06 Mar 2017 Story Sustainable Development Goals

Closing gender gaps essential to sustainable development

This year International Women’s Day theme – Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030is putting the spotlight on the gender pay gap, which has slid backwards in terms of progress:

According to World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Index, South Asia is projected to close their gender gap in 46 years, Western Europe in 61 years, Latin America in 72 years and Sub-Saharan Africa in 79 years.

Globally, it would take us another 170 years to achieve gender pay parity.

None of those timelines suit the very specific targets and broader goals set out in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, which the world’s governments agreed on in 2015.

Humanity has 14 years to steer a course for sustainable, equitable development as spelled out in the 17 goals, with gender featuring in many of the targets that refine those goals.


Improving the lives of rural women in developing countries

In developing countries, agriculture remains the most important source of employment for women in low-income and lower-middle-income countries, and a vast majority of this is subsistence agriculture.

In Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, over 60 per cent of  women are employed in agriculture, often in time and labour-intensive activities, which are unpaid or poorly remunerated.

This is significant in sub-Saharan Africa, where women comprise 30 to 80 per cent of the agricultural labour force, yet produce about 4 to 25 per cent less in the value of agricultural produce per unit of cultivated land than their male counterparts.

The gender gap in agricultural productivity exists because women often have unequal access to crucial agricultural inputs such land, labour, knowledge, fertilizer and improved seeds. This has implications for the income, health and nutrition of both women and children.

In these contexts, relatively simple interventions can make big differences to the lives of women, including providing them greater income security, giving them more time to devote to income-generating activities and community leadership.

Women from Sengerema district in Northern Tanzania, on the edges of the magnificent Lake Victoria, have discovered precisely this.The installation of biogas plants and modern cook stoves in 10 households has brought significant changes to their lives.

The biogas installations are fed with animal and human waste, and provide energy for household cooking, heating and lighting.

“I use the waste from the biogas to grow crops around the homesteads, which has led to increased agricultural productivity and enhance income generation,” Maama, an elderly lady from Nyampande village, explained.

With bio-slurry applied to the fields, soil fertility and agricultural outputs are on the rise while the application of chemical fertilizers is reducing. This is good news for the environment and boosts food security and income for poor households.

If scaled up, the intervention could contribute to closing Tanzania’s gender gap in agricultural productivity.

This gap is estimated to cost the country $105 million every year. If  bridged, 80,000 people could be lifted out of poverty and 80,000 more adequately nourished, while crop production could increase by at least 2 per cent.

The joint Poverty-Environment Initiative of UN Environment and UNDP, which supported the installation of biogas plants and  10 cook stoves, works closely with research institutions, civil society organizations and district councils in Tanzania to document the experiences and use these to inform the integration of poverty, environment and gender linkages in development plans and budgets.

These efforts are part of a larger effort to support the Government of Tanzania’s interest in scaling up pilot projects to further local economic development.

Recognizing the positive impacts of renewable energy, the country’s new National Five Year Development Plan (NFYDP II) aims to promote renewable green energy technologies including biogas.

The plan involves evaluating local development initiatives like the Sengerema project to examine how they can be further replicated. 

In the meantime, the project has already been attracting interest from neighbouring farmers, who have been inspired to install their own biogas plants after watching the pilot programme’s beneficiaries reap a host of other benefits, too.

The women saw their health improve immediately, the eye infections and coughs caused by conventional cook stoves’ smoke disappearing. And because they spend less time foraging for fuel wood, they’re less exposed to sexual violence.

Women and children say the stoves saved them more than three hours a day to gather fuel wood, which they can now devote to income-generating activities, such as agriculture, or community work, recreation and going to school.

This was in part due to a surprising change in gender roles, too, because the new devices made cooking easier.

“Boys are now participating in cooking, unlike in the past, which has given me ample time to participate in women group initiatives,” said 60-year-old Bibi from Nyampande village.


Getting to gender equality needs much more work in all areas

Many projects and initiatives around the world aim to empower women, reduce their vulnerability, ensure their inclusion in decision-making, and advocate for them to be remunerated for their current “unpaid labour”.

Yet fundamental, long-standing gender gaps continue to exist in both developed and developing countries across the world. These range from lack of access to social protection to the lack of women in leadership positions.

It is estimated that economic gender parity would add an additional $240 billion to the GDP of the United Kingdom and $2.5 trillion to that of China by 2020, and that East Asia and the Pacific stop losing between $42 billion and $47 billion annually due to women’s limited access to employment opportunities.

“Men also benefit from gender equality and women’s empowerment. Having two incomes in a household reduces pressure on the traditional economic provider and men should also have the opportunity to be at home with the children.  It is about changing mindsets,” said Regional Adviser, UN Environment Moa Westman, who manages projects under the joint Poverty-Environment Initiative.

Given the urgency and magnitude of the global challenges that face the world, we must do better at harnessing the leadership, ability and aptitude of women, recognizing their unpaid care and domestic work, and ensuring gender-responsive economic policies for job creation, poverty reduction and sustainable, inclusive growth.