The 2030 Agenda, will it Deliver Equality for all?

By Judith Kaulem,Poverty Reduction Action Trust,judith@prftzim.org

The principle underpinning the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be implemented by 2030 is “Leave No One Behind”. This comes at a backdrop of continued gender disparities that disadvantage women and girls, impeding their development and that of humankind. This article argues that linking gender equality with the Sustainable Development is both a moral and ethical imperative.
Sustainable Development Goal 5 which challenges governments To Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls widens the focus from the Millennium Development Goals and addresses many of the important barriers to advancing women’s human rights, the persistence of discriminatory laws and policies, alarming rates of violence against women and harmful practices, women and girls’ unpaid care work, the unacceptable low number of women in decision-making across all arenas and the continued violations of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights.
Agenda 2030 recognizes the need for real integration of social, economic and environmental policies that disproportionately impact women and girls and widens the inequality gap. The Agenda is an expression of a beautiful Vision, however, what does it mean for women and girls in everyday living? Will this Vision deliver on their aspirations for an equal world?. Experience across various countries has shown that beautiful visions do not automatically translate into actions. Accountability is key towards turning visions into reality. The issue of human rights which is also very central in the SDGs, demands that accountability on the part of the duty bearers becomes an imperative. Duty bearers have to be answerable to how their decisions and actions or lack thereof affect people. However, the 2030 Agenda makes the follow-up and review of the SDGs implementation rather voluntary in nature. There is no actual answerability by governments for promises made but not met. The Agenda makes no room for peer review and sanctioning mechanism for governments that fail to meet their set targets. The “business as usual” approach is likely to prevail and the marginalized groups of women, girls and other vulnerable groups will unfortunately be left behind.
Globally, only in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden do women have legal, social and economic rights roughly equal to those of men . The global consequences of gender inequality transcend all aspects of human welfare including poverty, diseases, education and environmental issues. Notwithstanding the bold pronouncements of the SDGs specifically SDG 5, worldwide, women are vastly underrepresented in both national and local assemblies. On average, women continue to account for less than 15% of parliamentary seats, with only marginal differences between developed and developing countries.
Education and Literacy remains disproportionately enjoyed by women and girls. As we begin the implementation of the SDGs, in most low income countries, girls are born less likely to attend school than boys and more likely to drop out. Many factors contribute towards this scenario. Women continue to carry the responsibility for child/ family care, household management and environmental management. In most of the developing countries, women and girls walk an average of 5-10 kilometers daily to fetch water, firewood etc, time that could be spend either in school or doing paid work. In some cases, especially in rural areas of low income communities, women walk between 20-50 kilometers to the nearest health facility putting their sexual and reproductive health at risk.
Generally, women have little access to assets and resources such as land and inputs that would increase household incomes and contribute towards poverty reduction.
By empowering women through access, to education, decision-making and productive resources, countries can achieve enormous economic and social progress.
Women and environmental Sustainability: Women and girls in developing countries and particularly in rural areas have the primary responsibility of collecting natural resources for household use. However, they have little access or control over natural assets such as land, water and ecological conditions that create opportunities for a better life. Unless the women and girls are granted access to community decision-making regarding the management of forests, water and other natural resources, environmental sustainability will not be achieved. By extension, addressing climate change will also remain elusive. Women’s lack of decision-making power is linked to higher levels of female poverty especially in rural areas of developing countries where women are responsible for between 60-80% of food production as well as fuel and water provision.
Efforts to achieve a just and sustainable future cannot ignore the rights, dignity and capabilities of half of the world’s population. Achieving gender equality and realizing the human rights, dignity and capabilities of diverse groups of women should remain a central requirement of a just and sustainable world. Paying lip-services to these needs will not realize the aspirations for women and girls and humankind at large. Governments that signed to the SDGs should be made accountable for the delivery of the SDGs in an equitable manner ensuring that No One is Left Behind. Governments should demonstrate political will to remove all barriers to women’s social, political and economic empowerment.