2020 marks 25 years since 189 countries signed up to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – an ambitious and progressive blueprint for gender equality. The clock is ticking for governments to take action to achieve the promises made to girls and women in these ambitious frameworks.
Gender equality cuts across and throughout the entire SDG framework, and the design of the SDG Gender Index is informed by the insight that gender equality can be a catalytic policy intervention, compounding and accelerating progress across the development spectrum.
The 2019 SDG Gender Index – the most comprehensive measure of gender equality aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – showed that gender equality is still unfinished business worldwide: across the 129 countries studied, no country has fully achieved the promise of gender equality envisioned in the ambitious 2030 Agenda. We also found that nearly half of the world’s girls and women – 1.4 billion – live in countries that get a “failing grade” on gender equality, where the gender gaps are particularly acute.
Since the SDG Gender Index launched in 2019, the Equal Measures 2030 partnership has had conversations about the data with women’s rights organizations, advocates and gender equality champions from across sectors. Some of the most common questions we get asked are about pace and nature of change: are countries moving towards greater equality or in the wrong direction? What are the prospects for bending the curve to reach the gender equality promises laid out in the SDGs by 2030?
there is both reason for hope and cause for concern
In Bending the Curve we begin to answer these important questions within the limits of significant data gaps, using five of the key gender equality issues found in the SDG Gender Index (related to sexual and reproductive health and rights, girls’ education, representation of women in leadership, laws on equality in the workplace and safety). Our conclusion is that there is both reason for hope and cause for concern. Our ability to bend the curve towards gender equality has the potential to make or break the entire 2030 Agenda.
This briefing finds that 67 countries – home to 2.1 billion girls and women – won’t achieve any of the gender equality targets we studied by 2030 if their current pace of change continues. More than a third of countries studied have been moving slowly – or even in the wrong direction – on at least four of the five issues over the past decade or two. At the current rate of progress, we wouldn’t reach the target of all girls and women saying they feel safe walking at night until the year 2179.
But, on the five issues we looked at, we also found there were countries making very rapid progress – astonishingly fast in some cases. Such rapid progress that if all countries matched the pace of these fast movers over the next decade, nearly three quarters of the world’s girls’ and women could instead live in countries that had reached four or even all five of these gender equality targets. Under this acceleration scenario, 400 million more girls and women would have access to contraception to plan if and when they have children, and 85 million more girls would complete secondary school by 2030 than if the current pace continues. These are just two examples of the potential impact on the real lives of girls and women around the world.
If there is one message to take forward in 2020 it is that rapid change on gender equality is possible but concerted action is needed to get us there. Now is the time for real action that will bend the curve towards gender equality.
Open Letter to World Leaders
This year marks 25 years since 189 countries committed to the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights (The Beijing Platform for Action) and also marks the 10 year countdown to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet, and improve the lives and prospects for people across the world. We won’t be able to realize this vision if we don’t ensure that girls and women have equal rights and opportunities. And yet, to date no country has achieved gender equality.
As representatives of leading organizations championing gender equality, we’re raising the alarm about the pace of progress. There is no time left for business as usual: gender equality can be achieved for billions of girls and women by 2030, but it requires everyone to move faster. We’ve found that, if the current pace continues, 67 countries – home to 2.1 billion girls and women – will not achieve any of the key gender equality targets we studied by 2030.
If current rates continue, it will take more than six generations for all girls and women to report feeling safe walking at night.
Our new report, Bending the Curve Towards Gender Equality by 2030, looks at five vital targets for which data were available: access to contraception, girls’ education, political leadership, workplace equality laws, and safety. More than a third of the 129 countries we studied have been moving slowly, or even in the wrong direction, on at least four of the five issues over the past decade or two. At the global level, for example, there has been almost no progress on perceptions of safety: If current rates continue, it will take more than six generations for all girls and women to report feeling safe walking at night.
When we look behind the global averages, however, the data also reveal reasons for hope. On each of these five issues, there were countries who made fast progress over the past ten or twenty years, sometimes astonishingly fast. For example, in Rwanda access to contraception moved from covering 12% of girls and women in 2000 to 69% in 2018. In Ghana the percentage of girls who completed secondary school grew from just 5% in 2003 to over 40% 12 years later. And several countries have made rapid progress on having women represented in Cabinet positions (including Uruguay which went from zero women Ministers to 42% in less than 15 years, Canada which went from 30% to parity in four years, and Ethiopia which went from 10% to 48% women in just one year).
If every country followed the pace of fast-moving countries on these issues over the next decade, nearly three-quarters of the world’s girls and women could instead be living in countries that met four or all five of the gender equality targets we studied by 2030. Compared to the current pace, that would mean 400 million more girls and women would have access to contraception to plan if, when, and with whom they have children, and 85 million more girls would complete secondary school by 2030. By shifting political will, women’s representation in powerful government positions and workplace equality laws could change almost overnight.
By shifting political will, women’s representation in powerful government positions and workplace equality laws could change almost overnight.
The size of the challenge shouldn’t be underestimated. Countries are starting from very different points, and every context is different. But as a leading global coalition working every day in partnership with girls and women and gender equality champions from across the world, we see what is possible when governments prioritize gender equality, make coordinated and targeted investments, and bring feminist movements, women-focused organizations, and girls and women themselves to the decision-making table. When your representatives meet at the United Nations for the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) next week, you must ask yourselves if your country is poised to bend the curve towards gender equality over the next decade.
How did your country fare on the SDG Gender Index (released by our EM2030 partnership in 2019) and what were its weaknesses? Are your countries moving in the right direction on gender equality? What is stopping your country from putting in place the laws, policies and budget allocations that have long been promised to girls and women in global agreements like The Beijing Platform for Action and the SDGs?
Ask these questions, act on the answers, and use your power to make bold commitments that will set your countries’ course towards gender equality over the next decade. By doing so - and by announcing these commitments publicly and loudly at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris this July - you can contribute to creating a gender equal world. A gender equal world that, evidence shows us, would be healthier, wealthier, more productive, more peaceful, and more just.
Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen - CEO, Plan International
Emily Courey Pryor - Executive Director, Data2X
Julia Escalante de Haro - Regional Coordinator, Comité de América Latina y El Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer (CLADEM)
Françoise Girard - President, International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC)
Memory Kachambwa - Executive Director, The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)
Gayle Smith - President/CEO, ONE Campaign
Mark Suzman - CEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Siva Thanenthiran - Executive Director, Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW)