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Efficacy of Affirmative Action in Achieving Gender Equality and Goal 5 of the SDGs

Written by Shivangi Agrawal Fourth Year, BA. LLB. Guru Ghasidas Vishwavidyalaya, Chhattisgarh

Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.



This article highlights the challenges faced in advancing women’s rights and achieving equality at par with men. It lays the basis for robust, gender-responsive monitoring of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with goal 5 of SDG, i.e., gender equality as more than half of the 17 goals have integrated dimensions with it. While the framework of the article is global, it does not attempt to cover the exceedingly wide range of aspects. It has identified the goals attached to gender equality and has tried to lay down how far we have reached to achieve the goals of 2030. Linking gender equality with SDGs is of moral and ethical importance. The article concludes by sharing some statistics for how long we need to travel to achieve the goals by 2030. The article lays down the potential SDGs have to bring about positive change for women and girls and irreversible positive results for overall development. This would need further action to accelerate progress, address current issues, and prevent lapsing.

SDGs and Gender Inequality

Females constitute half (49.5%) of the world’s population. (Richie, Roser 2019)

With an improvement in their living conditions, the benefits revert to the society itself. Discriminatory legal framework and customary laws place a huge restriction on women’s ability to earn their income and get socialized. Even when formal restrictions are removed, they face numerous other difficulties. Unequal access to basic needs, disproportionate living standards, and financial dependence on their partners are persistent norms of the society.

So, what does gender inequality look like?

It looks like this: women being paid less than men for the same amount of work, women making up two-thirds of all illiterate people in the world, less than ten percent of the world leaders being women, less than twenty percent of the world’s landholders being women, unequal inheritance rights, and only 28.8 percent of women researchers/academicians worldwide. (UN Women 2020)

This not only affects the lives of individual men and women but stunts the country’s economic growth and development. Gender equality finds a place in the Sustainable Development Goal SDG) 5.

The concept of 17 SDGs (Clinton Global Initiative, 2020) in 2015 was considered to ‘leave no one behind’ and to ensure the protection of our planet and improve the lives of everyone, everywhere by the year 2030. SDG 5 is also the enabler to achieve other goals greatly since it has a multiplier effect that leads to addressing other issues inclusively such as eradication of poverty (SDG 1), eradication of hunger (SDG 2), good health and well-being (SDG 3), ensuring quality education (SDG 4) and peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16).

If looked into, gender inequality and other forms of vulnerabilities are tight knots of a single loop of thread. For example, when women work, they invest 90 percent of their income back into their families, compared with 35 percent for men. (Clinton Global Initiative, 2020) And, thus, when women earn more, the nutritional, health and educational status of children also improve.

In a country where nearly two-thirds of women are more likely to report food insecurity than men, attention needs to be made on proportionate health factors. (World Food Programme) This causes several health issues like anemia and other problems during childbirth. Globally, 3,03,000 women died from pregnancy-related causes in 2015 (UN Women, 2020) and the rate of death is not declining fast enough to satisfy the 2030 agenda. Even those who survive, give birth to unhealthy children, giving rise to a cycle of poor health within the population, consequently a barrier to SDGs 1, 2, and 3.

As many as 48.1 per cents (UN Women, 2020) of girls remain out of school in some regions. Illegal practices such as child marriage, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation (FGM) are gross violations of human rights and have negative consequences on girls. These blatant practices deprive the girls of getting educated and result in teenage pregnancies with complications leading to high maternal mortality rates. Poor sanitation is one of the reasons that keep girls out of school.

All these gender inequality statistics reveal that the only way to sustainably break this cruel cycle is to empower women, and central to empowerment initiatives are education and employment.

As for every extra year of primary schooling, a girl will earn 10-20% more when they start working, decreasing their chances of being married off at a young age, and improving their health and well-being.

This is not a threat that can be set aside until poverty has been eradicated worldwide, which is again a vicious circle. Women are among the most vulnerable sections of society. The responsibility of their household rests on their shoulders in less-developed countries resulting in harsh situations where they have to pull out children from the school or decide which person of the family needs to skip a meal.

Though gender equality is a stand-alone goal (SDG 5), gender must be integrated across all the SDGs, and gender considerations must be included in all sustainable development work and climate action. With only 10 years left to achieve the SDGs, a high-level international forum of innumerable potential is required. This forum should be vested with exclusive powers to take actions with respect to discriminatory and oppressing activities going on in the countries. It should be free from political or diplomatic pressure from the big P5 nations of the UN Security Council and it should be competent enough to exercise its power independently for good cause.

As reported, 49 countries yet lack laws protecting women from domestic violence, while 39 bar equal inheritance rights for daughters and sons. (UN Women, 2020) If certain measures are not taken, it will take another 68 years for salary equality to be reached worldwide. (Active Sustainability) The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) flagship report grades the goals from ‘A’ to ‘F’ based on how likely the goal can be achieved by 2030 and grades income inequality as ‘F’, which means that the progress in this direction is not enough. There is a need to turn the trajectory. However, the report also points out that the maternal mortality rate will reduce globally and inequality will fall in low- income countries. (Development Progress)

The small steps today, if taken worldwide can help achieve the SDG Agenda of 2030.

Investment in affordable and quality early childhood education will pave the cycle of growth. This can benefit in the long term as those now educated, could impart education in the future, increasing access to employment, increase in earning and curbing poverty, hunger, and other vulnerabilities. Women’s knowledge, power, and collective action have huge potential to improve resource productivity. They must be seen as the catalyst towards the goal of sustainability and not as victims. Women’s participation has been shown to have a positive impact on public spending patterns and service provision. (UN Women, 2020)

Prioritization of gender-responsive investments pays off. For instance, in South Africa, it is estimated that a gross annual investment of 3.2% of GDP in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) would not only result in universal coverage for all 0-5-year-old children but also create 2.3 million jobs, raising female employment by 10.1%. (UN Women, 2020)

The lethal practices such as child marriage, forced marriage, sexual and mental tortures should be categorized as the most vulnerable practices of all at an international forum and strict actions to be taken against the country for the violation of international instruments.

Though the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has been ratified by more countries than any other UN Convention, females are underrepresented in societal groups. (UN Women, 2020)


The goal of 2030 Agenda of making a better world, with universal respect for human rights and dignity and full utilization of human potential will go unrealized if appropriate actions are not taken to advance gender equality.

Numerous civil society leaders have called for a ‘super year of activism’ at the core of the 2020-30 decade to tackle poverty, empower women and girls, and address the issue of climate emergency. (United Nations, 2019)

More people are living a better life as compared to decades ago. More people have access to basic facilities, healthcare, and education. As the report demonstrates (Sustainable Development Goals Report, 2019), the under-5 mortality rate has declined by 49 percent between 2000 and 2017; the vast majority of the world’s population have access to electricity, 186 countries have ratified the Paris Agreement, countries have developed national policies and the ample number of actors have engaged with SDGs to generate a positive hope for the future. But prevailing inequalities and climate change are pulling back these gains. The environment is deteriorating at an alarming rate; women in all parts of the world continue to face disadvantages and are subject to inequalities.

Inclusive investment in political, technological, and financial solutions can keep the growth steady. Great leadership and rapid actions would level up the positive changes with sustainable development objectives.

Implementation and success always rely on a country’s own policies, plans, and actions. SDGs will merely serve as a compass for aligning the national plans of countries with their global commitments.

For everything we do, it must be remembered ‘to leave no one behind.’ The time is right, and we must act now in accordance with the belief of the UN Secretary-General that the coming years shall be a pivotal period for achieving sustainable and inclusive human development.



1. Empowering Girls Women. Clinton Global Initiative.

2. Facts & Figures. 2012. UN Women.

3. Infographic: Why gender equality matters to achieving all 17 SDGs. UN Women 2018.

4. Infographic: Women are Hungrier. World Food Programme, USA.

5. Projecting Progress Reaching the SDGs by 2030. Development Progress.

6. Ritchie, Hanna. Roser, Max. 2019. Gender Ratio. Our World in Data.,What%20share%20of%20the%20population%20is%20male%20and%20female%3F,in%20the%20world%20was%2049.6%25.

7. Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality. UN Women.

8. Turning Promises into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 2018. UN Women. p.4.

9. Why Gender Equality Matters Across all SDGs: An Excerpt of Turning Promises into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 2018. UN Women. p.27.

10. Why gender equality will make or break the Global Goals. 2015. World Economic Forum.

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