Women’s Economic Empowerment Beyond 2015

UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to focus on women’s economic empowerment.

With the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) fast approaching, the UN’s Open Working Group has been developing a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the aim to move beyond the 2015 framework – hopefully with a greater focus on women’s economic empowerment.

While the MDGs failed to tackle a number of key issues on gender, including women’s economic empowerment, the SDGs, with input from the Commission on the Status of Women and other key stakeholders, are trying to rectify this with the inclusion of a standalone gender goal. A list of the proposed goals and targets for the SDGs (dated 19th July 2014) is available here, and I am pleased to see a goal focusing on key issues, such as tackling violence against women and girls, recognising the value and impact of unpaid care work, and the push to give women equal rights in economic resources. But I still wonder, will this be enough for gender inequality and economic disparity?

Looking at Goal 8 of the SDGs, which aims to ‘promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth’, and Goal 10, which aims to ‘reduce inequality’, there is still an apparent lack of emphasis on gender. Sustained economic growth is important for the reduction of poverty, but by overlooking this key aspect we will never create growth that is truly inclusive. According to the International Labour Organisation, women account for 70% of the world’s poor and despite contributing to around 66% of the world’s work and producing approximately 50% of the food, they only earn 10% of the world income and own only 1% of property – which unfortunately points to a variety of glass ceilings which remain unbroken.

Furthermore, while Goal 10 sets out a number of targets to eradicate inequality, with women earning between 10 and 30 per cent less than men, the absence of gender severely limits the likelihood of eliminating the disparities between men and women, where a gender pay gap remains persistent. An overall decrease in inequality, though great, will not be sufficient in addressing the obstacles faced by women – for economic growth to be truly inclusive, policy needs to be put into place to tackle gender inequalities specifically, as they prevent women benefiting from economic growth to the same extent as men.

I therefore stand behind the number of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), participating in the Post-2015 discussion, that stress the importance of gender mainstreaming throughout the goals. The apparent lack of focus on women in Goals 8 and 10 is disappointing in a debate about how we shape our joint future.

Women Entrepreneurs and the SDGs

An area which I believe is key to women’s economic empowerment post 2015 is entrepreneurship. With 50.5% of the world’s working women engaging in vulnerable employment, often unprotected by labour legislation, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women believes women’s entrepreneurship is key in closing the gender gap that exists in the economy. Given that women earn significantly lower wages than men at all levels and the rising precariousness of the traditional labour market, entrepreneurship brings with it the opportunity for change and empowerment.

It is however worrying to see that target 8.3 of the SDGs, which aims to encourage the “growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises including through access to financial services”, does not address the obstacles faced by women-owned businesses. I believe appropriate measures need to be taken by governments, agencies and CSOs to engage with financial institutions and ensure services are available, appropriate and specifically targeted at women entrepreneurs.

Nevertheless, I am thrilled to see the range of gender issues that have been mainstreamed throughout the goals and am optimistic for the future. As Targets 10.2 and 10.3 set out, I hope women will have access to equal opportunities through the promotion of appropriate legislation, policies and practices; and that by 2030, we achieve empowerment and ‘the social, economic and political inclusion of all irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status’.