SDG 5: Gender Equality

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The importance of equal voices, choices, and opportunities

Gender equality describes a state of impartiality, where access to resources and opportunities is not influenced by biological differences. In 1995, the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action by 189 governments marked a turning point in the history of women’s rights. This progressive outline remains a powerful source of inspiration in the effort to realize equal opportunities for women and girls. But gender parity is not just the concern of the female half of the world’s population: Women’s rights are human rights. They concern us all, because no society can develop – economically, politically, or socially – when half of its population is marginalized. SDG 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Women’s role in development

The status of women in a society – from the local to the global level – correlates closely with developmental progress. In international development cooperation women are considered “the key to development”. Gender equality is an essential part of the self-image of governmental and non-governmental development organizations. There is a strong consensus regarding a) the structural discrimination against women in all societies and the additional workload they are exposed to, b) the crucial role women play in development processes, often securing the socio-economic livelihood of families, and c) the fact that gender mainstreaming and women empowerment are two complementary strategies that need to be implemented hand in hand.

Failing to address gender across all development activities – regardless whether their core focus is of economic, social, or environmental nature – endangers efforts of poverty reduction, ecosystem conservation and human rights protection, and ultimately the fulfilment of the SDGs in general.

Gender in the context of developed nations

Gender-based discrimination and violence does not only affect developing countries. While the concept of integrating a gender perspective stems from Official Development Assistance (ODA), the implications of not providing girls and women with equal voices, choices and opportunities are a universal problem touching not just their lives, but the future of societies and businesses everywhere.

Gender parity taps into various areas, among them education and the balance between care and career. At the workplace, inclusive practices are essential to facilitate gender dynamics of current and future jobs. At a policy level, the full and equal participation of women in decision making and policy development is crucial for a sustainable development pathway which has an explicit commitment to gender equality. A diverse set of factors influences gender perceptions, among them the stage of economic development, governance and civic participation, the significance of religion, and cultural values.

Direct link to our daily lives

With SDG5 it is perhaps easier than with some other goals to recognize its direct relevance for ordinary people all over the world. Gender inequality poses a vital challenge mainly because it is a cross-cutting issue touching on so many aspects of our daily lives. This, however, also gives us the opportunity to advance the equality goal through countless small actions and mentality changes – conscious or subconscious – daily and in all areas of life, for example:

  • At home

Gender equality starts at home. Practice and demonstrate to children equal decision-making processes at home. If you are a woman, know your rights and stand up for them.

  • At the workplace

Increase gender representation in areas of leadership in the workplace. Use mentoring and coaching to help women build their confidence and develop their careers. Make flexibility and work-life balance a part of the company’s culture. Mentor a female who needs a role model.

  • At school or university

Encourage schools to provide scholarships for girls. Make gender equality part of training and education. Young people should be supported in choosing jobs that advance their future, regardless of their gender.

  • In the media

Communicate at media outlets (advertising companies, movie production houses, etc.) about the harmful impact of portraying women and girls as inferior, less intelligent, and incompetent compared to their male counterparts.

Gender equality in the UAE

The UAE has emerged as a regional leader for gender equality providing women with equal access to education, healthcare, progressive career opportunities and representation in the political and corporate decision-making process.

In 2012, the UAE Cabinet made it compulsory for government agencies and corporations to include women on their boards of directors, making the UAE the first Arab country to have such a law in place. This was further extended to the private sector in 2016. Women currently make up 66% of the public sector workers and occupy 30% of leadership roles and 15% of technical and academic roles, according to the UAE Gender Balance Council. The Council, whose mandate it is to improve gender equality across government entities and enhance women’s role as key partners in building the future of the country, is supported by many women associations and foundations in the UAE that support women’s empowerment and rights. The work of organizations such as the General Women’s Union and the Dubai Women Establishment has helped the country support the participation of women in society and in work, the recently mandated extension of paid maternity leave to three months being one example of that.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2017, the UAE is ranked first globally for literacy rate, and second globally and first in the MENA region for wage equality for similar work.

Trends and opportunities in the corporate field

A report released by the UN Global Compact Network early this year showcases trends and opportunities related to women empowerment and business by examining the aggregate results of the over 2,000 companies using the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Gender Gap Analysis Tool to assess their gender equality performance across the workplace, marketplace, and community. In the decade since the WEPs were launched, the business case for gender equality has continued to grow, demonstrating how embedding it across business strategy and operations from the board room to the supply chain to the impacted communities is a smart move.

Despite a slight increase from the average of 2018, only 15% of assessed companies achieved a score of 50% or higher, meaning most companies still fall into the ‘beginner’ (46%) or ‘improver’ (39%) category when it comes to complete action for gender parity across all management stages (commitment, implementation, measurement, and transparency). Most of the assessed companies belonged to the financial services or energy and extractives industries, followed by food & beverage, agriculture, healthcare, and ICT.

Latin America has by far the largest number of companies taking the WEPs Gender Gap Analysis Tool. On average, companies in the region score slightly higher than the global average (30% compared to 28% globally) and are more likely to have a non-discrimination and equal opportunity policy (70% compared to 35% globally). This may partially be due to the Inter-American Development Bank’s efforts in the region to promote women’s economic empowerment by supporting companies to move from policies to implementation for meaningful change for women as employees, in the value chains, and in the markets the companies serve.

The report concludes that while corporate support for gender equality is strong, businesses have yet to introduce measurable targets and robust accountability mechanisms to ensure progress. Despite incremental progress in the number of companies that have made corporate commitments to promote gender equality, few companies have taken the necessary next steps to meet those commitments by implementing, monitoring, and reporting on progress toward gender equality. Strong policies lay the groundwork for environments that support women, but without concrete targets, adequate programming, and accountability, there is little chance gender gaps will close or culture will change to enable women to thrive.

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Carolin Hussein

Carolin started her career at a grassroots NGO in Cairo working on various projects ranging from economic development and community empowerment to health and social inclusion.

Since coming to the UAE in 2009, Carolin has balanced working at the country’s biggest German-speaking publication and completing her Master’s degree in Sustainable Development Cooperation.

Carolin’s goal is to make a difference for the public. For her that means working on a few key issues, with an emphasis on social and environmental projects that can foster new ideas, establish cross-sectoral partnerships, and achieve tangible results that serve the public interest.

Carolin joined Goumbook in 2020.