Key resources: Gender and the Sustainable Development Goals

The SDGs and gender equality
Wins and challenges
Lessons from the SDGs
Financing gender equality
Measuring progress
Gender equality and sustainable development
Leave no one behind

Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2015), New York: United Nations, Agenda for Sustainable Development web.pdf (last accessed March 2016) 35 pp. This is the resolution on the post-2015 development agenda adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 25 September 2015. The document provides the background to the Sustainable Development Goals and outlines the 17 goals, 169 associated targets and the related principles. The last sections of the resolution discuss means of implementation and processes for follow-up and review.

Projecting Progress: Reaching the SDGs by 2030, ODI Development Progress Flagship Report (2015), Susan Nicolai, Chris Hoy, Tom Berliner, and Thomas Aedy, London: Overseas Development Institute, publications-opinion-files/9839.pdf (last accessed December 2015), 48 pp.

This very interesting report projects whether selected targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be reached in 2030 if recent trends continue. Seventeen targets – one per goal – are examined with detailed descriptions illustrated by graphs. The report shows that without increased effort, none of the goals and examined targets will be met, with Sub-Saharan Africa set to be furthest behind. The target of the gender-equality goal assessed in the report is ending child marriage (5.3). It is projected to achieve little to no progress. To meet the target of ending child marriage by 2030, progress would need to be around eight times faster. The report calls for extra efforts and early action at country levels to meet the SDGs. It proposes to take into account the very different starting positions by using country-level targets, along with flexible implementation plans. The authors also emphasise that countries can learn from top performers who show that it is possible to make remarkable progress in a relatively short amount of time.

Progress of the World’s Women 2015–2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing

Rights (2015), New York: UN Women,

pdf/UNW_progressreport.pdf (last accessed January 2016), 342 pp.

In the context of the post-2015 development agenda, this UN Women report draws on experience from around the world to encourage key policy actors to promote human rights for all women and girls. The key message is that economic and social policies need to work in tandem. Priority action is suggested in three areas: (1) decent work for women, (2) gender-responsive social policies, and (3) rights-based macro-economic policies. The first chapter deals with the public policy challenge of achieving equality for women. The second chapter is about work for women’s rights, the third about social policy for women, and the fourth chapter discusses sustainable macro-economic environments. Each chapter includes at least one case study from a different country.

Wins and challenges

Gender and the Sustainable Development Goals: Moving Beyond Women as a
‘Quick Fix’ for Development, Governance and Sustainability, Issue Brief Series

No. 11 (2015), Michael Denney, Boston: University of Massachusetts, (last accessed December 2015), 9 pp.

This brief assesses the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets on gender equality. The author rejects the narrative that investing in women makes ‘good economic sense’, as such an approach does not challenge structural problems. Instead he proposes to assess SDG targets by looking at whether they improve women’s ability to exercise choice which can be broken down into resources, agency, and achievements. The author applies this framework to each SDG target on gender equality under Goal 5. He gives his opinion on the usefulness of each target and proposes necessary steps to improve or achieve the targets. This is an interesting and critical analysis of Goal 5 of the SDGs.

Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 Presents a Bold Vision for Women and

Girls: Advocates Gear Up for Work to Come (2015), Women’s Major Group, (last accessed January 2016), 2 pp.

The Women’s Major Group facilitates women’s civil society input into United Nations policy processes on Sustainable Development. In this short statement, the Women’s Major Group discusses the outcome document of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The authors recognise the commitment of the agenda to address a variety of social, economic, and environmental issues that impact women and girls. At the same time, they bring forward some criticism, using quotes from different women’s rights activists and policy actors. For instance, they criticise that the agenda does not address wealth inequality and that the SDGs are inadequately funded. They call for governmental action, effective financing, and the continued role of women’s and feminist groups in the implementation process. More resources and information on the Women’s Major Group can be found on their website, at (last accessed January 2016).

Response to the Outcome Document ‘Transforming OurWorld: The 2030 Agenda for

Sustainable Development’ (2015), Post-2015 Women’s Coalition, (last accessed January 2016), 5 pp

The Post-2015 Women’s Coalition – a network of feminist activists and organisations – provides a collective view on the outcome document for the 2030 development agenda. They welcome the improvements for women and girls since the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the recognition of women’s human rights and the stand-alone goal on women’s empowerment. However, they criticise among other points the failure to reform structural and systemic inequalities, increased power of the corporate sector, insufficient gender mainstreaming, and a lack of acknowledgement of people who are marginalised based on their gender identities. The statement ends with a list of action points the Coalition commits to in order to hold governments accountable for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Post-2015 Women’s Coalition’s website provides more useful resources and press release on women and the SDGs, at (last accessed January 2016).

‘Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’: A Reflection from the Gender and Development Network (2015), Jessica Woodroffe, London: UK Gender and Development Network, Reflection on the SDGs.pdf (last accessed January 2016), 3 pp.

Written by the Gender and Development Network (GADN), this short but interesting position paper assesses the wins and losses of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for women and girls. The author believes that despite their shortcomings the SDGs are an improvement compared to the Millennium Development Goals. The paper critically examines each target of Goal 5 and gender mainstreaming in other goals. It also discusses the framing of the agenda and the challenging situation of insufficient funding to achieve gender equality in the post-2015 agenda. More GADN position papers, briefings, reports, and guides for practitioners can be found on their website, at (last accessed January 2016).

Lessons from the MDGs

Challenges and Achievements in the Implementation of the Millennium Development

Goals for Women and Girls (2014), United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, Fifty-eighth session, (last accessed January 2016), 20 pp.

In the context of the post-2015 development agenda, the Agreed Conclusions adopted by the Commission on the Status of Women at the conclusion of its fifty-eighth session (E/2014/27) assess the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from a gender perspective. The first part outlines challenges and achievement of the MDGs for women and girls and signals priorities for future action. The Commission then urges governments and other stakeholders to take action in five areas: (1) human rights; (2) enabling environment for gender equality; (3) investments in gender equality; (4) evidence-base for gender equality; and (5) women’s participation and leadership.

Gender equality in the post-2015 development agenda: lessons from the MDGs’(2013), Gita Sen, IDS Bulletin 44(5–6): 42–8.

This paper makes recommendations for achieving gender equality in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) framework based on lessons learned from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The two key points are that it is important to break down issue silos and to increase participation of local populations. After an interesting discussion of the shortcomings of the MDGs, the author shows in an accessible way, with many examples, that gender equality should not be a policy silo, as it impacts on all MDGs. For the SDGs, the author proposes an ‘issue-focused goal’ with ‘people-focused targets’. Work towards gender equality within the SDG framework should focus on participation and accountability, involving the people who are targeted in determining what should be done.

Turning Promises to Progress: Gender Equality and Rights for Women and Girls –Lessons Learnt and Actions Needed (2015), London: UK Gender and Development Network,

6e4b048091fe0b18d/1426764022144/Turning Promises into Progress FINAL.pdf(last accessed December 2015), 117 pp.

This report is designed to encourage policymaking that addresses gender equality in the post-2015 agenda. The first part reviews progress and disappointment in gender-equality policy over the last 20 years. The main argument is that although the Millennium Development Goals brought funding for and recognition of gender equality, a focus on individual girls and women has failed to bring about real change in power inequalities. Part Two looks at progress and challenges across eight areas relevant to gender equality: (1) women, peace, and security; (2) violence against women and girls; (3) sexual and reproductive health and rights; (4) political participation and influence; (5) education; (6) women’s economic equality; (7) unpaid care; and (8) social norms. The last part outlines emerging solutions, looking both at the ways in which the structural barriers to gender equality can be addressed, and at how to leverage the necessary political will and resources to achieve transformational change for women and girls.

Tracking the gender politics of the Millennium Development Goals: struggles for interpretive power in the international development agenda’ (2015), Naila Kabeer,Third World Quarterly 36(2): 377–95.

This article tracks the gender politics of the processes that led to the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to unpack the current dominant development policy understanding of gender equality. It analyses two parallel streams of policy discourse that emerged in the decade before the adoption of the MDGs. The first one is the renewed commitment to human rights and the second one the human development paradigm emerging after the failure of structural adjustments. The author provides a clear historical overview, discussing policy decisions, international agreements, publications, and feminist activism at the time. Moving to the time after the adoption of the MDGs, the author outlines how feminist activists critically engaged with the agenda and what challenges they faced. The last sections review achievements and look forwards to the post-2015 agenda. The author concludes that policy and activism have focused more on the sexual and reproductive dimensions while neglecting the economic injustices associated with the dominant market-led model of development.

Financing gender equality

Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing forDevelopment (2015), United Nations, (last accessed January 2016), 68 pp.

This is the final text of the outcome document adopted at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 13–16 July 2015 and endorsed by the General Assembly in its resolution 69/313 of 27 July 2015. It outlines what Heads of State and Governments agreed upon to address the challenge of financing the post-2015 commitment to sustainable development. The document discusses seven action areas: (1) domestic public resources; (2) domestic and international private business and finance; (3) international development co-operation; (4) international trade; (5) debt and debt sustainability; (6) addressing systematic issues; and (7) science, technology, innovation, and capacity-building. The last section of the document outlines commitments to data collection, monitoring, and follow-up.

Reaction to the Outcome Document of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development: Addis Ababa Action Agenda (2015), Women’s Working Group on Financing for Development, (last accessed January 2016), 10 pp.

In this position paper, the Women’s Working Group on Financing for Development (WWG on FfD) expresses its strong disappointment with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) adopted at the conclusion of the Third Financing for Development Conference in July 2015. They criticise that the AAAA lacks an explicit human rights-based approach and shows tendencies towards the instrumentalisation of women. The position paper is structured around eight suggested shifts in the global economic governance and development architecture. These include changes in the economic and financial architecture, the framing of women’s empowerment, investment frameworks, global trade rules, taxation, official development assistance, social protection systems, and the FfD mandate.

Tensions and New Challenges Emerge in Negotiating Session (2015), Nicole Bidegain Ponte, Suva, Fiji: Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era, (last accessed January 2016), 14 pp.

This paper reviews the main elements of the Financing for Development (FfD) current debates and conflict areas. The first section provides a good overview of the history of FfD and of the main agreements and declarations over the last decade. The paper then reviews conflict areas that emerged at the First Drafting Session of the FfD with special attention to the place of gender equality in development.

Making Financing for Development Work for Gender Equality: What is Needed atAddis and Beyond?, Briefings (2015), Kasia Staszewska, Chiara Capraro, Bethan Cansfield, and Jessica Woodroffe, London: UK Gender and Development Network, accessed December 2015), 27 pp.

Written to influence the Third International Conference on Financing for Development(FfD3) in Addis Ababa, this briefing provides an excellent overview of the benefits and pitfalls of financing gender equality from three sources – domestic revenue, official development assistance, and private financing. For the authors, domestic revenue through taxation is the most reliable way to raise sufficient revenue for gender equality. Official development assistance remains an important source of financing especially for the poorest countries. Private financing – although not ideal for increasing the provision of infrastructure and public services of poor people – can also be a useful source. The authors emphasise the importance of supporting women’s rights organisations if the Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved. The briefing ends with a list of straightforward recommendations to improve funding for gender equality.

From Commitment to Action: Financing Gender Equality and Women’s Rights in the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (2015), Paris: OECD DAC Network for Gender Equality, (last accessed December 2015), 4 pp.

This short brief provides an overview of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members’ aid to gender equality since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and identifies priorities for financing gender equality in the post-2015 development agenda. Key findings are that although aid is a critical source of finance for achieving sustainable development, it is insufficient for achieving gender equality. Development assistance is often limited to the social sectors of health and education with insufficient aid in the economic and productive sectors. Priority areas for post-2015 investment proposed in this brief are health and rights, women, peace and security, and violence against women. The brief also recommends working with women’s organisations as critical partners for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Measuring progress

Monitoring Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Opportunities and Challenges (2015), New York: UN Women, (last accessed January 2016), 32 pp.

This UN Women position paper proposes global indicators to monitor effectively how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being implemented for women and girls. The recommendations are based on wide-ranging consultations with United Nations Member States, civil society, and international organisations. For several targets of the 17 SDGs, the report lists indicators, data sources, monitoring agencies, level of data availability, possible disaggregation, and relevance for other targets. This is summarised in an accessible table at the beginning and elaborated on in the following sections. For each target of Goal 5 on gender equality, several indicators are proposed, such as ‘number of detected and non-detected victims of human trafficking per 100,000; by sex, age and form of exploitation’ (5.2) or ‘average weekly time spent in water collection (including waiting time at public supply points), by sex, age and location’ (5.4).

Measuring Women’s Empowerment and Social Transformation in the Post-2015 Agenda (2014), Caroline Harper, Keiko Nowacka, Hanna Alder, and Gaëlle Ferrant, London: Overseas Development Institute and Paris: OECD Development Centre, – post-2015 social norms_final.pdf (last accessed December 2015), 8 pp.

This excellent policy paper argues that the post-2015 framework presents a critical window to extend measurement of women’s empowerment, especially of related social norms. The authors show with many examples how social norms result in diminished development outcomes for girls and women throughout a life-cycle. To tackle social norms, they propose to use a comprehensive approach that recognises the often messy and non-linear nature of social norms. The authors provide a list of transformative indicators to be used to measure progress on gender equality and related social norms in the post-2015 framework. The proposed indicators are straightforward and easy to measure, such as, for example, ‘age at first marriage’, ‘existence of national laws on violence against women’, or ‘the female to male ratio of average time devoted to household chores’.

Gender equality and sustainable development

Pathways to Gender Equality and Sustainable Development (2015), Melissa Leach(ed.), London: Routledge, ISBN: 9781138921313, 210 pp., website:

This timely book shows how policy and activism can build synergies between dimensions of gender relations and of environmental, social, and economic sustainability through multiple pathways. The first chapter outlines a ‘gendered pathways approach’ – a conceptual framework for addressing intersections between gender and sustainability. The following chapters, written by a variety of eminent scholars in the particular field, use this conceptual approach and explore five key issues that illustrate intersections between sustainability and gender equality: (1) work and industrial production; (2) population and reproduction; (3) food security and agriculture; (4) land rights and ‘grabs’; and (5) water, sanitation, and energy. The chapters reflect on challenges of inclusion and translation of feminist perspectives in sustainability debates and highlight how gender equality and sustainability can powerfully reinforce each other.

The World Survey on the Role of Women in Development 2014: Gender Equality and Sustainable Development (2014), New York: UN Women, (last accessed December 2015), 132 pp.

In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, The World Survey 2014 shows why gender equality and sustainability need to be addressed together. The introductory chapters explain what sustainable development with gender equality means for policymaking purposes. Each following chapter shows how unsustainable development patterns and gender inequality reinforce each other, but that alternative pathways are possible. Typically, such pathways involve public, private, and civil society institutions, and require strong state action and women’s participation. Topics covered in the report include patterns of growth and employment, food production and water, sanitation, and energy. Acknowledging the diversity of policy contexts, the report proposes three criteria for assessing if policies, programmes, and actions taken in the name of sustainability are likely to achieve gender equality: (1) Do they support women’s capabilities and their enjoyment of rights? (2) Do they reduce, rather than increase, women’s unpaid care work? (3) Do they embrace women’s equal and meaningful participation as actors, leaders, and decisionmakers? Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda: Why Environmental Sustainability and Gender Equality are so Important to Reducing Poverty and Inequalities, Perspectives, Issue No. 17 (2015), Sascha Gabizon, Isis Alvarez, Simone Lovera, Caroline Usikpedo, and Neth Dano, Women’s Major Group at the United Nations Environment Programme, (last accessed January 2016), 16 pp.

In this paper, the authors associated with the Women’s Major Group at the United Nations Environment Programme discuss why environmental sustainability and gender equality are important to reducing poverty and inequalities. They look at lessons from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and wins and challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with special attention to gender equality and environmental implications. The authors call on states to ensure that the accountability structure of the 2030 agenda is universal, participatory, human rights-based, data driven, and results oriented. The paper also reminds us that means of implementation are not gender-neutral and it makes recommendations for budgeting that takes into account gender equality.

Leave no one behind

Leave No One Behind: Gender Sexuality and the Sustainable Development Goals, Evidence Report No. 154, Sexuality, Poverty and Law (2015), Elizabeth Mills, Brighton: Institute of Development Studies, (last accessed December 2015), 32 pp.

This research report is meant for post-2015 policymakers who aim to address the needs of those people often excluded from development policy because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression (SOGIE). Reviewing policy and academic literature, the authors show that populations are excluded on the basis of SOGIE in seven development priority areas: (1) poverty; (2) health; (3) education; (4) gender equality and women’s empowerment; (5) economic growth and opportunity; (6) safe, resilient, and sustainable cities and human settlements; and (7) justice and accountability. For each of these areas the report provides interesting examples and case studies. Helpful text boxes suggest how the Sustainable Development Goal language can be used to address the need of SOGIE people in policymaking. The report concludes with recommendations to international and national development actors for SOGIE inclusive policymaking. A condensed version of this report – Leave No One Behind: Gender Sexuality and the Sustainable Development Goals, Brief Supporting Evidence Report No. 154 (October 2015) can be found at (last accessed December 2015), 6 pp.

Leave no one behind’ and the challenge of intersectionality: Christian Aid’s experience of working with single and Dalit women in India’ (2015), Jayshree P. Mangubhai and Chiara Capraro, Gender & Development 23(2): 261–77, (last accessed March 2016)

This fascinating article uses the example of single and Dalit women in India to show how national-level experience of tackling intersecting inequalities can provide lessons learned to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) principle to ‘leave no one behind’. The tendency among policymakers to focus on a single aspect of identity-based discrimination can lead to individuals who belong to two marginalised categories falling into the gaps. For example, in work and higher education Dalit women in India are often told to apply for the women’s quota when they try to access the scheduled caste quota, and vice versa. The authors draw recommendations for addressing intersectionality from a Christian Aid project working with women’s associations in Northern India. They propose that interventions have to be flexible, men and the wider community should be engaged, power dynamics and intersecting inequalities should be recognised, and social norms and the larger societal context need to be addressed.

Can the MDGs Provide a Pathway to Social Justice? The Challenges of IntersectingInequalities (2010), Naila Kabeer, Brighton: Institute of Development Studies and the MDG Achievement Fund, (last accessed December 2015), 64 pp.

This is a very informative report about intersecting inequalities and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Using examples from Latin America, South/Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, the report shows how certain groups have been systematically left out in development policy as a result of their intersecting inequalities, such as poverty, race, ethnicity, caste, religion or language, with gender cutting across these various groups. The available data support the argument that intersecting inequalities undermine progress on the MDGs. But the data also show that progress towards reducing inequalities between groups is possible. Policy recommendations include: public provision of services; collecting disaggregated data; introducing redistributive fiscal and taxation policies; legislation against discrimination; land reforms; and social protection measures.

Leave No One Behind: The Real Bottom Billion, Overseas Development Institute Briefing (2015), Tanvi Bhatkal, Emma Samman, and Elizabeth Stuart, London:Overseas Development Institute, (last accessed January 2016), 8 pp.

This useful paper emphasises the importance of the ‘leave no one behind’ agenda for implementing and assessing the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The authors bring together recent literature and statistics on income poverty, education, health, and employment, showing how some groups fall behind in both developing and developed countries, based on their gender, geography, race/ethnicity, nationality, and sexuality, among other categories. The authors outline the shortcomings of conventional household surveys in capturing the reality of marginalised people. A text box with examples from around the world discusses the advantages and challenges of targeted policies to reduce group-based inequalities. The briefing concludes by calling on governments to target the worst-off groups first.

Leave No One Behind – From Goals to Implementation (2015), Helen Dennis, Nadia Saracini, Jayshree Mangubhai, Chiara Capraro, Gaby Drinkwater, Frankelly Martinez, Lisa Maracani, Sophie Powell, Ernest Okyere, and Isobel Frye, London: Christian Aid, accessed January 2016), 16 pp.

Filled with case studies from Christian Aid partners, this insightful report illustrates some of the challenges and advantages of implementing the ‘leave no one behind’ in the post-2015 development agenda. The report includes case studies from around the world, including Ghana, Brazil, Bangladesh, India, and the Dominican Republic. It looks at intersecting disadvantage on the basis of gender, caste, race, economic and social inequalities, and migration. Based on the case studies, the report proposes key questions for decision-makers and concludes with a list of policy recommendations to make sure that ‘the leave no one behind principle’ is considered in the post-2015 agenda.