Sustainable development and gender equality – two objectives that are interdependent

Ahead of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October, UN Women released its new report, the World Survey on the Role of Women in Development 2014: Gender Equality and Sustainable Development. Charting the rationale and the actions necessary to ensure ground-breaking change, the flagship UN study asserts that any comprehensive sustainable development pathway cannot be achieved without an explicit commitment to gender equality, women’s rights and their empowerment. Coming on the heels of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in September, the World Survey 2014 provides an in-depth analysis of sustainable development issues, the challenges and the solutions, through a gender lens.

World Survey 2014 coverpage

Climate change has tremendous social, economic and environmental consequences. Its effects are being felt in floods, droughts, and devastated landscapes and livelihoods. Women and girls are among the most affected by these changes, given the precariousness of their livelihoods, and because they bear the burden of securing shelter, food, water and fuel, while facing constraints on their access to land and natural resources. As the global community grapples with the challenges of charting trajectories to sustainable development and in defining the Sustainable Development Goals, the World Survey 2014 emphasizes the centrality of gender equality to this endeavour.

The World Survey 2014, issued every five years, focuses this year on the theme of gender equality and sustainable development by examining a select range of issues that are fundamental to women’s lives and are strategic for achieving gender equality and sustainability. These include: patterns of growth, employment generation and the role of public goods; food production, distribution and consumption; population dynamics and women’s bodily integrity; and water, sanitation and energy.

The report uses three critical criteria to assess whether policy actions and investments towards sustainable development adequately address gender equality. These are: Do they support women’s capabilities and enjoyment of their rights? Do they reduce, rather than increase, women’s unpaid care work? And do they embrace women’s equal and meaningful participation as actors, leaders and decision-makers?

“Effective policy actions for sustainability must redress the disproportionate impact on women and girls of economic, social and environmental shocks and stresses. The World Survey 2014 is a thoughtful contribution to our understanding of how gender equality relates to sustainable development. This report will strengthen policy actors in different parts of the world – whether in government, civil society, international agencies or the private sector — towards more robust and effective policy measures and investments,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

The World Survey 2014 brings key analytical perspectives grounded in research that shows the deeply unsustainable directions of current patterns of production, consumption and distribution. The causes and underlying drivers of unsustainability and of gender inequality are deeply interlocked. Dominant development models that support particular types of underregulated market-led growth rely on and reproduce gender inequalities, exploiting women’s labour and unpaid care work. Similarly, they also produce environmental problems by overexploiting natural resources and generating pollution, further intensifying gender inequality as women and girls are often disproportionately affected by economic, social and environmental shocks and stresses. While international debate has brought these issues into the spotlight, policy responses still tend not to focus on achieving women’s human rights or gender equality.

The report makes concrete recommendations, calling on Member States to:

  • Develop and implement sustainable development policies that are in line with international norms and standards on gender equality, non-discrimination and human rights;
  • Ensure that macroeconomic policies create decent work and sustainable livelihoods and reduce inequalities based on gender, age, income and other contexts;
  • Promote decent green jobs and adequate wages for agricultural and informal workers, especially women, through labour market regulation and gender-responsive employment policies;
  • Ensure that sustainable population policies are grounded in sexual and reproductive health and rights, including the provision of universally accessible quality sexual and reproductive health services, information and education;
  • Ensure universal access to water, with a goal of reducing unpaid care work; to clean, private and safe sanitation for all women and girls that is responsive to gender-specific needs; and to efficient solid-fuel stoves or cooking technologies that use cleaner fuels and involve women in their design, testing and marketing.

The World Survey 2014 is a UN Secretary-General report mandated by the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly. Produced by UN Women, it was previously released by one of UN Women’s predecessor organizations, the Division of the Advancement of Women (DAW).


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