Achieving gender equality, equity and empowerment

November 20, 2023

Gender equality is at the core of human rights. However, globally the statistics do not support the importance allocated to the concept of equality and non-discrimination as key values. And this is illustrated by the gaps which are regularly marked in access to decision-making between men and women, as well as other elements such as existing salary gaps; the difference in ability to freely-make decisions; the barriers that may persist to choose one’s profession; or access to information and education.  

It is important to understand and acknowledge the importance of gender as a key component of achieving inclusive and transformative development. This is illustrated by sustainable development goal five which focuses on achieving gender equality. 

Additionally, activities at all levels indicate the need for integrating gender into processes. For example, gender responsive environment conservation; climate action which focuses on building long term climate resilience through gender responsive approaches; as well as gender transformative approaches to education and awareness that could contribute to bridging existing gaps and leading to empowerment and equality. 

Understanding gender concepts

The word gender refers to the socially constructed norms and perceptions related to roles and responsibilities of men and women. This is includes perceptions on what a man or a woman would be considered better tasked at performing building on their gender. 

While across centuries thinking on what a man or woman could do has changed, it does not necessarily assure that this is a context which is equally distributed among all of in society. This presents the basis as to why gender equality becomes a focus of discussion. 

Gender equality refers to the equal power that one possesses without discrimination based on gender. This includes also equal opportunities; equal access to information and education; equal financial independence; as well as the ability to concentrate and build on one’s personal growth. 

When gender is at the discussion tables, or at the core of a dialogue, there is often the conception that gender-based initiatives are focused on women, which is far from the reality. Gender related issues are not solely focused on women, but on the relationship between men and women in society, their engagement with each other; access and control over resources; as well as inclusion in the labour market, and livelihoods. 

Sustainable development

Building on the principle of “leaving no one behind”, in 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which includes seventeen goals. The Agenda is focused on a holistic approach to sustainable development, and has as its 5th SDG: gender equality. 

Among the targets for  SDG 5 are ending all forms of discrimination; eliminating all forms of violence all women and girls; undertaking reforms which will allow for “equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws”; as well as enhancing the use of enabling technology with a focus on information and communications technology which is aimed at promoting gender empowerment. 

In addition to the above targets, the Goal also includes a target which focuses on adoption and strengthening of sound policies and enforceable legislation which is focused on promotion of gender equality and the empowerment. 

While there remain difficulties in impact assessment in some areas due to data gaps, and difficulties in determining certain baselines for impact assessment (depending on the indicators and information and data availability,) SDG 5 aims through different policy and action to facilitate and achieve key components which would contribute to achieving gender equality. 

It is important for countries to identify the key gaps and barriers which prevent the progressive approaches to be applied facilitating gender equality and empowerment; as well as identifying different forms of finance, support and means of implementation which could be accessed to ensure that all countries which will contribute to creating transformative and inclusive change – this includes raising awareness,  access to information and education related to the thematic focus that could contribute to more policies and actions that prioritise eliminating gender-based discrimination and paving the way for gender equality for all. 

Note: This article has been published on The Morning as part of the author’s weekly column.

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About the Author
Vositha Wijenayake

Vositha is an attorney-at-law specialising in public international law, with a focus on international environmental law, UN human rights law, refugee law and EU law. She has over a decade of experience in working on climate change, at national and international level. Vositha is a member of the national expert committee on climate change adaptation of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, national expert on vulnerability and adaptation measures for the Third National Communication of Sri Lanka to the UNFCCC for the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, and is a delegate focusing on compliance, adaptation, loss and damage, and gender for the Sri Lankan delegation to the UNFCCC since 2016. She is also a consultant to the UNFCCC national adaptation plans and policy unit, and worked as a country support consultant to the UNDP NAP Global Support Programme. Vositha has an LLM in public international law from University College London, and an LLB from University of London. ‍