Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Apr 13, 2021
Gender and the SDGs in the decade of action This article is part of the series—Raisina Edit 2021
2020 was a monumental year inciting a jarring shift away from what was considered normal prior to it. Among the healthcare, mortality, economic and social exigencies that COVID-19 has exacerbated, it is unfortunate—yet not surprising—that it also brought to light the unwavering reality of a ‘shecession’. The burden of unpaid household work and childcare; loss of workplace rights and jobs; increase in domestic violence and abuse—these stark realities stacked against women are being accounted for in amongst the richest economies in the world. Data from developing countries, where similar trend-lines are expected to be staggering, remain largely incremental. Even more telling are the stories of missing numbers related to women: In legislation; in governance; in paid work; in healthcare systems; in displaced communities; in rights to resources and ownership; in the impact of COVID-19 in developing and least-developed countries at large. As the new Decade for Action dawns up on us to rise to the challenge of meeting the sustainable development goals set out for 2030, an aggressive push for developing and understanding such macro-level data sets are crucial. Furthermore, for such data to be transformative, it must be placed and understood in real world contexts where these need to be addressed/redressed. It is when problem statements to this order are generated at multiple levels of governance, that solutions for these can be imagined on ground to truly leave no one behind. Already before the pandemic hit, global data suggested the following slow toll of progress vis-à-vis women’s equality: One in three women experience physical or sexual violence; less than 24 percent of national parliamentarians are women; women account for three times more unpaid care and domestic work as men; women are 25 per cent more likely to live in abject poverty as compared to men; at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities exist in over 150 countries. That progress against these rampant inequalities have been further diluted, derailed or curtailed in various instances is telling of the underlying social norms and systemic constructs that have marginalised women for several generations— 47 million more women and girls are expected to fall into poverty as a result of the pandemic. The SDGs have encapsulated several targets that aim to enhance economic and political empowerment of women to emerge as equal. However, a systematic breakdown of societal norms and economic structures within which this equality must be realised is where the target setting agenda for women’s equality has failed. Acknowledging these, and identifying solutions that facilitate women’s equality while reforming the current growth-focussed economic model, masculine power structures, cultural hierarchies, competing agencies between genders races and classes, and the fissures between gender and economics are much needed. This would enable an adequate implementation of SDGs in a way where there is a democratised operationalisation of these goals measured as an outcome, rather than recording a number-centred output while maintaining structural norms that continue to perpetuate inequality. Finally, accelerating such solutions that enable equity and equality for women will require strategic amplification of access to pillars of societal, financial, and technological support. As the COVID-19 recovery and relief packages, and political ambitions come to life around the world, it would be remiss to not adequately focus on gender equality. These must include prioritised legislations to ensure basic human rights for women as a first including protection against violence and abuse in all spheres (including virtual); and economic rights to bring this labour force into the formal, and adequately remunerated, economy. Gender-transformative legislation, policies and investments must be the most critical priority heron, and should facilitate mechanisms for women’s centre-staging for information and decision making, leveraging informal networks and scaling up institutional support for to this end. In Europe—where most gender metrics shine brighter than the rest of the world—only 18 per cent of COVID recovery measures target women’s employment. From unpaid work, unequal pay, to lost opportunities for formalising the female labour, about 15 percent of GDP is lost to women’s lagging employment. Global GDP could benefit US $13 trillion by 2030 through adequate prioritisation of women’s economic opportunities. Skill generation and employment among women needs to be a focus in new growth sectors such as renewable energy and artificial intelligence as well as traditional sectors such as agriculture, and industrial manufacturing. Again, data-based evidence, researching and understanding cultural misgivings, and solutions to tackle these issues will be needed. In the solar rooftop sector in India, for instance, design/pre-construction and office-based corporate roles have a relatively high share of female employees at 18 percent and 34 percent respectively; onsite work such as construction and commissioning and operations and maintenance have less than three per cent women employees. Research highlights that cultural and societal misgivings around technical roles’ masculinity associations, safety concerns around working hours and locations, human resources’ perceptions and practices at workplaces need to be addressed for women’s participation in this sector to be enhanced and leveraged. A critical input to be a part of such solutions here would be galvanised partnerships among academia, civil society organisations and government(s) to advance information, technology, and finance towards learning and skilling, increasing women’s credit worthiness as a factor of perception, cultural shifts in technology and society away from a traditional understanding of ‘masculinity’, and fulfilling access to basic necessities like electricity, healthcare and communication. While the UN and several international organisations are making strides in this direction, three immediate priorities across the United Nations system, countries, companies and civil society must be internalised:  (i) mandating the inclusion of women in building COVID-response and coping strategies; (ii) designing an inclusive healthcare economy that pays and secures women; and (iii) identifying data gaps, cultural challenges, and solutions to address these with a focussed attention on the future of women. The moral case for an equal world has been made for years, it is these socio-economic cases that will enable it and needs accelerating. Data across units of governance – from families to firms to countries – where inequality need to be tackled, solutions that address the underlying challenges while creating opportunities for equality in these units, and ensuring adequate ownership, finance, and technological assistance to accelerate these are a multi-pronged and challenging order to truly make this a Decade of Action towards meeting sustainable development goals: Gender-equality is but among the few transformations that will.
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