As the Millennium Development Goals project comes to a close in 2015, UN member states rigorously discuss new strategies and priorities for the next sustainability development proposal. Gender equality appears at the top of the agenda as a key factor that underpins all other development goals including health improvement, environmental conservation, poverty reduction and democratic stability. An article in the New Indian Express outlines the three pillars of sustainable development:

1. Economic growth
2. Environmental stewardship
3. Social inclusion

Gender equality contributes to all three of these developmental pillars. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), a regional political party in the South Indian state of Adhra Pradesh similarly sees gender equality as not only a goal in itself, but also as “a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and building good governance.” Unfortunately, in developing nations where gender inequalities dominate societal structures, women become confined to the domestic sphere, and consequentially have no say in the economic development and social advancement of their own communities. On the contrary, women play a pivotal role in all spheres of society, and have the right to be heard in all affairs that concern their interests.

One such affair concerning women’s livelihoods is food security. Women make up half of the world’s farmers, as well as 50 percent of the global fisheries workforce, yet they have little to no say in the management of these industries. Moreover, their interests are rarely taken into consideration in rural development plans and conservation initiatives. Is it surprising that there is no data collection for the contributions that women make to areas such as agriculture, forestry, water, energy and infrastructure? According to the Environment and Gender Index released by the Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), systems of data collection do not reflect gender-specific data, thus limiting and undermining the effectiveness of international development investments. The post-2015 development goals aim to address these structural shortcomings in hopes of bridging the gaps created by gender inequality.

In a 2013 panel discussion organized by Action Aid, UN Women Deputy Director Lakshmi Puri elaborates on the assessment of the UN Millennium Goals and the future of post-2015 development strategies. The discussion emphasized the key role that gender equality plays moving forward with sustainable development and poverty reduction. Not only does Puri promote “a new renewed focus on people-centered development,” but she also encourages progress that “promotes the rights and agency of women.” Thorough assessment of the eight UN MDGs proved that large inequalities related to gender, income and ethnicity posed the biggest obstacles for progress. It is critical that the new agenda addresses these inequalities in order to overcome the challenges of sustainable development in the future. The new framework of UN Women platform sets out to target three core areas:

1. Freedom from violence for women and girls
2. Access to opportunities and resources
3. Ability to participate in decision-making and leadership

Access to resources, information and opportunities is critical for progress in the contemporary economic climate, especially for women fighting against gender inequality. With the spread of globalization, and the advancements in information and communication technologies (ICTs), nations around the world embrace a new ‘knowledge economy.’ Extending from an information-based society, the new ‘knowledge economy’ uses knowledge as the primary means to enhance growth and development. In this new world economy, equal access to knowledge and education is critical in hopes of reducing poverty and increasing welfare in developing nations. The New Indian Express article explains, “It is critical for the majority of the population to possess the means to not only obtain this information but have the necessary educational background to expand learning through discussions.” Women, now more than ever, require the need to possess and obtain valuable knowledge in order to contribute as productive and informed citizens of the new global economy.

There is still much work to be done in terms of achieving universal education. According to a UNESCO report, 774 million adults lack literacy, and two-thirds of them are women. Similarly, 123 million children are illiterate, 76 million of which are girls. Strengthening educational institutions in impoverished communities by providing equal access to resources is just one step towards achieving gender equality. Giving the other half of the world’s population equal opportunities, protection and consideration allows for a more effective and cohesive fight against poverty. Men are not alone on the road to sustainable development.

– Gloria Kostadinova

Sources: National Geographic, UNESCO, New Indian Express, UN Women, Mail & Guardian
Photo: Destiny Man