Gender Inequality – A Major Obstacle to Sustainable Development

Gender inequality remains a major obstacle to sustainable development and deprives both women and men of their fundamental human rights. It is rooted in the discrimination embedded in social institutions such as laws, norms and practices and hampers progress towards rights-based social transformation, as measured by the OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI). The global economy loses trillions of dollars each year due to the persisting gender gaps in education, employment and health, with women systematically denied equal opportunities to achieve their full potential.

Women and girls face higher risks of violence, poverty and malnutrition. They are less likely to have a say in their homes, communities and national institutions. They are often trapped in low-wage and insecure jobs and lack adequate access to financial services, which can prevent them from achieving economic independence. They must also take on unpaid care responsibilities, including the care of children and elderly family members, which limits their time for work and other leisure activities. Moreover, women’s voices and agency are often suppressed by harmful stereotypes and media portrayal, which can influence their self-esteem and aspirations.

One of the biggest obstacles is the unequal division of labor, whereby women bear a disproportionate share of unpaid chores, such as caring for children and sick family members. This unpaid labour is often invisible and not reflected in official statistics. Women also tend to have lower wages than men, even in countries with good labour market records. This is because of the unequal distribution of housework, as well as the fact that many women are forced into less attractive or poorly paid jobs.

Another obstacle is the lack of adequate funding for women’s education, which hinders their ability to get decent paying jobs and become economically independent. Moreover, many women’s health needs are underfunded, including preventive healthcare and treatment for chronic conditions. For example, there is a lack of research into diseases that affect women more than men, such as autoimmune disorders and chronic pain conditions. In addition, women have poorer access to health insurance and credit, which can lead to lower healthcare quality.

Despite the positive impact of social movements such as #MeToo, #TimesUp, #SayHerName and HeForShe, progress on gender equality is slow. As the world seeks to meet its sustainable development goals by 2030, it must redouble its efforts in the following areas to accelerate its progress on gender equality and reach its full potential: