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As Gender Equality and Development Progress Stalls, Women Continue to Be Overlooked

A key barrier is a lack of data that allows policymakers to deeply understand the challenges facing women and design policies to address them


Recent analysis shows that most gender data included in the SDGs have only been collected one time in the past decade. Based on the most current UN assessment, progress is falling short of the Sustainable Development Goal 5 deadline of 2030 for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. The absence of data, which enables policymakers to fully comprehend the challenges faced by women and develop policies to address those challenges, is a major impediment; recent analysis reveals that the majority of the gender data included in the SDGs have only been collected once during the past ten years.

“We know that to supercharge economies and development, we need to empower women, but for too long the unique needs and opportunities facing women remain invisible to policymakers,” said Ruxana Jina, Director of Data Impact, Vital Strategies. “We can change that with focused and smart data strategies that use a gender lens to look at existing data and collect new data. These data can inform public health policies that meet the real needs of all people. We know that policies that uplift women drive benefits across families, communities and economies – everyone benefits from gender equity.”

At this critical midpoint, none of Goal 5 indicators are at “target met or almost met”. If current trends continue, over 340 million women and girls will still live in extreme poverty by 2030. Progress will need to be 26 times faster to reach the No Poverty goal by 2030. Close to 1 in 4 women and girls are expected to be moderately or severely food insecure by 2030. Addressing gender gaps in agrifood systems can reduce food insecurity as well as boost global GDP by nearly USD 1 trillion. Between 2000 and 2020, maternal mortality declined by one-third globally, from 339 to 223 deaths per 100,000 live births, but progress has stalled since 2015. Parity is not equal to universality, according to UN report titled ‘Progress on the sustainable development goals, The Gender Snapshot 2023’.

In aggregate, girls have surpassed boys in school completion across all levels of education, but completion rates remain below 100. As per a report by the UN, only 60 per cent of girls have completed schooling at the upper secondary level, compared to 57 per cent of boys. Based on the report, an SDG stimulus targeted at gender equality objectives is key for transformational impact. An additional USD 360 billion per year is needed to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment across key global goals, including ending poverty and hunger. Strong legal frameworks can promote positive change. Despite the progress, 54 per cent of countries still lack laws in all key areas of gender equality, including equal rights to enter marriage and initiate a divorce. At the current rate of progress, the next generation of women will still spend on average 2.3 more hours per day on unpaid care and domestic work than men.

The gender gap in power and leadership remains entrenched. “Much more work needs to be done to accelerate efforts towards realising gender equitable healthcare through comprehensive health data collection”, said Michelle Kaufman, Gender Equity Unit, JHU. “When you have accurate, complete, transparent, and easy-to-use data, public health systems and leaders can make better decisions that save and improve lives, well-being, and safety. Including additional data connected to these outcomes, such as education, income levels, and social norms, can provide insight into how to move closer to gender equity”, added Kaufman. “Access to accurate and consistent data is an important tool for creating gender-inclusive policies. Events such as this recent panel discussion that invite members of civil society and gender experts will pressure governments to improve such accessibility and create more data-driven solutions,” said Lara Tabac, Director of Global Grants Program, Vital Strategies.


Far too many women still cannot realise the right to decide on their sexual and reproductive health. Only 56 per cent of married or in-union women, aged 15 to 49, make their own choices. Addressing biased social norms that deny women bodily autonomy is vital. Other essential interventions include expanded comprehensive sexuality education, access to modern contraceptives, quality maternal health care, and safe and legal abortion services. The gender gap in power and leadership is an important component of the persistent lag in gender equality. Globally, women hold just 26.7 per cent of parliamentary seats, 35.5 per cent of local government seats, and only 28.2 per cent of management positions in the workplace. With the current slow pace of change, women’s share of workplace management positions will reach only 30 per cent by 2050. Gender quotas are one concrete policy solution proven to increase women’s representation in both business and politics. Other policy levers, including flexible work arrangements, mentorship and leadership training, and access to affordable, quality childcare, are also needed, according to the UN report. ”

As we embark on the crucial journey of engaging men in the healthcare discourse, we must first address fundamental issues within our health system. There’s a prevalent misconception about the distinctions between sex and gender, between gender and women, and top-down knowledge methodology, often used interchangeably. Addressing this at the foundational level is imperative. Our healthcare system tends to be defined quantitatively, often lacking context. Within the healthcare system, genders are often homogenised. To tackle larger issues, we must actively engage more men. We must confront these larger questions and promote women’s leadership within the health system. Additionally, we must actively work to change societal perceptions and norms within healthcare communities, aligning our efforts with a more inclusive and equitable vision for the future of healthcare,” said Ravi Verma, Regional Director – Asia, International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW).


Combating violence, harassment and abuse of women and girls in all forms, including online, is essential for gender equality. Each year around the world, over 245 million cases of physical and/or sexual violence are perpetrated by an intimate partner. Further, despite progress, harmful practices, including child marriage and female genital mutilation, remain prevalent. Globally, 1 in 5 young women (19 per cent) is married before age 18. Several interventions make a demonstrable difference. These target diverse forms of violence against women and girls, involve women and men, and girls and boys, challenge deeply rooted harmful norms, are scalable in terms of human and financial resources, and link the multiple components and sectors that must respond to victims’ immediate and long-term needs, including for health care, education, skills-building, access to the justice system and income support. “Working in close partnership with the Ministry of Health, we are committed to building the capacity of officials, resource allocation, and robust planning to address the financial needs of women. Gender-based violence is a cornerstone of UN Women’s global efforts.


However, the allocated healthcare budget for women in India is very low despite their equal representation in the population. This underscores the need for data-driven policymaking and heightened awareness among women to access the healthcare they require. Reproductive health remains a concern, and together, we must confront these challenges to ensure a healthier, more prosperous future for women in India,” said Kanta Singh, Deputy Country Director of UN Women India. Ministries of health can serve an important function to counter these factors. Addressing gender disparity through the design and implementation of gender-responsive policies is key for countries to achieve sustainable development goals. This can only be achieved through strengthening access to gender-sensitive data, for analysis and policy implementation.

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