SDG #5, Gender Equality

SDG #5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. 

There has been progress over the last decades: More girls are going to school, fewer girls are forced into early marriage, more women are serving in parliament and positions of leadership, and laws are being reformed to advance gender equality. 

Despite these gains, many challenges remain: discriminatory laws and social norms remain pervasive, women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership, and 1 in 5 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 report experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12-month period.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could reverse the limited progress that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights.  The coronavirus outbreak exacerbates existing inequalities for women and girls across every sphere — from health and the economy, to security and social protection. 

Women play a disproportionate role in responding to the virus, including as front line healthcare workers and carers at home. Women’s unpaid care work has increased significantly as a result of school closures and the increased needs of older people. Women are also harder hit by the economic impacts of COVID-19, as they disproportionately work in insecure labour markets. Nearly 60 per cent of women work in the informal economy, which puts them at greater risk of falling into poverty. 

The pandemic has also led to a steep increase in violence against women and girls. With lockdown measures in place, many women are trapped at home with their abusers, struggling to access services that are suffering from cuts and restrictions. Emerging data shows that, since the outbreak of the pandemic, violence against women and girls — and particularly domestic violence — has intensified.

Investing in women and girls is key to advancing sustainable development. If women and men participated equally, the world economy could gain 28 trillion dollars by 2025, according to UN Global Compact. The business case for diversity is clear. Diversity can boost innovation and employee engagement, and companies with greater gender and racial diversity financially outperform their peers. Beyond advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment internally, companies can impact all areas of society and be a leader of creating lasting positive change.
Gender equality is an enormous opportunity for businesses to improve their own performance. Researchers have long found ties between having women on a company’s board of directors and better financial performance. Companies with a woman in the chief executive or chairman role have performed far better than a major global index over the past eight years, according to an analysis by the bank Nordea of nearly 11,000 companies globally. The results found that on average, companies with a woman in either of those two top jobs at the end of the calendar year more than doubled the performance of the MSCI World Index in the following year. The annualized return for female-led firms, based on an equal weighting, was 25 percent since 2009, compared with just 11 percent for the broader market. By closing gender gaps, companies benefit through increased productivity and higher retention. In fact, Investors are increasingly looking at the gender equality performance of companies as an indicator for potential growth.
Despite this opportunity, many social, economic and legal barriers still exist, preventing women from entering the workforce, progressing in their careers and growing their businesses and certain industries like tech and finance are lacking diversity at all levels. In fact,
at the current rate of change, it will take more than 100 years to achieve gender equality

So how can your company accelerate the rate of change?
By studying research and company performance, I have put together my best advice and examples of how you can accelerate the speed of change:


  1. Lead by example when it comes to diversity.
    CEO’s actions, whether on or off the job, signal the extent to which diversity is valued.
    Kevin Johnson (Starbucks) said, “In order to make great progress the CEO needs to take this on as one of those personal initiatives that they’re going to be involved with and personally drive.”
    Sometimes leading by example means making difficult decisions. Perhaps you have to refuse to fill a leadership position until you had a diverse slate of candidates to select from?
  2. Hold yourself and others accountable on diversity initiatives.
    Data, KPI and deadlines are also important factors to making diversity initiatives work. Research has shown that setting and following through on diversity goals is the most effective method for increasing underrepresentation of women and minorities.
    Saying there is no deadline on this, or that things will right themselves, is an ahistorical way of looking at the advances that have been made in terms of equity and representation. Clear goals have always required people to do the work. It has always required people to stand up and make it a priority.
  3. Foster diversity throughout the organization.
    Many CEOs talk about the importance of having diverse teams at all levels of the company – from the frontlines to middle management to senior leadership. Talking, however, differs from acting.
    Shira Goodman of Staples, is a good example of creating a program with clear goal to hire, develop, and retain more female employees, in order to have women represented equally at all levels of the organization.
  4. Broaden your perspective on diversity.
    Equality takes many different forms—income, education, racial, gender, LGBTQ, ability.
    Wikimedia demonstrated one way to ensure that all employees feel safe being themselves at work: they created a non-discrimination policy that includes explicit protections and expanded definitions related to gender identity and expression, disability, citizenship, and ancestry.
    Broaden the perspective of building an inclusive environment could also mean that equality is not just about giving everyone the same things, but about giving people what they need.

    It’s not about how you’re going to change the person. It’s how you’re going to change yourself and the environment in which the person is going to have to succeed.
  5. Analyze your Data
    A great analysis tool is the WEPs Gender Gap Analysis Tool which is a free, user-friendly, and strictly confidential tool designed to help companies from around the world identify strengths, gaps, and opportunities to improve their performance on gender equality. Results are provided in a concise and clear format so companies can easily identify areas for improvement.
    Summa summarum (as you say in Swedish 😉 )

    CEOs have the power to champion diversity by leading by example, setting goals and utilizing metrics, and holding their companies accountable.

Facts & Figure 

  • Globally, 750 million women and girls were married before the age of 18 and at least 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have undergone FGM.
  • The rates of girls between 15-19 who are subjected to FGM (female genital mutilation) in the 30 countries where the practice is concentrated have dropped from 1 in 2 girls in 2000 to 1 in 3 girls by 2017.
  • In 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working; in 39 countries, daughters and sons do not have equal inheritance rights; and 49 countries lack laws protecting women from domestic violence.
  • One in five women and girls, including 19 per cent of women and girls aged 15 to 49, have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within the last 12 months. Yet, 49 countries have no laws that specifically protect women from such violence.
  • While women have made important inroads into political office across the world, their representation in national parliaments at 23.7 per cent is still far from parity.
  • In 46 countries, women now hold more than 30 per cent of seats in national parliament in at least one chamber.
  • Only 52 per cent of women married or in a union freely make their own decisions about sexual relations, contraceptive use and health care.
  • Globally, women are just 13 per cent of agricultural land holders.
  • Women in Northern Africa hold less than one in five paid jobs in the non-agricultural sector. The proportion of women in paid employment outside the agriculture sector has increased from 35 per cent in 1990 to 41 per cent in 2015.
  • More than 100 countries have taken action to track budget allocations for gender equality.
  • In Southern Asia, a girl’s risk of marrying in childhood has dropped by over 40% since 2000.
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