individual women, but also bring multiple dividends to families and societies. Norway’s emphasis on education for girls in its development assistance programme represents an important contribution in this regard.

Closing gender gaps in labour markets, education, health, and other areas reduces poverty and hunger, improves the nutrition and education of children, and drives economic growth and agricultural production.  A recent report by McKinsey Global Institute concluded that as much as $28 trillion, or 26 per cent, could be added to global annual GDP in 2025 if women participated in the labor force at the same rate as men.
•Removing structural barriers to women’s economic empowerment: women with equal rights as basic as being able to own and inherit land and property, access credit, and open bank accounts can play an even greater role in the development of their societies.

The same is true of ensuring women’s access to decent work and equal pay. While at least fifty per cent of the world’s women are now in paid employment, an increase from forty per cent in the 1990s, women remain disproportionately represented in vulnerable employment. Globally, on average, women earn 24 per cent less than men. In Norway the situation is better, with women’s pay standing at 86.4 per cent of men’s in 2014.

One of the most significant structural barriers to women’s economic empowerment is the disproportionate burden of unpaid work carried by women, which impacts on their ability to pursue paid work and/or education. This also has implications for economies as a whole.  Using conservative assumptions, the McKinsey study estimates that if women got paid for the household chores and family care they provide, it would add an additional $10 trillion per year to the global economy.
•Building strong partnerships across all segments of society, including civil society and the private sector. Here the vital role of women’s civil society organizations cannot be overstated.

•Resources are needed. While money isn’t everything, big ambitions – like Agenda 2030 - require big investments. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that to achieve the SDGs by 2030 in key sectors in developing countries will require the investment of between $3.3 trillion and $4.5 trillion every year.

Development investments must include resources targeted for gender equality initiatives, including for the collection, analysis, and use of gender-disaggregated data which are essential to inform policy making and planning.

By Hellen Clark

Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.

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