Global Efforts to Realize the Essential but Elusive Goal of Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment (SDG 5).

AuthorNanda, Ved
PositionSustainable development goals

    Sustainable Development Goal 5--Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls--evokes an aspiration cherished by so many for so long. However, numerous constraints and challenges have held back progress toward realizing this important goal, without which several other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will remain in jeopardy. Persistent efforts have been underway internationally, regionally, and nationally to take concrete action to address critical issues hindering the advancement of women's and girls' human rights. But based on current trends, much more needs to be done to accelerate progress towards eliminating gender-based discrimination that still persists in many countries around the world. (1)

    Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, stated the magnitude of the discrimination at the G7 ministerial meeting on gender equality and women's empowerment in May 2019: "There are over 2.5 billion women and girls around the world who are affected by discriminatory laws .... And on average, women have only 75 percent of the legal rights of men." (2)

    This paper is a contribution toward appreciating the current challenges in realizing SDG 5 and making specific recommendations on how progress can be accelerated toward its achievement. After this Introduction, Part II describes the current status of such progress, which has been slow and uneven. Part III reviews international law norms protecting the human rights of women. Part IV discusses major international and national efforts toward realizing gender equality and empowerment of women. Part V studies the implementation of the Beijing Conference's Platform for Action. In Part VI, attention is focused on the nine targets and the indicators for each target identified in SDG 5 to ensure that progress is accurately measured. Part VII posits that national laws that are consonant with and enforce the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) enhance the performance of each SDG 5 indicator. To make this determination, we conduct a linear regression used to predict the value of a variable (a state's performance on an SDG 5 indicator) based on that of another variable (the state's performance on the CEDAW scale). We use 2015 data for state performance on each SDG 5 indicator because that is the most recent available data on the CEDAW scale. Part VIII concludes with recommendations.


    In May 2018, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reported on progress toward SDG 5 by stating:

    While some forms of discrimination against women and girls are declining, gender inequality continues to hold women back and deprives them of basic rights and opportunities. Empowering women requires addressing structural issues such as unfair social norms and attitudes, and progressive legal frameworks that put men and women at the same level. (3) In the next year's report (2019) on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, he highlighted that "insufficient progress on structural issues at the root of gender inequality, such as legal discrimination, unfair social norms and attitudes, decision-making on sexual and reproductive issues and low levels of political participation, are undermining the ability to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5." (4)

    In the 2019 report, data from 106 countries indicate that "18 per cent of ever-partnered women and girls aged 15-49 have experienced physical and/or sexual partner violence in the previous 12 months," (5) and based on data from 51 countries, "only 57 percent of women aged 15-49, married or in union, make their own decisions about sexual relations and the use of contraceptives and health services." (6) Among other findings, based on data from 30 countries where the practice of female genital mutilation is concentrated and data are available, at least 200 million girls and women have been subjected to this practice. (7) According to data from about 90 countries, women work roughly three times more hours per day doing unpaid care and domestic work than men. (8)

    Women's representation in national parliaments stands at 24.2 percent as of January 2019 and, based on data from 99 countries and areas, women's representation in elected deliberative bodies stands at 26 percent, (9) while 29 percent of senior managerial positions in the world were occupied by women in 2019. (10) Data from 53 countries in 2018 show that "more than a quarter have legal gaps in the area of violence against women; and 29 percent and 24 percent have legal gaps in the employment and economic benefits area and in the marriage and family area, respectively." (11) Importantly for purposes of evaluating the progress in SDG 5, gaps remain in efforts by countries to establish tracking systems regarding gender-responsive budgeting. (12)

    Addressing the Commission on the Status of Women on March 11, 2019, Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka acknowledged progress over the past two decades on gender equality, adding:

    But these gains are fragile, and we are seeing them reverse: 131 million girls worldwide are out of school, and latest data show a six per cent increase in the number of girls not in primary school. On average ... more than one billion [women] have no recourse against violence or are restricted in their education or employment--what is now being called 'economic violence.' Every day, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and child birth .... Their deaths link inextricably to poverty and lack of services and infrastructure. (13) According to UN facts and figures in 2019 related to SDG 5, husbands in 18 countries can lawfully prevent their wives from working, while in 39 countries sons and daughters do not have equal inheritance rights, and in 49 countries there is no legal protection for women from domestic violence. (14) Also, globally, only 13 percent of agricultural land holders are women, and in Northern Africa women hold fewer than one in five paid non-agricultural jobs. (15)

    The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2018 (16) provides the Global Gender Gap Index rankings for 149 countries. The four subindexes are: 1) economic participation and opportunity, 2) educational attainment, 3) health and survival, and 4) political empowerment. The report includes among its key findings on political and economic leadership that only 17 of the 149 countries assessed currently have women as heads of state and only 18 percent of ministers and 24 percent of parliamentarians globally are women. (17) Additionally, women hold only 34 percent of managerial positions based upon the available data. (18) The report's predictions are indeed sobering: "Projecting current trends into the future, the overall global gender gap will close in 108 years across the 106 countries covered since the first edition of this report [in 2006]." (19) In the economic and political empowerment categories, it will take 202 and 107 years, respectively, to close the gap. (20) However, the education-specific gap is projected to be reduced within the next 14 years. (21)

    Earlier, according to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Report 2015, (22) assessing the achievement of Millennium Development Goal 3--Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women--the results were mixed, as gender disparities continued in enrollment ratios in secondary and tertiary education. (23) And female participation in the labor force was one-quarter to one-third of the men's rate in Northern Africa, Southern Asia, and Western Asia. (24)

    The Commission on the Status of Women also presented its assessment of the MDGs in its report entitled Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls: "[A]lmost 15 years after the Millennium Development Goals were adopted, no country has achieved equality for women and girls and significant levels of inequality between women and men persist...." (25) The Commission added:

    [P]rogress has been slow, with persistent gender disparities in some regions in secondary and tertiary education enrollment, the lack of economic empowerment, autonomy and independence for women, including a lack of integration into the formal economy, unequal access to full and productive employment and decent work, underrepresentation in non-agricultural wage employment, overrepresentation in low-paid jobs, and gender-stereotyped jobs such as domestic and care work, and the lack of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value; the unequal burden of unpaid care work and insufficient measures to reconcile paid work and care responsibilities; the persistence of discriminatory attitudes, norms, stereotypes and legal frameworks; insufficient social protection and insurance coverage for women; and despite progress, the low proportion and unequal participation and representation of women at all levels of decision-making, including in national parliaments and other government structures. (26) Even in Europe, where the European Commission's Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourova, considers "[e]quality between men and women in education, in economic decision-making and political power, and women's economic independence and equal earning potential [to be] key for Europe's future," there is some progress in gender equality, but it still is "not a tangible reality for too many." (27) The European Commission's 2019 Report on equality between women and men in the EU reviewed the progress of its main initiatives in 2018 in the following thematic areas of Strategic engagement:

    1. equal economic independence of women and men; 2. equal pay for work of equal value; 3. equality in decision making; 4. ending gender-based violence; and 5. promoting gender equality beyond the EU," and concluded that although the EU...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT