December 12, 2017 : Emma Trottier

Gender equality and the Sustainable Development Goals

A few weeks ago, SCVO asked us to write a short blog about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Specifically, the SDG concerning gender equality and its link to the rest of the goals. For those unfamiliar, the fifth of the 17 SDGs commits member states to achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. By 2030. Or 15 years from the time the SDGs were agreed to in 2015. Ambitious, isn’t it? 

Ambitious though it may be, it lines up nicely with our vision at Engender, where we work to ensure women and men in Scotland have equal opportunities in life, equal access to resources and power, and are equally safe and secure from harm. Our vision means that our work is cross-cutting. It’s not a one-stop shop kind of vision, meaning there is no single policy or program area that would achieve women’s equality. Instead, working towards the achievement of women’s equality means looking at what’s happening across government and civil society — it means gendering our education and health strategies, promoting the equal representation of women in public and political life, and ensuring women are considered in Scotland’s development of its own social security system, to name a few. If you’d like to learn more, check out Engender’s Gender Matters Roadmap, which sets out a series of measures that, with political will, can be taken by Scottish Government and other bodies to move towards women’s equality in Scotland by 2030.

One of the UN SDGs is focused on attaining inclusive and quality education. However, we know that’s not yet a reality here in Scotland. Segregation and gender stereotyping in education continues to limit equal opportunities for women and girls, and creates a context of inequality in which other harms, such as violence against women and girls, can flourish. Without taking a ‘whole school approach’ to building communities in which misogyny and gender inequality are not tolerated in any form, we won’t challenge or change the social norms that force girls and boys to adopt and assume certain roles within society, nor will we eradicate sexist bullying and misogynistic behaviours in our schools. Inclusive and quality education means that girls are able to pursue their interests in a safe environment free of stereotyping and assumptions about their skills and abilities, and we’re not there yet.  

But it’s not just education. It’s health too. The only direct reference to gender in the SDG on health is to reduce maternal mortality. Is that important? Unequivocally yes. Could the SDGs have gone further to secure and promote women’s reproductive rights? Again, yes. But women’s health is not just different from men’s because of our reproductive system. Women and girls face significant barriers to good mental and physical health in Scotland, not least because of the historic lack of funding for, or professional focus on, health issues that disproportionately affect women, or affect women differently to men. As an example, mental health is a highly gendered issue, with depression twice as prevalent amongst women, and low-income women in particular. This reality, as well as others, needs to be incorporated into the design of health and well-being interventions for women and girls in Scotland.  

The SDGs also include a commitment to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’. Where to even begin, right? Well, in Scotland, we could start by looking at the new powers the Scottish Government has over social security. The fact is that women are twice as dependent on social security as men, and this is due to a host of factors, including caring responsibilities, low-paid work, and violence against women. In light of this evidence, our social security policies and programs in Scotland need to be developed with the realities and needs of women in mind. The social security system in Scotland could promote women’s financial independence by abandoning the highly-criticised UK policy of paying Universal Credit to one person in a household. That small action – automatic split payments of Universal Credit – would go a long way in reducing women’s economic inequality in Scotland.                        

Though many of the SDGs don’t specifically reference women and girls, the SDG on gender equality states that ‘providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large’. This a recognition that the vision of gender equality won’t be achieved by a single action. To reduce poverty, improve education, and better health outcomes means taking an intentional examination of women and girls’ lives. Every day thousands of decisions are made by the Scottish Government, public authorities and private companies that tip the scales towards or away from women’s equality. Unless our laws, institutions, and processes create responsibility and accountability for making women’s rights a reality, then we’ll be waiting long after 2030 for the realisation of SDG #5. 

This blog is the sixth in the SDG Network’s blog series ‘Scotland’s Goals.’

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Emma Trottier