Today is International Women’s Day, and the theme of 2016 is Gender Equality. The theme was set by UN Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to women’s empowerment, within the context of the new Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. The SDGs, which follow the Millennium Development Goals, cover 17 goals across four categories – people, planet, prosperity, and peace. For progress on each of these goals girls and women have to be empowered.
Think about it. Women’s roles are varied – they are breadwinners, farmers, teachers, businesswomen, mothers; they contribute to their homes, the community and the economy in multiple ways. Because they are at the forefront, they are often more affected than men by factors like climate change, revolutions, economic crises and poor health care. Hence, their assistance and direction is needed to achieve the SDGs.
Take SDG 1, which is bringing an end to poverty. This can be achieved only when there is no gender-based discrimination. Gender inequality denies women basic rights and opportunities for wellbeing.
If a woman is not given access to the same wages and services as men, she will remain deprived. For instance compared to male farmers, women farmers have less access to seeds, credit and technology. This in turn feeds into SDG#3, which aims to ensure health lives. Food security affects nutrition, and if women are not healthy, their babies will be malnourished.
The links to empowering women are not always so direct. Ensuring water availability for example benefits men and women. But the fact is that it is women who spend hours everyday collecting and transporting water that the family needs. Also it is lack of water that leads to girls dropping out of school when they start menstruating, a factor that comes in the way of a gender equal world.
“Gender equality is advanced when girls can stay in school because they are able to delay marriage and childbearing”, says Ellen Starbird, Director, USAID office of Population and Reproductive Health, “and when they are empowered to make healthy reproductive decisions and exercise their reproductive rights. Constructive engagement of boys and men to change gender norms must also be part of these efforts. “