Author: Ranjani K. Murthy, December 8 2014


The Open Working Group of the General Assembly on Social Development Goals [SDGs] proposed 17 Goals in 2014, of which the fifth one is on "Achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls" (UN Working Group of the General Assembly on Social Development Goals, 2014)

The Goal 5 has six ambitious targets to be achieved by 2030:

  1. End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
  2. Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual exploitation
  3. Eliminate all harmful practices against women and girls, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation
  4. Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services and promoting shared responsibility within the household
  5. Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership in political, economic and public life
  6. Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights


In addition to a standalone SDG on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls an attempt has been made by the Open Working Group to integrate these concerns into some of the other SDGs (example on poverty, education etc). The proposed SDG 5 includes targets on discrimination, violence against women, sharing of work and sexual and reproductive rights (not just health). It is indeed a very progressive proposal by the Open Working Group.

The need for institutional lens  

The proposed SDG 5 mentions that to achieve the 6 targets the following state interventions are required:

  1. Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources (land, finance, natural resources) in accordance to national laws,
  2. Enhance the use of information, communication and technology to empower women and
  3. Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels


Yet women’s lives are shaped by not only state, but by marriage, households, markets, religion, media, education etc. It is not clear how an attempt will be made to alter norms of these institutions and power structures which are deeply entrenched. The norm of son preference is deeply rooted in families and communities countries like India, China, Republic of Korea, Nepal, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, which account for at least 40% of the world’s population. Institutionalised religion supports such male superiority (UNFPA, 2012). A target on sex ratio at birth and child sex ratio would be very useful to track changes in the deep rooted son preference.  Yet another indicator is proportion of women who are religious leaders (priests), and their attitude on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The proportion of women who marry out of their religion, caste, race is another important indicator of women’s autonomy, as well as breaking of other hierarchies which have a bearing on women’s lives. The proportion of women and men who feel that they are joint heads of households, and men who think it is all right for women to work outside and women who feel it is all right if men look after the household while they go out and work is another indicator. Non stereotypical portrayal of women and men by media and text books could be another target.

Ultimately, substantive gender equality and women’s empowerment can only be achieved if all institutions (not just state) change and "power within" can be realised by women/girls and men/boys. This includes the neoliberal institutions which are appropriating land on which women depend, pushing women into the informal sector, promoting user fees, etc. also need to change.

UN Working Group of the General Assembly on Social Development Goals, 2014, Open Working Group proposal for Sustainable Development Goals [PDF format]
UNFPA, 2012, Sex Imbalances at Birth [PDF format]

Image credit: Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform website