Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

International Women's Day: How the world is progressing on gender equality across all 17 SDGs

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The UN theme of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8 is “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress”. Image: Unsplash/LinkedIn Sales Solutions

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Gender Inequality

  • It will take another 131 years to reach gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2023.
  • International Women’s Day is on 8 March – the official UN theme for the day in 2024 is “Invest in women: Accelerate progress”.
  • Each year, the UN measures progress towards achieving gender equality across all 17 of its Sustainable Development Goals. Here’s what you need to know.

Closing gender gaps makes sense for our future and the planet we live on — and it also makes sense for the global economy.

A quarter of women and girls globally are expected to be moderately or severely food insecure by 2030, according to the United Nations (UN). Closing gender gaps in agrifood systems could reduce food insecurity – and boost global GDP by nearly $1 trillion.

Meanwhile, less than half of women are actively part of the global labour market, compared to 72% of men, says the International Monetary Fund.

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Enabling a 5.9 percentage point increase of women to join the workforce, could boost the economies of emerging markets by as much as 8%.

But there’s not enough funding available to close such gender gaps.

In fact, there's an "alarming" $360 billion annual deficit in spending on gender-equality measures by 2030, the UN’s annual stocktake of progress towards gender equality across the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) finds.

A gender-focused SDG stimulus package to deliver transformational results for women, girls and societies
$360 billion more needed each year to close the gender gap. Image: UN Women

The UN theme of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8 is “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress”.

Each year, UN Women and the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs jointly publish an annual update on the progress towards SDG5, which calls for the world to "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls".

The report, Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The Gender Snapshot 2023, looks at all 17 SDGs, which each have gender-specific indicators that “explicitly call for disaggregation by sex and/or refer to gender equality as an underlying objective”.

Here are some of the key findings and charts from the Gender Snapshot report, for some of the 17 goals.

SDG1: No Poverty

Female extreme poverty rates based on the $2.15 international poverty line, 2015–2030 projections (percentage)
Progress will need to be 26 times faster to end poverty. Image: UN Women

Around 1 in 10 women live in extreme poverty today – and at the current rate of progress to achieving SDG1, there will still be more than 340 million women and girls living on less than $2.15 a day by 2030. Around two-thirds of those women will live in sub-Saharan Africa. To reach the goal of eradicating extreme poverty, progress will need to be 26 times faster.

SDG3: Good Health and Wellbeing

Maternal mortality ratio, 2000–2020 (deaths per 100,000 live births)
Progress needs to be 6 times faster to reach maternal mortality targets. Image: UN Women

One of the key health indicators is maternal mortality rates, which measure the number of women who die during or after childbirth.

While deaths dropped globally by a third in the two decades to 2020, progress has stalled since 2015 due to high numbers of complications during childbirth and a rise in infectious and non-communicable diseases. In 2020, the majority of maternal deaths (9 in 10) were in sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia (at 70.4% and 16.7%, respectively).

The World Economic Forum launched the Global Alliance for Women's Health at the Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2024, to accelerate funding to close the women’s health gap.

The Closing the Women’s Health Gap: A $1 Trillion Opportunity to Improve Lives and Economies report finds that the women’s health gap equates to 75 million years of life lost due to poor health or early death each year. Closing the gap would give the 3.9 billion women in the world today an extra seven healthy days a year – and could also boost the global economy by $1 trillion by 2040.

SDG5: Gender Equality

A global SDG 5 progress assessment based on the latest data, 2023
Most countries are still a long way off from hitting gender equality targets. Image: UN Women

Globally none of the 17 indicators and sub-indicators in SDG5 is at the “target met or almost met level” and only two are “close to target”. One of the main issues is the lack of available data to “monitor advances and incentivize policy actions”, says the report. Countries lack 44% of the data required to track SDG5.

Reaching gender equality is not possible without laws in place to end discrimination against women and promote equality. But out of 120 countries and areas for which data exists, the report finds that 67 of them lack laws that prohibit direct and indirect discrimination against women, while in 53 countries, the law “does not mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value”.

It also finds that women spend 2.8 more hours per day than men on unpaid care and domestic work and hold only 28.2% of management positions in the workforce. At the current rate of progress, this will rise to just 30% by 2050.

SDG7: Affordable and Clean Energy

Population with access to electricity and clean cooking fuels, 2010-2030 projections (percentage)
Access to electricity could help to end poverty for women. Image: UN Women

Around 1 in 10 people (9%) globally have no access to electricity – with three-quarters of those living in sub-Saharan Africa. More than a quarter of people rely on polluting fuels and technologies. The UN says that unless progress accelerates, an estimated 341 million women and girls will still lack electricity by 2030, with 85% of those living in sub-Saharan Africa.

Universal access to electricity could help end poverty for 185 million women by 2050, while the transition to modern cookstoves could result in 6.5 million fewer deaths from indoor air pollution.

SDG8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Relative labour income and share of labour income earned by women, 2019 (percentage)
Women earn just 51 cents for every dollar earned by men. Image: UN Women

Of the 16 indicators in this SDG, six are gender-specific. The latest available data shows that in 2019 (pre-pandemic), women earned only 51 cents for each dollar earned by men. It means women’s share of total earned labour income was just 34%. In 2022, just over 60% of women aged between 25 and 54 were in the labour force, compared to over 90% of men.

The so-called “motherhood penalty” accounts for much of the gender pay gap – when women face discrimination and disruption to their careers after having children.

The Gender Snapshot report says: “Measures to speed progress must include closing gender imbalances in jobs; promoting pay transparency, such as through equal pay audits; and supporting working parents through access to affordable childcare, paid paternity leave and paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers.”

SDG9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Participation of women in research and STEM fields remains far from parity
Gender gaps persist in STEM fields. Image: UN Women

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution continuing apace, and emerging technologies including AI increasingly shaping the future of jobs and growth, women are being left behind in the crucial science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields.

In 2020, only one in three research positions globally was held by women, and only one in five STEM jobs. Inventors listed on international patent applications filed in 2022 were five times less likely to be female than male.

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With fewer women in the AI industry, gender bias is already creeping into technology. The report says facial and voice recognition systems designed by men are better at recognizing male voices and lighter-skinned male faces, while darker-skinned females are the most misclassified group.

“Challenging social biases, increasing women’s education and expanding women’s participation in STEM are all vital to transforming information and technology so that it works for gender equality,” says the report.

SDGs12, 13, 14 and 15 - the climate and nature goals

Projected impacts of climate change on poverty and food insecurity among women and girls, worst-case scenario, 2050 (millions)
Climate change could increase poverty and food security among women. Image: UN Women

The four SDGs that relate to climate change and the natural environment – Responsible Production and Consumption; Climate Action; Life Below Water and Life on Land – are grouped in the report.

It finds record-breaking global temperatures are increasing climate events and impacts that will have a disproportionate effect on women, “significantly increase women’s vulnerability to poverty and hunger, undermining hard-won development gains”.

Under the worst-case climate scenario, climate change may push up to 158.3 million more women and girls into poverty (16 million more than men and boys). Meanwhile, food insecurity is projected to increase by as much as 236 million more women and girls, compared to 131 million more men and boys.

“Investments in a comprehensive SDG stimulus package would help to mitigate this effect, reducing the number of women falling into extreme poverty from 158.3 million to 43.3 million.”

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