At this year’s HLPF, let’s not forget that gender equality is central to achieving all the goals

BLOG by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women


The transformation to sustainable and resilient societies can only happen when every woman and girl is afforded the same rights and opportunities as men and boys. But, across countries, the reality is one of deeply rooted gender bias, which compromises the principle of equality and human progress through dignity and respect for our planet, which are the bedrock of sustainable development.

As UN Women’s recent report “Turning promises into action: Gender equality in the 2030 Agenda” shows gender inequalities remain pervasive across all dimensions of sustainable development, including SDGs 6, 7, 11,12, 15 and 17, which are the focus of this year’s HLPF:

  • Goal 6 (Clean water and sanitation): the rights of women and girls are central to achieving clean water and sanitation for all. After all, when safe drinking water is not available it is women and girls who spend hundreds of hours collecting and processing water, often foregoing opportunities to go to school or take on paid employment. Women and girls are also disproportionately affected by the lack of safe sanitation, risking exposure to illness and violence, along with intensified care demands from other family members who may fall sick as a result of poor water and sanitation quality.
  • Goal 7 (Affordable and clean energy): Women and girls bear the brunt of the reliance on unclean fuels for cooking, lighting and other household energy needs. Not only do they often travel long distances in search of firewood; they also account for 6 out of every 10 premature deaths caused by indoor air pollution, which in 2012 totaled some 4.3 million.
  • Goal 11 (Sustainable cities and communities): Urbanization is often associated with greater access to education and employment opportunities, lower fertility rates and increased independence for women and girls. But the reality of rapid urbanization is also one of deprivation in access to basic needs like clean water and improved sanitation facilities. In two-thirds of countries with available data, more than half of the female urban population aged 15-49 lives in slums, often lacking durable housing and sanitation.
  • Goal 12 (Responsible consumption and production) : Discussions on SDG 12 focus mainly on overproduction and overconsumption. But these take place in an increasingly unequal world where as many as 767 million people live on less than US$2 a day and struggle to cover their basic consumption needs. Transport is a case in point. In many parts of the world, passenger cars, which leave large material and carbon footprints, are largely consumed by a privileged minority, while poor women disproportionately rely on their feet. Curbing the overconsumption of private vehicles and investing in gender-responsive public transport systems must be part of the gender equality and sustainability revolution we need for making the 2030 Agenda a reality.
  • Goal 15 (Life on land): Between 2010 and 2015 alone, the world lost 3.3 million hectares of forest areas. Poor women in rural areas, especially those from landless households, are particularly affected by this. Given their roles in cooking, cattle care and related tasks, many of these women depend on forests to collect firewood, fodder and food items for daily survival. In many countries, women’s access to these resources is being eroded by large-scale land expropriations (‘land grabs’) by both domestic and international investors.
  • Goal 17 (Partnerships for the goals): Financing is critical for achieving gender equality and sustainable development. But as the report shows, resources are not currently flowing to where they are needed the most. The financial resources flowing out of developing countries are 2.5 times the amount of aid flowing in. Unrecorded capital flight, including illicit financial flows, constitute the bulk of these outflows—compared to which gender allocations in official development aid are a drop in the ocean. The result? Essential services on which millions of women and girls depend—including water, sanitation, energy and public transport—remain chronically underfunded or simply unavailable.

As we turn to HLPF 2018, let’s not forget that transformation toward sustainable and resilient societies will only be possible when gender perspectives are part and parcel of every assessment of every goal, and all decision-making related to their planning and implementation; and when women and girls fully enjoy all their human rights.

[Originally published by the High-Level Political Forum website]