Moving towards the distant goal: Integrating gender equality to deliver the SDGs

Published on :

25 April 2024

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Money Control

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According to a recent report, not a single SDG 5 (Gender Equality) indicator is at the “target met” or “almost met” level, reminding us of the uphill battle women and girls face globally.

At the current rate of progress, it will take up to 286 years to close the gender gap in legal protection, 140 years for equitable representation in workplace leadership, and over a century for overall gender parity to be achieved. These are disheartening realities that underscore the limited progress on Gender Equality - SDG 5. According to a recent report, not a single SDG 5 indicator is at the “target met” or “almost met” level, reminding us of the uphill battle women and girls face globally.

Even though the world is failing to meet and prioritize SDG 5, we must realize it serves as the linchpin for advancing all the other sustainable development goals and the overarching 2030 agenda. In essence, gender equality acts both as an enabler and an accelerator for all the SDGs and is intrinsically linked with the pivotal issues of poverty, quality education, hunger, clean water, sanitation, environmental sustainability, and economic growth. Amid all these issues, clean energy, and climate change are the most pressing challenges of our time and it is imperative to understand the multifaceted nature of these issues and the ways in which gender equality is essential to solving them.

When looking at the realm of clean and affordable energy (SDG 7), gender equality plays a transformative role. Access to electricity and clean cooking fuels has various benefits including better health and lower poverty rates for women. Statistics show that universal electricity access could reduce the number of women and girls in poverty by 185 million by 2050. Moreover, women’s empowerment in the energy sector can drive economic growth and social development, creating jobs and fostering community resilience.

Additionally, due to prevailing roles, duties, and cultural norms, women are frequently more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. According to UN statistics, women make up 80% of those displaced by climate change. Hence addressing gender disparities in climate change is essential to achieving Climate Action (SDG 13). As we reflect on the interconnectedness of SDG 5 with the other goals, we must realize only 10 SDGs have gender-specific indicators, highlighting the need to integrate gender perspectives across all goals. As a society we must focus on goals that lack empowerment indicators and mainstream gender equality throughout all the goals, to progress towards an equitable future for all.

Moreover, the significance of gender equality not only resonates across all SDGs but stands as a pivotal theme embraced by governments, international organizations, and the private sector. Efforts are being made across sectors to incorporate gender perspectives into policies, programs, and partnerships. In the landscape of global diplomacy, India’s G20 presidency is pivotal, marked by its commitment to recognizing the importance of gender equality through the creation of a working group on the empowerment of women. This commitment is a reflection of our Prime Minister's vision of ‘Women-led Development’ and has earned India a significant place within the G20 New Delhi Declaration.

The Indian Government not only stands at the forefront but has taken significant strides toward promoting gender equality through various initiatives and policies. One notable example is the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna Scheme, which has made significant progress towards increasing financial literacy and reducing poverty. There are more than 50 crore beneficiaries banked under the scheme with around 56% Jan Dhan accounts held by women, representing a noteworthy advancement towards gender equality in financial participation.

Additionally, several other programs and initiatives have been introduced to uplift women’s socio-economic status, like the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana which provides financial assistance to beneficiaries and encourages female entrepreneurship (with 69% of the accounts held by women entrepreneurs); the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna which has improved the lives of over 80 million households by replacing polluting cooking fuels with LPG, benefiting women’s health and environment. Another important initiative is the Beti Bachao, Beti Padao campaign launched in 2015 to address the issue of female feticide and promote the education and empowerment of girls. The program's impact is evident in the substantial increase in the gross enrolment ratio of girls in secondary education, reaching approximately 80% by 2020-21.

Moreover, this year's budget demonstrates a holistic approach to advancing women’s empowerment through initiatives like cervical cancer vaccination for girls and the expansion of the Lakhpati Didi Scheme, aiming to empower 30 million women. These initiatives reflect our commitment to nurturing a more equitable and prosperous India.

On the international front, organizations like the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) have played a crucial role towards gender equality through initiatives like the “Forward Faster” which brings together private players/ companies to commit to advancing gender equality. By signing the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) businesses are committing to promoting gender diversity, ensuring equal pay for equal work, and eliminating any discriminatory practices. In line with the global agenda, the UNGC India Network is actively promoting gender equality through initiatives like the flagship Annual Gender Equality Summit that brings together various stakeholders (government, private sector, civil society, academia) to advocate and catalyze actions.

As governments, international organizations, and the private sector move forward, faster, toward a future where everyone can thrive, it is imperative to address key action points that tackle the existing barriers and gaps. Governments must focus on policies & legislations addressing structural barriers to gender equality (such as policies ensuring labor force participation, unpaid care work, education, and health coverage). The Women’s Reservation Bill, 2023 which seeks to reserve one-third of seats for women in Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies is a symbolic moment to advance gender equality in the Indian politics. Such renewed efforts not only pave the way for greater acceptance of women in leadership positions but also lead to tangible improvements in gender-sensitive policymaking.

Further, sustainable progress toward gender equality requires adequate financing, and gender budgeting is a crucial tool in this endeavour. India adopted gender budgeting in 2004-05 and over the past two decades, the quantum of gender budgeting has grown with average allocations ranging between 4%-5% of the total expenditure. This year the quantum of gender budget was up by 38% in comparison to the budget estimates of 2023-24. These initiatives by the government foster greater transparency and accountability in resource allocation and showcase India’s readiness to compete with the developed economies worldwide.

As the next step, we should look at creating awareness of gender budgeting accounting methods and mainstreaming gender perspectives across the ecosystem into all policies, programs, and activities, which will also ensure progress across the goals and targets. To conclude, the journey towards achieving the 2030 agenda is fundamentally tied to SDG 5. It is critical to recognize that progress on SDG 5 represents progress across the entire spectrum of the development goals. As I envision, it is not about achieving a solitary objective but transforming societies and mindsets – whether it is the bustling heart of the UNGC headquarters in New York or the village of Dhokawada in Gujarat, India, the call for gender equality should echo loud and clear.

VAISHALI NIGAM SINHA is Co-founder and Chairperson of Sustainability at ReNew.