6 July 2017
Achieve Gender Equality to Deliver the SDGs
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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SDG 5 (gender equality) is one of six SDGs under review by the HLPF at its 2017 session.

The HLPF Thematic Review of SDG 5 identifies progress on gender equality as critical to delivering on all the SDGs.

A lack of adequate gender-sensitive data represents a key challenge in progress on SDG 5.

Gender equality is an enabler and accelerator for all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offers an opportunity to achieve not only SDG 5 (gender equality), but to contribute to progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Gender equality is one of six SDGs under review at the 2017 session of the UN High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (HLPF), which is convening in New York, US, from 10-20 July 2017, under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In addition, SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals) will be reviewed annually.

In preparation for the SDG 5 review, UN Women and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) organized an expert group meeting (EGM) on SDG 5 and a number of UN agencies collaborated to produce the ‘2017 HLPF Thematic review of SDG 5’. This background paper reviews progress on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls, examines national implementation of SDG 5, identifies challenges and opportunities for implementation, and offers recommendations to deliver on SDG 5, and ultimately, deliver on all of the SDGs.

This policy brief first provides background information on the EGM on SDG 5. The brief then highlights key findings from the UN system’s thematic review on SDG 5, with a focus on progress, national implementation, challenges and opportunities, and recommendations.

Expert Group Meeting on SDG 5

In preparation for the 2017 reviews, the EGMs provided an opportunity to discuss ways and means for effective implementation of each SDG, with particular attention on how to harness synergies and address any trade-offs in integrated implementation of the SDGs. The SDG 5 EGM addressed the topic, ‘Strategies to Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls through the Gender-Responsive Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.’ The meeting focused on accelerating the implementation of SDG 5, and more broadly, the gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

UN Women and DESA prepared a summary of the EGM on SDG 5 that highlights key discussion points and recommendations to accelerate the implementation of SDG 5 and ensure the gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda. These recommendations represent inputs to the HLPF.

Progress towards Gender Equality

The UN Secretary-General’s second SDG progress report finds that gender equality persists worldwide and legal frameworks that counter “deeply-rooted gender-based discrimination” are necessary to achieve empowerment of women and girls. Similarly, the HLPF Thematic Review identifies several persistent areas of concern in progress towards SDG 5, including: violence against women and girls; disproportionate burdens of unpaid care and domestic work; and the gender digital divide.

On violence against women and girls, 19% of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the last 12 months, and one in three women experience violence by a partner or non-partner in their lifetime (HLPF Thematic Review). The review underscores a lack of data on violence against women and girls with disabilities, ethnic minorities, migrant workers and women above the age of 49, who are frequently not included in violence against women surveys. Related challenges identified in the review include: women’s limited access to sexual and reproductive health; child, early and forced marriage; and female genital mutilation and cutting.

The burden of unpaid care and domestic work disproportionately falls on women and girls in every region of the world. The HLPF Thematic Review explains that this disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work means that women and girls work longer hours and have less time for rest, learning, self-care and activities like political participation. In its ‘World Employment and Social Outlook,’ the ILO identified gender gaps as one of the most pressing labor market challenges in the world, calling for promoting equal pay for work of equal value; tackling root causes of occupational and sectoral segregation; recognizing, reducing and redistributing unpaid care work; and preventing and eliminating discrimination, harassment and violence in the world of work, among other actions, to improve labor equality and reshape gender roles.

A number of other events and initiatives have addressed gender equality in the workplace in 2017. The Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel (HLP) on Women’s Economic Empowerment recommended actions to accelerate progress towards the full and equal economic participation of women. The report expands on the Panel’s seven identified drivers of change, including recognizing, reducing and redistributing unpaid work and care. The 61st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) also called for closing the gender pay gap. International Women’s Day 2017 raised awareness on educating and empowering women and girls to achieve gender equality in the workplace.

The gender digital divide is another concern, with women facing challenges in accessing information and communication technologies (ICT), which affects their educational and employment opportunities. In least developed countries (LDCs), women’s internet use is estimated to be 30.9% lower than men’s. In a SDG Knowledge Hub guest article, the World Wide Web Foundation stresses that “urgent action is needed to harness the power of ICTs to achieve the SDGs, and to put women at the forefront of sustainable development.” The Foundation reiterates the finding that extreme gender inequalities exist in internet access, digital skills and online rights across developing countries, and recommend a series of actions related to Rights, Education, Access, Content, and Targets (REACT) to close the gender divide.

Other persistent challenges addressed in the HLPF Thematic Review include: gender differences in land tenure and access to productive resources, including the “gender gap in agriculture;” women’s under-representation in managerial positions; and women’s limited participation in research positions, with women representing less than 30% of the world’s researchers. A SDG Knowledge Hub guest article highlights the tenth Gender Summit, which focused on integrating gender equality into all research and innovation aimed at meeting SDG targets. The authors explain “greater gender equality in research and innovation” can help to address persistent issues that obstruct progress towards socio-economic development.

For each of these challenges, the Review observes how efforts to overcome and tackle these challenges will lead to gains not only in gender equality, but in related issues. For instance, eliminating the gender gap in agriculture could increase national production by 2.5 to 4% and contribute to associated gains in undernourishment from 12 to 17 %, therefore ensuring progress on SDG 5 as well as on SDG 2 (zero hunger).

Gaps and Challenges on SDG 5

A key challenge hindering implementation and monitoring of SDG 5 is a lack of adequate gender-sensitive data, including data that is disaggregated by sex, age and other characteristics, as well as a lack of data on trends in SDG 5 implementation. The HLPF Thematic Review for SDG 5 states there is no comprehensive overview of data on legal frameworks to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination on the basis of gender.

Among the 230 unique global SDG indicators, 53 explicitly reference women, girls, gender, or sex, including the 14 SDG 5 indicators. UN Women finds, however, that there are no internationally established methodologies or standards for 23 out of the 53 gender-related indicators. The HLPF Thematic Review suggests that failure to prioritize gender equality in data collection further weakens policymakers ability to develop evidence-based policies.

The Review also identifies a need to “significantly increase” investments for gender equality and to track public allocations for gender equality, observing that, of the 80 countries with data, only 47% have systems in place to track and make public allocations for gender equality.

Recent events have sought to address concerns about these data gaps. The UN Inter-Agency and Expert Group on the SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) reclassified several Tier III indicators as Tier II, including from SDG 5, following discussions at the 48th session of the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC). The UNSC also endorsed a methodology to measure asset ownership from a gender perspective, developed through the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality (EDGE) programme, at its March 2017 session. The Inter-Agency Group on Violence against Women Data and its Technical Advisory Group are expected to facilitate the compilation of harmonized country level data on violence against women, which will contribute to global reporting on related SDG targets. These efforts represent a start to addressing data-related challenges; however, much more attention will be needed to better track progress on SDG 5 and ensure the world delivers on the Goals.

National Implementation

The HLPF Thematic Review highlights Member States that have strengthened efforts to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls. Australia and the Philippines have strengthened the mandates of national mechanisms to promote gender equality. Bosnia Herzegovina, Georgia and Nepal have established local level gender equality mechanisms. Mexico, Paraguay and Qatar have identified gender equality as a cross-cutting priority in their national sustainable development plans. Kenya has emphasized gender mainstreaming as a central strategy for development policies.

On national data, Colombia, Cuba and the Philippines have enhanced inter-agency mechanisms on gender statistics. Jamaica and Norway strengthened gender statistics focal points in their national statistical offices. Other countries have made progress in developing and improving methodologies for measuring gender-based discrimination (Albania, Argentina, Mexico, the Philippines, Paraguay, Peru, Spain and Sri Lanka) and unpaid care work (Kenya, Mexico, Peru and the Philippines).

Other national examples of country progress in implementing SDG 5 include: gender budgeting in Sweden that evaluates the gender equality effects of budget policies; and reforms in Albania’s agricultural sector that ensure public support for the sector that include provisions to promote women’s businesses. France has developed a map of the relationship between SDG 5 and other Goals. On the whole, these efforts suggest governments are taking key steps to promote gender equality and measure progress.

Implementation Opportunities

The HLPF Thematic Review identifies several opportunities to promote the gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda, from improving local government service delivery and spending on the greatest gaps to overcome gender inequality at the local level to strengthening national gender equality mechanisms and eliminating gender-based inequalities in legal frameworks and policies at the national level.

At regional and global levels, the outcomes of several Conferences and processes offer mechanisms for governments to track progress towards gender equality commitments. Examples include reporting under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the quinquennial reviews of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development. The International Gender Champions Initiative is another project that aims to deliver on gender equality through its Champions, who sign ‘parity pledges’ to strive for gender equality in all discussions and to undertake at least two commitments to advance gender equality in their programmatic work or management.

UN Regional Commissions represent another opportunity to share experiences and measure progress. As a SDG Knowledge Hub policy brief found, SDG 5 is the only Goal for which each regional forum on sustainable development (RFSD) crafted key messages for the HLPF, suggesting SDG 5 as a key global priority. This focus on SDG 5 at the RFSDs underscores commitments from governments around the world to address SDG 5.

The HLPF can play a key role in promoting gender-responsive implementation, follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda. The HLPF also has an opportunity to reinforce the cross-cutting nature of gender equality in its annual reviews, ensuring continued attention on SDG 5 even in years when SDG 5 is not a “focus” SDG.

Progress on SDG 5=Progress on the 2030 Agenda

The HLPF Thematic Review stresses the numerous reinforcing linkages between SDG 5 and other SDGs, many of which UN Women also highlighted in a report on SDG monitoring and gender equality. Some examples include:

  • Ending all forms of discrimination: Ending discrimination against women and girls is critical to ensuring equal access to quality and affordable education (SDG 4), access to the labor market (SDG 8), and political participation (SDG 10). Ending discrimination will also empower women and girls to contribute to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies (SDG 16) and to pursue opportunities for decent work and employment (SDG 8), therefore also contributing to poverty reduction (SDG 1).
  • Eliminating violence and harmful practices: Ending all forms of violence against women and girls will contribute to achieving peace and security and human rights (SDG 16). Other synergies include providing safe public safes and transport (SDG 11).
  • Promoting economic empowerment and financing: Promoting women’s economic empowerment and ensuring women’s economic rights will support efforts on poverty eradication (SDG 1), full and productive employment and decent work (SDG 8 and 9) and peaceful and inclusive societies (SDG 16) and promotion of sustainable industrial development (SDG 9), among other synergies.
  • Ensuring participation and leadership in decisionmaking: Women’s full and effective participation in leadership and decision-making is an enabler for other SDG targets, including on water and sanitation (SDG 6), inequalities (SDG 10) and peaceful and inclusive societies (SDG 16). Women’s participation can also enhance agricultural productivity (SDG 2), strengthen women’s’ voice in decisions about their health and rights (SDG 3 and SDG 5), contribute to climate change planning and management (SDG 13) and sustainable use and management of ocean (SDG 14) and terrestrial (SDG 15) resources.
  • Ensuring healthy lives: Women’s access to sexual and reproductive health and rights and services are directly linked to reductions in maternal mortality (SDG 3) and ending communicable diseases like HIV and AIDS (SDG 3). Women and girl’s lack of autonomy over their health can limit their outcomes on education (SDG 4), sanitation and hygiene (SDG 6) and employment (SDG 8), among others.

Recommendations for Action

The HLPF Thematic Review identifies several areas where concerted efforts are needed to address existing implementation gaps:

  • Tackling structural barriers to gender equality: Governments should focus on policies that address structural, power and political dynamics that perpetuate discrimination against women and girls and represent barriers to gender equality, including removing discriminating legal frameworks, implementing policies that promote women’s labor force participation, including through equal access to education at all levels, recognizing, reducing and redistributing unpaid care work and ensuring universal health coverage, including sexual and reproductive health.
  • Strengthening accountability mechanisms at the national level: Governments and other stakeholders should build accountability mechanisms into interventions and strategies and monitor the effectiveness of these mechanisms, including taking action to ensure that such mechanisms are responsive to rights of women and girls.
  • Increasing investment and financing for gender equality: Governments and other stakeholders can increase investments for gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment by promoting investments not just in gender equality but across all sectors, including agriculture, education and culture, care services, social protection, health, infrastructure, justice, and water and sanitation.
  • Increasing data collection capacity: Governments should strengthen national statistical systems to collect and produce high-quality, accessible, reliable, timely and disaggregated data to monitor SDG indicators and support evidence-based policy formulation.


The Thematic Review of SDG 5 notes achieving gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda presents “an enormous opportunity” to achieve not just gender equality, but to end poverty and hunger, combat inequalities within and among countries, build peace, just and inclusive societies, protect and promote human rights and ensure lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources. A comprehensive approach to SDG 5 that leverages synergies between SDG 5 and other Goals and promotes systematic mainstreaming of gender perspectives in implementing the 2030 Agenda will contribute both to realizing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as well as to ensure progress across all Goals and targets.

This policy brief is part of a special series of background policy briefs developed by the SDG Knowledge Hub in preparation for the 2017 session of the HLPF. This policy brief draws on insights from Faye Leone, Catherine Wahlén and Delia Paul.

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