Gender equality, the accelerator for sustainable development

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At UNDP we see powerful synergies between gender equality, economic development and environmental sustainability. UNDP Photo

March is a special time of year in New York. Thousands of women from all over the world come to the UN headquarters to discuss progress made towards gender equality. It is the one time in the year that the UN sees its gender balance tip almost completely in favor of women on account of the Commission on the Status of Women.

The theme for this year’s Commission meeting is women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development. With the start of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals in January, this is a timely topic. As any gender advocate can tell you in their sleep: gender equality is a goal in its own right but also a necessary element for the achievement of all other goals.

Meanwhile, a body of evidence continues to grow that shows that focusing on gender equality is also an accelerator for progress against other goals. Most recently, the McKinsey Global Institute found that advancing gender equality can add $12 trillion to global growth. The Global Opportunity Report from UN Global Compact and partners identifies women, below 30 and from Asia, as the most effective opportunity leaders. At UNDP we see powerful synergies between gender equality, economic development and environmental sustainability. If there is one issue that can really advance prosperity for all, it is gender equality.

There are other studies that show the benefits of gender equality within organizations; and how having more women in management positions has a positive correlation with financial returns. And yet, according to a recent global study by the ILO women have seen only ‘marginal improvements’ in the world of work in the past 20 years. Even at the UN, a 50-50 gender balance remains stubbornly out of reach: anywhere near management level there are twice as many men as women.

And until now, there has not been a female UN Secretary-General either. When I was younger and people would ask me what I would want to become, “the first female secretary-general of the UN” was my steadfast answer.  Luckily, I was not the only one with that dream. Rumor has it that the campaign for a woman SG has paid off and that we have a female candidate as the frontrunner. With Hillary Clinton a strong contender in the U.S. Presidential campaign, 2016 might become a groundbreaking year for women’s leadership.

We need it. As 2015 was a turning point for international development and climate change, let 2016 be the watershed year for gender equality. The UN launched the Step it up for gender equality campaign last year which asked governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap. I want to ask you, as an individual, to step it up too.

As with the new sustainable development agenda, we have a collective responsibility to transform our world, but also an individual one. Each of us needs to model the world we want.

The social media buzz around this past International Women’s Day was a good start. But words alone are not enough. What else are you doing? Tell me, and inspire others. If you don’t know where to start, here are some great resources: 5 everyday actions you can take to support gender equality; HeforShe; Promote gender equality in your business; Taking action: achieving gender equality; Gender parity strategies.

Let’s make it a proper celebration at next year’s Commission. A celebration of all the progress made in such a short time.

Blog post Gender equality Sustainable development Agenda 2030

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