SDG 17: The significance of Gender Equality in strengthening Global Partnerships

Gender equality is central to the achievement of majority of the SDGs, however has to be made a primary principal objective in the implementation of all the global goals, at national levels. Goal 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals calls UN member states to “Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development”. In delivering it’s mandate to catalyze global solidarity for sustainable development, women and girls have to be seen as key partners in development and active economic agents.

SDG 17 is key to the implementation of all the other goals, as it addresses the shortcomings and insufficiently achieved agenda of MDG 8 which was aimed at catalyzing  global solidarity for sustainable development, where after monitoring and evaluations, was found weak in designing and implementing the mobilization of support from wealthier countries to deliver sufficiently on its mandated goal. In 2015 and beyond, Goal 17 thus has to play critical importance to achieving equality and inclusive development in revitalizing global partnerships, with a stronger focus on the role women play to ensure its significant accomplishment by 2030.

Globally, women on average are paid 24% less than men, where in developing regions, up to 95% of women’s employment is informal, in jobs that are unprotected by labour laws and lack social protection. This unequal economic participation is the inclusive cause of opportunity inequalities, power imbalances and income disparities that currently exit all over the world. Therefore, in implementing the finance, technology, capacity building, data and trade targets, UN Member States and national governments who have committed to the goals have to ensure that they back programs which improve access to women and girls’ education and healthcare as well as remove barriers to political participation, access to decent jobs and finance.

Gender segregation is evident in reality and there is a strong need to pay attention to the economic empowerment of women and access to high-quality education for girls. In 2012/2013 only 5% of foreign aid funding had gender equality as one of its primary objectives. Despite the fact that gender-based data is crucial to better define how to achieve gender equality, only about one third of countries have specific departments for gender statistics. In this case, it has to be known that technology is a key element to overcoming gender-specific barriers as it plays a significant role in bridging the knowledge and digital divide gap and thus plays a role as an enabler for women’s economic empowerment. Therefore, moving forward countries have to ensure that access to technology, knowledge and information is improved, that high-quality disaggregated data, monitoring progress methods and evaluation measurement tools are put in place and publicly readily available and accessible. Participation of women and girls is crucial in this process as they have to play an essential role in visibly demanding the accountability of all stakeholders for the full implementation of international norms and standards on gender equality and women’s empowerment, ensuring that national policies are accurately and efficiently implemented, leaving not one child, woman and adolescent behind.

Focusing on women’s economic empowerment is crucial in implementing north-south and south-south cooperation and partnerships, and therefore a commitment to adopt gender-sensitive and equity-responsive policies and agenda is vital to recognizing women’s issues and rights to putting women and girls at the center of the key means of implementation in fostering global partnerships.  To achieve this we need to enhance momentum in the construction and dissemination of disaggregated data, foster mechanisms that will allow women to productively engage in the socioeconomic development of countries, enhance womens’ political participation in all levels of decision making, allow for national policies and implementation strategies to reflect international gender equality standards and making gender mainstreaming the standard strategy in national government policy making.

In essence, women and girls constitute of the largest population in the world living in poverty, with higher barriers to accessing reproductive services and rights, education  and information, employment and finance opportunities, than their male counterparts. Thus, in the implementation of Goal 17 governments will have to address the unequal access to productive resources, the restriction of access to community managed service and prevalent provision of poor quality – to ensure that they make far-reaching contributions to create enabling environments to address the underlying structures of inequality which are crucial to consider within the mandate and objective to strengthen and revitalize global partnerships.

Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.

SDG 16: Promoting Peace for All

The penultimate Goal of the new Sustainable Development Goals focuses on peace and justice, calling for the global community to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”.

Targets that sit under the goal include significantly reducing all forms of violence and related death rates, ending exploitation and trafficking, promoting the rule of law at national and international levels and ensuring equal access to justice for all. There are also targets to reduce illicit arms flows, combat organised crime, and reduce corruption and bribery.

In the wake of recent global events, a world at peace may feel further from our reach than ever before. At the same time, striving for such a world has never felt so urgent. This month, a coordinated massacre unfolded throughout Paris and deadly bombs struck the streets of Beirut. This week,  Brussels remains on high alert due to a ‘serious and imminent’ terrorist threat. Today, more than 43 million people worldwide woke up forcibly displaced as a result of conflict, and civil war continues to tear through Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Somali and Yemeni, amongst many others. Violence appears to saturate our world, and so how can a more peaceful world by 2030 possibly become a reality?

It almost goes without saying that high levels of violence and insecurity have a catastrophic impact on a country’s development, affecting everything from economic growth to personal relationships between communities. Sexual violence, crime, exploitation and torture are all more prevalent where there is conflict or no rule of law, and economic and social structures quickly crumble under the weight of bribery and corruption. For the SDGs to succeed by 2030, global institutions, governments, NGOs and communities must work collaboratively to create long-term solutions to conflict and violence. The path to these solutions starts with strengthening the rule of law, providing access to justice for all and promoting universal human rights.

Unsurprisingly, this is easier said than done. Persisting gender inequalities mean in today’s world, women are often less able to access justice than men, putting the progress of Goal 16 in immediate jeopardy. At a recent international conference, Snežana Samardžić-Marković, Director General of Democracy for the Council of Europe, said: “Access to justice is not only a fundamental right in itself, but it is also a right that is instrumental to achieving other – equally fundamental – rights”. Until gender inequality is addressed, our judiciary systems will remain too weak at their very core to adequately support citizens within the peaceful and inclusive societies that SDG 16 aims to promote.

On Global Open Day for Women and Peace in Kabul, Afghan women peace activists voiced their concern about women’s security and access to justice. (Photo: UNIFEM)

Women’s access to justice needs to be increased from local to international levels. We need greater participation of women in the justice sector, and greater representation of women in court rooms. Informal justice systems should be analysed and reformed alongside institutional ones, and a more responsive system equipped to advance women’s equal rights and opportunities needs to be fostered.

In conflict zones in particular, there must be comprehensive justice and criminal accountability for sexual violence and crimes – women and girls are often systematically targeted in conflict and post-conflict countries through mass rape and mass sexual violence. The combination of violence and weakened societal protection structures is a devastating one, and  reparation for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence is critical for countries undergoing transition from a conflict zone.

The task of promoting peace and justice in a world so seemingly full of violence sounds at first like an incomprehensible one. The focus of the global community needs to hone in on practical steps that can be taken to make our societies more peaceful, more inclusive, and more just. Ensuring that women and girls have equal access to systems and processes to allow this to happen has to be a priority from the outset.

Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.



SDG 14: Healthy Oceans, Healthy Women

Our vast, global ocean is a constant reminder of humankind’s fragility and impermanence. A moment at the mercy of a crashing wave demands respect for nature’s strength. A glimpse of a 40-foot humpback whale makes us feel impossibly small on our big, blue planet. And an encounter with a white shark takes us to another time, long before humans began to upset the Earth’s natural processes.

Our shared ocean also provides countless services that we each enjoy every day. It captures massive amounts of carbon. It offers a much-needed source of protein, especially in coastal developing countries. And in some cases, it even ensures access to clean and consistent drinking water.

But the marine environment as we know it is changing. The ocean is getting warmer and more acidic. Our seas are rising. Coral reefs are dying and other important habitats have been destroyed. Our ocean is filled with plastic and some areas are too polluted for wildlife to thrive. The big fish are gone and we’re now working harder to fish the small ones.

In many ways, the ocean is nature’s great equalizer across nations; we all feel humbled in its presence, we all benefit from its health and we all contribute to its demise. Which is why U.N. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 sets a shared global goal to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development,” calling for us to work together to chart a new path forward.

But while the power of the ocean is undeniably one of our planet’s profound unifiers—regardless of geography, race or class—the effects of our transforming ocean are not always felt equally. Women and girls are uniquely impacted by these changes in significant ways.

As water quality impacts cascade up the food chain, toxins such as mercury become more concentrated in larger fish, including tilefish, swordfish and tuna. Women of childbearing age need to think about fish consumption in a way men don’t, since these toxins are particularly damaging to developing fetuses and can linger in the human body.

As populations of wild ocean fish continue to dwindle as a result of overfishing, illegal fishing and loss of habitat, we lose a critical source of nutrient-rich protein, which is especially important in coastal developing countries. Since women and girls make up 43% of the agricultural labor force worldwide and up to 90% in some African countries, more weight falls on them to find other ways—additional grains, legumes or vegetables, for example—to make up for this nutritional shortfall in providing for their families. This is particularly difficult in places already impacted by climate change, drought and flooding.

Shrinking fish populations create yet another distinct challenge for pregnant women worldwide, where Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—an essential omega-3 fatty acid that is critical to fetal brain and retina development—is primarily derived from seafood and algae.

And although half the world’s population lives within 60 km of the coast, sea level rise stands to disproportionately impact coastal developing countries, where projections forecast larger changes at lower latitudes. This is especially true since many of these communities lack the resources or infrastructure to plan for resiliency. Coastal flooding means women and girls must face additional farming challenges and travel greater distances to collect potable water and biomass fuels. Worse, they may be forced to migrate further inland with their families.

In many ways, women and girls stand to gain the most from a clean, thriving ocean and smart coastal adaptation strategies. Stricter air and water quality standards and alternatives to pesticides mean cleaner coastal waters. And that translates to fish that are safer for women and their families to eat. Marine protected areas and comprehensive fisheries management that prioritizes local, artisanal fishing can ensure access to wild fish–a critical protein for women–now and into the future. And proactive planning for our rising sea levels will protect local communities, including their homes, food and water supply, from coastal inundation.

With all these benefits to be gained, it stands to reason that women and girls can and should pioneer the marine conservation movement. And in some places, they already are: the United States is home to inspirational ocean champions like Julie Packard, Dr. Jane Lubchenco and “Her Deepness,” Dr. Sylvia Earle, who have already mentored generations of emerging women leaders.

Globally, there is every reason for women and girls to spearhead this movement, as well. As specialists in agriculture, water and forestry systems, women are well equipped to translate that knowledge to complex coastal ecosystems. Women and girls are also natural communicators who routinely hold together the fabric of families, communities and societies. With these skills, they’re especially suited to bring together diverse stakeholders, scientists and decision-makers to achieve forward-thinking and collaborative solutions for the challenges we face in the ocean. I’ve personally participated in countless ocean conservation meetings, symposia and conferences and felt the empowering strength of tens, even hundreds of women looking back at me as we tackle the most pressing marine issues together. And it’s extraordinary.

Samantha Murray is the Water Program Director at Oregon Environmental Council. Prior to that, she was the Pacific Program Director with Ocean Conservancy, where she spent nearly a decade working to protect some of the ocean’s most special places.

Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.

SDG 13: Climate Change – Faces Behind the Numbers

There’s something very unique about working at grassroots level and experiencing firsthand what the community is facing. A single day is enough to make all the statistics fade into the background and replace them with vivid images of what the numbers really represent.

I am currently taking part in the fifth Climate Change and Development in Africa (CCDA-V) conference themed, “Africa, Climate Change and Sustainable Development: What is at Stake at Paris and Beyond?” in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. As a pre-event to the conference, the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) convened the first African Youth Conference on Climate Change (AfriYOCC) themed, “African Youth Responses to Climate Change and Food Security, Action from the Frontline”. The workshop served as a valuable space for young people to share their climate solutions and incorporate their recommendations to the African Youth Position on the Road to Paris (COP21). I also had the opportunity to serve as a panelist on the topic : “Gender Mainstreaming in Climate Governance and Community Based Adaptation”.


All the high-level dialogues taking place for me put a spotlight on the community that will have to live the consequences of the outcome of these discussions. Here are my thoughts on the subject.

Goal number 13 of the new Sustainable Development Goals, “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” means so much to a lot of climate activists all over the world. 2015 is a momentous year for our movement. The world needed to agree on its future and we were able to have a standalone goal on climate change. The targets of this goal hold a promise of climate justice and keeping our world safe, for us to be able to breathe long enough to fight another day.

The first target articulates the importance of strengthening the resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries. Achieving this target is impossible without having the necessary climate change measures integrated into national policies and strategic planning, which is outlined in the second target. The remaining targets also cover critical issues surrounding awareness raising and capacity building, as well as the very backbone of any movement financing. The urgent need to make the Green Climate Fund operational and make sure the developed world follows up on its commitments has been well emphasized. The target highlights the agreement reached for the developed countries to jointly mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020, to address the needs of developing countries for meaningful mitigation, as outlined in the Copenhagen Accord.


The fifth and last target which focuses on promoting mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change related planning and management brings me to a point I would like to discuss further. It highlights a focus on women,  youth,  local and marginalized communities in countries that do not have enough resources and are being disastrously affected by the hazards of climate change.

We are standing on the verge of COP 21, and we have high hopes for an agreement that will practically complement this goal and deliver for the most marginalized. But we still echo reservations that crumble our much-needed unity for saving the earth. Most concerns arise from factors strongly related to economic growth implications of pursuing a certain development path. One can argue any sort of “development” is meaningless if it compromises the planet we live in, whereas affordability and issues surrounding technology transfer make it that much impossible for another to be as passionate for the cause. A just climate solution can only be reached, when can work on the divide between the global north and south with the utmost integrity and concern for the those whose daily lives rotate around these decisions.

The issue of gender is also a huge factor in determining how effective our programs will be on the ground. Women and children are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis and we have established that empowering women and girls is our ticket out of poverty. But we need to translate that knowledge into a set of practical actions that will work through the social constructs which need to be challenged.

Gender mainstreaming in the fight against climate change could not be anymore pressing than now as we are literally racing against time. We acknowledge that empowering women has a ripple effect and positively trickles down to every member of the household. And typically, the rural women of Africa are forced to walk long hours of the day for lack of access to safe drinking water, are more vulnerable to gender-based-violence and remain over-burdened by exclusively bearing reproductive roles around the house.

We have early warning communities that largely consist of women. On a recent gender-analysis I was part of in the east side of rural Ethiopia, we found that the women were more interested and willing to join the early warning community set up by the Disaster Prevention, Preparedness and Control Office of the government. The men justified their lack of interest by saying the women were more “close to the issue” therefore more sensitive and responsible to communicate. On the other hand, a well established norm renders the men the sole decision makers, with better access and control over resources. It is crucial that we creatively engage the men.

We all have a long way to go in building community resilience. Our efforts require that much cross-sectorial collaboration more so than a singular focus on a single thematic area. There is a strong correlation between population, health and environment which we cannot disregard as we plan our programs. We need to remember that behind the numbers there are faces of real people and at individual, local and global levels we have to commit to nothing less than our very best to collaboratively strive towards a world where the impacts of climate change are not only slowed down, but halted. Preserving our planet not just for us but for future generations is all of our shared responsibility.

Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.

SDG 12: A Pathway to Justice

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12, sustainable consumption and production, entails “promoting resource and energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, and providing access to basic services, green and decent jobs and a better quality of life for all. Its implementation helps to achieve overall development plans, reduce future economic, environmental and social costs, strengthen economic competitiveness and reduce poverty.”

To me, this goal is another way of chipping away at the systemic poverty and inequality that disproportionately impacts women and girls.

When we lack sustainable consumption and production, often we are both harming the environment and misusing existing resources. The world produces enough food to feed nearly double our global population. Yet according to the United Nations each year approximately 1/3 of all food produced spoils or rots due to poor transportation and harvesting. An estimated 3 billion tons of food is wasted while nearly 1 billion people go undernourished and another 1 billion hungry.

This goal recognizes that hunger is not caused by scarcity.

In the United States, where forty-one percent of women face some degree of poverty and food insecurity, hunger is a product of inequality. While we can’t ignore the underpinnings of gender and poverty, for instance wage inequality and lack of affordable childcare, the inaccessibility of nutritious food contributes to hunger. In areas of poverty, nutritious food is scarce because food retailers cannot make the same profit as in wealthier communities. As a result, they don’t sell their products to the poor. The US SNAP program, which offers food assistance to families living in poverty, is notorious for providing access to processed food that is linked to poor health outcomes. Further, the popular push toward organic, local food production and consumption seems like a solution, except that it is an elitist privilege because the majority of those living the United States cannot afford to shop at markets that sell healthier options.

This goal recognizes that hunger can be solved by justice.

Justice looks different in different places. In parts of Ethiopia, justice be can changing the gender roles that demand that women and girls eat the leftovers from the table of men and boys. In the DR Congo, justice can be changing the laws that state a woman must get her husband’s permission to accept a job or obtain a commercial license. In the United States, justice can be ensuring that all residents have access to nutritious food.

Justice is a pathway toward sustainable production and consumption.

Sustainable production and consumption entails ensuring that those who lack access to their basic needs, including food, can get access. It’s about using resources effectively and efficiently so that future generations can benefit from their use. And it’s about changing the power dynamics that promote poverty and inequality among women and girls.

Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.

SDG 11: Building cities for women and girls

Goal 11 of the new Sustainable Development Goals calls for the global society to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. The targets under this Goal include things like ensuring all people have access to decent housing and transportation systems, improving roads, and reducing the number of deaths occurring from and number of people affected by disasters.

Two of the targets specifically address women, namely:

11.2: By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons

11.7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities

Cities, urban areas and public spaces can make or break efforts towards gender equality. Poor infrastructure such as low quality roads, unreliable or unsafe public transportation systems and safety of spaces like parks and squares impacts everyone – but disproportionately impact the lives and well-being of women and girls, especially in terms of their safety and security. For the first time ever, more people are living in cities than in urban areas – and the number keeps growing. Most of the expected urban growth is happening in developing countries, and according to the 2014 World Urbanization Prospects report by UN DESA, largest urban growth is expected to take place in India, China and Nigeria.

As part of their Because I am a Girl-campaign, Plan International has carried out an urban program study in Cairo, Delhi, Hanoi, Kampala and Lima, involving over 1,000 adolescent girls from these five cities. The research showed that while there are some benefits to girls from living in urban areas, such as girls usually being more educated and marrying later compared to their rural counterparts, fear and threat of violence prevent girls from being able to have full access to all areas of their cities. Girls who participated in the study shared feelings and experiences of insecurity, exclusion, sexual harassment and violence. Issues that constricted their movement and contributed to their feelings of insecurity included things like lack of proper lighting in public areas, alleyways and streets, lack of public transportation systems that girls could safely use, overcrowded places where girls would get groped and approached by men, and lack of safe toilets which forces girls to use open spaces, putting them at increased risk of sexual harassment.

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Unsafe roads, areas and transportation impact women and girls disproportionately – and because women tend to spend more time in their neighborhoods and homes, poor infrastructure such as low quality sanitation, water and electricity expose them to disease and indoor air pollution. Lack of safe and clean toilets in public facilities such as schools can prevent girls from having access to education, and unsafe transportation prevents women from accessing important and even life-saving services, including prenatal visits. Availability and accessibility of urban services also greatly benefits women, as pointed out by UNFPA in their 2007 State of World Population Report. Availability of such services can help to reduce women’s triple burden of reproductive, productive and community work and support and, as we’ve learned time and time again, increasing women’s well-being translates to higher levels of well-being for all.

Building cities and settlements that promote gender equality isn’t rocket science – but it is something that takes deliberate planning, and proper understanding of the differential needs of women, men, girls and boys. This requires us to do exactly what Plan did – going to women and girls, and talking to them. Listening to them. Asking them what they need in order for them to feel safe in cities and urban areas – and not only feel safe, but to be able to fully participate in the society on all levels. We need to bring women and girls to the table and ask them what works and what doesn’t – and most importantly, we need to ensure that women are not only at the table, but included as engineers, bus drivers, park employees, police and security officers, construction workers, drivers.

Women and girls are not only the beneficiaries, but the building blocks of safer, more gender-equal cities, urban areas and settlements. We don’t only need their insights, but their skills and talents as well to ensure that the cities of tomorrow are truly inclusive and safe for all.

Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.