New U.N. Report on Gender Equality: Turning Promises into Action

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), briefs journalists on the main conclusions of the flagship report entitled Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

“It’s not about one goal, it’s about all goals,” said UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka who started her speech at a press conference on February 14 by sharing the concept of intersectionality featured in the flagship report “Turning promises into action: Gender equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Launched by the United Nations that same day, on February 14, in New York City, the report marks a significant moment in the fight for gender equality. “This report is the first of its kind. It looks at the entire agenda from the gender equality perspective,” Mlambo-Ngcuka explains. “We provide a very detailed account of the status of women and girls under SDG 5 (Sustainable Development Goal), but we also look at the gender equality and how it plays out on all the other 16 goals of the agenda.”

 
“We did know that poverty strikes women more than men. What came as a surprise was that it affected all countries of the world.”
 

“Turning promises into action” is a monitoring report that reflects on what needs to be done in order to meet the 2030 goals, revealing that women are more likely than men to be: poor, hungry or victims of violence. UN Women partnered with organizations such as the World Bank to provide updated rates since only 24 percent of the data available for gender-specific indicators is from 2010 or later. In fact, currently, six of the 17 SDGs have no indicators with explicit mentions of women and girls, therefore hindering adequate monitoring and delaying progress.

On education, the statistics uncover that 15 million girls will never get a chance to read or write, compared to 10 million boys. As many as 48 percent of girls remain out of school in some regions and one of the causes is inadequate sanitation facilities. Concerns over safety and menstrual hygiene management are reasons why girls stay away from the classroom or have their learning experience compromised.

On poverty, the gender gap is large from the age group of 25 to 34 years old. For every 100 men, 122 women are living in extreme poverty. 330 million women live on 1.90 USD a day, that is 4.4 million more women than men. “We did know that poverty strikes women more than men. What came as a surprise was that it affected all countries of the world”, said Fernando Filgueira, a senior researcher who contributed to the report.

 
“Violence against women is an important issue because we are not winning the battle.”
 

The impressive numbers do not stop there: women are more likely to face food insecurity in nearly two-thirds of 141 countries. This includes both developing and developed countries, including the UK, Peru, and Pakistan. Besides, more than 50 percent of women and girls who live in urban areas in developing countries lack at least one of the following: access to clean water, improved sanitation facilities, durable housing, and sufficient living area.

“Violence against women is an important issue because we are not winning the battle“, claimed Mlambo-Ngcuka. In fact, globally 19 percent or 1 in 5 women under 50 years old have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the past 12 months. “This represents a global pandemic that governments must take action [against], such as legislation, service provisioning, and prevention measures,” said Shahra Razavi, Chief of Research and Data, UN Women.

Gender equality weighs on the environment too. Regarding SDG 13, climate change also affects women and girls. They are 14 times more likely to die in a disaster than men. As to SDG 15, which defends life on land, between 2010 and 2015, the world lost 3.3 million hectares of forest areas. This takes a toll on poor women, especially the ones in rural areas who rely on forests for their day-to-day needs, such as using firewood or food items.

 
“The UN looks at three key elements in order to monitor and accelerate change for women and girls: better data, much stronger accountability mechanisms and transformative policies.”
 

More notably, on chapter four the report puts a spotlight on four countries: Colombia, Pakistan, Nigeria and the USA. Looking at the Leave No One Behind agenda (a central pledge of the 2030 Agenda aiming at inclusive development and ending extreme poverty), the research analyzes women who reside in the same city or country but live worlds apart. The reason is that averages can mask inequalities among social groups. This does a lot of injustice to those who are at the bottom of the social scale and hides the privileges at the top.

In the United States alone, the research indicates that 3 percent of all women aged from 18 to 49 (approximately 2 million) are simultaneously deprived in three SDG-related dimensions, dealing with not only education-related deprivation but also barriers to employment and healthcare. In fact, the number of black and Native American women who live in poverty is twice as high as that of white women.

Despite the discouraging numbers, this report is not only innovative, but also very forward-looking. “The UN looks at three key elements in order to monitor and accelerate change for women and girls: better data, much stronger accountability mechanisms and transformative policies,” affirmed Shahra Razavi. “The report does provide a reality check, showing that much remains to be done, but also a roadmap in terms on how to move forward through advances, statistics, finances and strengthening accountability,” she concluded.