The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) envision a world without poverty, hunger, and conflict; one with access to health care, education, and economic opportunity — in short, a world that has not only successfully overcome the climate crisis, but has set a foundation for a sustainable, poverty-free future.
The 17 Global Goals aim to achieve all of this by 2030. That means there’s less than 10 years to overhaul the global status quo and bring about significant change.
There’s one specific solution that could help us achieve the Global Goals — empowering women.
“We cannot achieve the SDGs, the global agenda for people, planet, and prosperity, if we do not bring along half our population,” Amina J. Mohammed said at a press conference on March 8. “We cannot say we have achieved peace if half our communities live in fear, insecurity, and without dignity.”
Gender equality is critical for fulfilling all 17 of the goals, from ending poverty to protecting life on land to fostering sustainable cities.
Here are six reasons that reaching gender equality can help achieve all of the Global Goals.
1. Achieving gender equality would help put an end to poverty.
Women carry water back to their homes in Wolgeba village in Halaba Zone, Ethiopia.
Ending poverty is the first Global Goal because it underpins all the others. People living in poverty are more likely to experience hunger, water shortages, worse health outcomes, displacement, and much more.
Women, as it turns out, are more likely to live in poverty than men largely because of discriminatory practices, laws, and cultural norms that marginalize women in societies around the world.
Women are stuck in poverty for a range of reasons. In many countries, women aren’t allowed to own land, work in various professions, and access finance for entrepreneurial activities. Because existing systems of power are already stacked against women, these hindrances make it difficult for them to achieve economic independence.
Ending these laws and practices would give women more of an equal footing in economic spheres. But countries have to go further by actively investing in women’s education and vocational training, and providing access to technology, financing, and other resources, according to UN Women.
“Just as slavery and colonialism were a stain on previous centuries, women’s inequality should shame us all in the 21st. Because it is not only unacceptable; it is stupid,” UN Sectretary-General Antonio Guterres recently said.
Helping women overcome poverty reverberates positively across communities and societies.
Women typically invest a higher proportion of their earnings into their families’ welfare than men. Women are also largely responsible for collecting water, food, and fuel sources around the world — essential duties that would be made easier if more women had economic independence.
2. Gender equality on its own is already one of the Global Goals.
Kenyan women shout slogans during a march to mark International Women's Day in Nairobi, Kenya, March 8, 2019. Hundreds of women marched in downtown Nairobi highlighting domestic violence, sexual attacks and discrimination in jobs and wages.
Gender equality is the fifth Global Goal.
While it seems straightforward, gender equality is multifaceted and enormously complex.
It means empowering women economically and removing barriers to their economic success; ending sexual violence around the world; ending misogynist practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM); elevating women to positions of power across public and private spheres; and much more.
Women are more likely than men to be affected by climate change, so achieving gender equality requires a comprehensive climate action plan in all countries.
Political bodies create the laws that govern societies, yet women account for just 23.7% of parliamentarians worldwide. Achieving gender parity in the political sphere would help to shape societies that prioritize gender equality.
3. Empowering women boosts economies.
Empowering women and achieving gender equality would boost all economies and lead to higher levels of innovation, according to UN Women.
If women participated in the French economy at the same rate as men, then it would grow by 17%, according to the World Economic Forum. The Japanese economy would grow by 14% if women participated at the same rate, and the US economy would grow by 8.7%.
Not only would economies grow, but the quality and scale of innovations would improve because the STEM field would include more diverse perspectives.
4. Women can help mitigate the effects of climate change.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg poses for media outside the congress center where the World Economic Forum take place in Davos, Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. The poster reads: 'School strike for the climate'.
Women are disproportionately harmed by climate change and resource loss, but they’re also leading the way on climate action.
“As early adopters of new agricultural techniques, first responders in crises and entrepreneurs of green energy, rural women are a powerful force that can drive global progress,” Guterres said in a message on Oct. 14 ahead of the International Day of Rural Women.
Investing in women-led initiatives can improve water security, promote renewable energy, and ensure sustainable agriculture, according to Women Deliver.
Leaders like Greta Thunberg and Christiana Figueres are demanding climate action at international political levels, while women at local levels are spearheading tangible change.
Wangari Mathaai created the Green Belt Movement in rural Kenya to empower women to heal degraded landscapes and improve soil quality, improving agricultural output in the region.
Women in Papua New Guinea are rehabilitating coastal mangrove forests to protect communities from rising sea levels, prevent saltwater from harming cropland and water sources, and create a buffer against storms.
In Belize, meanwhile, women divers are restoring coral reefs to promote tourism and shield the island from storm surges.
In the US gulf coast, women’s groups are working with Oxfam America to prepare local communities for the next natural disasters, by coordinating with public transportation networks and distributing relief kits.
In short, women are working to build sustainable communities, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and rehabilitate ecosystems. Improving gender equality would accelerate their efforts.
5. Investing in gender equality would also act as an investment in global health.
An estimated 830 women die each day from preventable causes during childbirth because of inadequate health care systems.
This glaring injustice is just one of the many ways women are being failed by health care systems.
Women are disproportionately impacted by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) such as female genital schistosomiasis, which is caused by a parasite and puts women at higher rates of contracting HIV.
If investments in gender equality were made, women’s health outcomes would improve and the world would be closer to achieving SDG 3.
Women also make up the backbone of the global health care system, accounting for 70% of health workers globally.
Investing in these workers and providing them with the necessary resources and support systems will improve health outcomes for all.
“Publicly financed health care is the greatest equalizer in society” Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS executive director, said at the World Economic Forum. “When health spending is cut or inadequate, it is poor people and people on the margins of society, especially women and girls, who lose their right to health first, and they have to bear the burden of caring for their families.”
6. Achieving gender equality would also improve access to education for all.
An estimated 132 million girls are unable to complete their educations worldwide because of poverty, child marriage, gender-based violence, natural disasters, period poverty, and more.
Investing in girls’ education has countless societal benefits, according to UNICEF. It improves nutrition rates, while making stunting less likely. It reduces child and maternal mortality. It also significantly improves the economic prospects of women, who go on to boost economies.
“Girls’ education strengthens economies and reduces inequality,” UNICEF writes. “It contributes to more stable, resilient societies that give all individuals — including boys and men — the opportunity to fulfil their potential.”