About the author
Esuna Dugarova is Gender Specialist at the United Nations Development Programme in New York, where she leads research and analysis on the Gender Team. She is originally from the Republic of Buryatia, Russian Federation, and holds a PhD in Asian Studies from Cambridge University.
Khatera Atayee is one of the first cohorts of Afghan women who arrived in Kazakhstan in 2019 to prepare for their university studies in the country. This is part of a multi-year initiative of the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that enables women to receive education and acquire vital skills for the labour market. Khatera is determined to embrace this opportunity to grow as a professional and contribute her knowledge and experience towards gender-equal development back home.
Achieving gender equality is central to development progress. Research shows that gender equality has multiplier spillover effects. For example, reaching gender-equal educational attainment and labour force participation would add $4.4 trillion, or 3.6 per cent, to global GDP by 2030, which could improve human capital, lead to higher productivity, and reduce poverty.1
Momentous changes in the gender development landscape
Twenty-five years after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, we see some promising practices around the world. More laws have been adopted to advance gender equality, with 131 countries making legal changes over the last decade.2 The number of girls out of school has dropped by 79 million in the past 20 years,3 and more women today enter political office. The UNDP 2019 Human Development Report reveals that progress in gender equality has in fact been faster in basic areas such as voting and self-employment. But as women move to the top of the hierarchy, they experience more pushback and gender gaps widen—because it disrupts the status quo of gender roles.4
At the root of this imbalance are historically shaped power asymmetries that, even in the twenty-first century, still perpetuate gender inequality. Amid the recent global trends—from burgeoning inequalities and backsliding democracies to intensifying climate change and violent conflict—the rights of women have come under fire, amplifying gender-based discrimination. The COVID-19 outbreak has exacerbated the gendered impacts of the multidimensional crisis by increasing women’s economic and social insecurity, unpaid care work, and domestic violence, risking a reversal of hard-won gains.
Yet, the crisis presents an opportunity to revisit the ways in which we think, live and work, reiterating the call for systemic change and reconstruction of power relations. Women are playing a central role in this crisis response as health and care providers, leaders in societies and communities, and key actors in the economy. In the post-COVID era, a new gendered pathways approach is not only a development imperative but also a prerequisite for a moral and ethical world order.
The UNDP gender journey
Gender equality lies at the heart of the work of UNDP. Against the global trends, UNDP has reinvigorated efforts to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment across its portfolios. As the largest development actor, UNDP holds a key responsibility to ensure progress towards gender equality and sustainable development. The UNDP Gender Equality Strategy 2018-2021 provides a roadmap to guide the organization’s gender journey. It places emphasis on removing deep-rooted barriers to gender equality and advancing women as decision makers. It ensures that those on the margins of society and facing intersectional discrimination are empowered and have the agency to participate and lead in the development of their communities. As such, UNDP support strives to elevate the status of women from beneficiaries to agents of transformative change.
With UNDP support, 23.4 million women had gained access to basic services, financial services and non-financial assets by 2019.
UNDP is more than halfway down the path in its strategic plan period. While the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the global development landscape with far-reaching implications, UNDP achieved solid results at the mid-point across key priority areas: (i) women’s political participation and leadership in decision-making; (ii) gender-responsive climate action; (iii) women’s economic empowerment; (iv) addressing gender-based violence; and (v) gender-responsive humanitarian action. Let me share some highlights.
Firstly, UNDP promotes gender-egalitarian democratic societies to ensure that women’s voices are heard and represented in the political space. In 2018-2019, 48 per cent of all registered voters in 39 countries supported by UNDP electoral assistance were women.5 For example, in Pakistan, a nationwide campaign and voter registration helped to bridge the voter gender gap, with 4.3 million women obtaining their identity cards to be able to vote.6
Secondly, being at the forefront of climate action, UNDP supports countries to pursue gender-responsive, low-carbon and resilient development. In 2019, 74 countries integrated gender equality into their environment and climate policies, and 97 countries strengthened women’s leadership in natural resource management.7 For example, Zambia’s Central Province now requires gender balance in local governance committees that manage indigenous forests, and women hold executive positions making decisions on community-led activities for land management.8
Thirdly, UNDP makes further strides in women’s economic empowerment. With UNDP support, 23.4 million women had gained access to basic services, financial services and non-financial assets by 2019. In Paraguay, UNDP, together with partners, contributed to a nationally led effort to modify a law on domestic employment in 2019, which now entitles domestic workers—who are often young migrant women—to receive a minimum wage while maintaining access to health insurance.9
UNDP also enables women to become economically self-sufficient through training, mentorship, employment and entrepreneurial skills development. For example, in 2018, UNDP support in India benefited more than 450,000 women who participated in micro-enterprise development activities.10 This support includes helping women farmers transition from traditional to organic farming, which contributes to generating higher profits and improving the sustainability of ecosystems.
In 2019, UNDP worked in 26 countries to ensure that 1.7 million women gained access to jobs and improved livelihoods in crisis or post-crisis settings.
Fourthly, relentless efforts are made to address gender-based violence, including through the European Union-United Nations Spotlight Initiative. In 2019, UNDP provided support to 80 countries to adopt and implement legal reforms, multi-sectoral services and awareness-raising campaigns on this issue.11 In the Sudan, for example, UNDP undertook a multi-pronged approach within a broader justice intervention that enhanced the capacities of the Bar Association and civil society, and established new Justice Confidence Centres for internally displaced persons and vulnerable groups.12
Fifthly, UNDP promotes gender-responsive humanitarian action while making concerted efforts to advance women as agents of peace and development. In 2019, UNDP worked in 26 countries to ensure that 1.7 million women gained access to jobs and improved livelihoods in crisis or post-crisis settings.13 And with the support of UNDP, UN-Women and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Somali Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development adopted the landmark Women’s Charter for Somalia, which ensures equal participation across political, economic and social spectrums.
It’s clear that UNDP wouldn’t be able to get this far without trustful partnerships and innovative solutions—from coalition-building in political participation in Latin America to transforming the future of work in Asia and the Pacific or designing survivor-centred approaches to addressing gender-based violence in Europe and Central Asia. Notably, the UNDP Gender Equality Seal for Public and Private Enterprises crystallized public-private partnerships to promote gender-responsive business policies in 16 countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, supporting 750 companies with 1.5 million workers.14 In Kyrgyzstan, grassroots-level collaboration with religious leaders resulted in their support for community awareness against bride kidnapping, an initiative that contributes to changing discriminatory stereotypes and practices.15
The author (third from left) poses with members of the Om Sai self-help group, which is developing businesses including catering, wedding decorations and agricultural production using solar panels in rural India.©Esuna Dugarova
In addition to development results, UNDP has strengthened its institutional performance and leadership to advance gender equality within the organization. In 2019, UNDP was rated one of the best-performing organizations within the United Nations based on the System-wide Action Plan for Gender Equality. It also scored high in the 2020 Gender and Health Index, excelling in organizational commitment to gender equality, workplace gender equality policies, gender parity in senior management, and gender-disaggregated monitoring and evaluation.
The way forward
Moving forward, UNDP is renewing its commitment and galvanizing its energy to advance gender equality. In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, this entails working with governments, UN agencies, private companies and civil society to ensure that gender considerations are duly integrated in COVID-19 response and recovery. Vital support, from gender analysis and capacity-building to programme implementation and policy advice, is critical to addressing the gendered impacts of COVID-19. For example, during this pandemic, the Women’s Resource Centres in Azerbaijan, established by UNDP and the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs, are providing online business development training for rural women. In Fiji, UNDP is improving access of women farmers to the digital marketplace.16
It also means taking one step further, addressing not only immediate practical needs but also creating a gender-responsive development ecosystem and institutional culture. This will contribute to enhanced capabilities and enable women to exercise their freedoms and life choices. Such an environment will empower young women like Khatera and allow them to thrive as inspiring and impactful leaders in their societies and communities.
While there is no magic bullet that can make it happen overnight, a bold and holistic approach is needed to promote a new generation of policies that prioritize shifting social norms, discriminatory practices and unequal power relations.17 We should act urgently, however, so that we can deliver on our promise of leaving no one behind, as we enter the Decade of Action en route to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. After all, gender equality and sustainability reinforce each other and offer powerful tools for reimagining the future in a way that embraces social, economic and environmental justice.
As this year the world marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action—the most visionary agenda for gender equality—it is an opportune time to reflect on a long, arduous, but nonetheless worthwhile journey towards a more gender-equal world, one in which we would choose to live.
1 Esuna Dugarova, “Gender equality as an accelerator for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals”, Discussion Paper (New York, United Nations Development Programme and UN Women, 2018), p.p. 12, 62.
Available at http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/gender/Gender_equality_as_an_accelerator_for_achieving_the_SDGs.pdf.
2 World Bank Group, Women, Business and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform (Washington, D.C., 2019), p.p. 1, 3, 10. Available at https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/31327/WBL2019.pdf?sequence=4&isAllowed=y.
3 United Nations Children’s Fund, UN Women and Plan International, “A new era for girls: taking stock of 25 years of progress”, Report (New York, 2020), p. 11. Available at https://www.unicef.org/media/65586/file/A-new-era-for-girls-2020.pdf.
4 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Human Development Report 2019. Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today: Inequalities in human development in the 21st century (New York, 2019), p. p. 149-151.
Available at http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/hdr2019.pdf.
5 United Nations, Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Office for Project Services, Annual report of the Administrator on the implementation of UNDP gender equality strategy in 2019, Annual session 2020, 1-5 June 2020, New York (DP/2020/11), para. 30. Available at https://undocs.org/DP/2020/11.
6 United Nations Development Programme, Pakistan, “Building Inclusive Societies”, 14 March 2019. Available at https://www.pk.undp.org/content/pakistan/en/home/library/newsletters/nl17-march2019-building-inclusive-societies.html.
7 United Nations, Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Office for Project Services, Annual report of the Administrator on the implementation of UNDP gender equality strategy in 2019, para. 7.
8 Ciara Daniels, “The results are in! 5 things we’ve learned about making progress on environmental objectives while addressing gender equality”, United Nations Development Programme, 26 July 2018. Available at https://medium.com/@UNDP/the-results-are-in-2093b5b66eab.
9 United Nations, Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Office for Project Services, Annual report of the Administrator on the implementation of UNDP gender equality strategy in 2019, para.9, Box. 2.
10 United Nations, Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Office for Project Services, Annual report of the Administrator on the implementation of UNDP gender equality strategy in 2018 (DP/2019/11), para. 16.
11 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Annual Report 2019 (New York, 2020), p. 29.
12 United Nations, Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Office for Project Services, Annual report of the Administrator on the implementation of UNDP gender equality strategy in 2019, para. 25.
13 Ibid., para. 37.
14 The information is provided by the UNDP Gender Equality Seal for Public and Private Enterprises.
15 United Nations, Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Office for Project Services, Annual report of the Administrator on the implementation of UNDP gender equality strategy in 2019, para. 60.
16 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “The UNDP Asia Pacific Gender Equality Dispatch,” May 2020. Available at https://sway.office.com/D3iKJNUtKSOgzl05?ref=Link.
17 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “2020 Human development perspectives. Tackling social norms: A game changer for gender inequalities” ( New York, 2020).
25 June 2020
The UN Chronicle is not an official record. The views expressed by individual authors, as well as the boundaries and names shown and the designations used in maps or articles, do not necessarily imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.