Gender Equality: The Path Toward a More Prosperous World

The world is facing an uphill battle when it comes to making progress toward gender equality, the fifth of the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals.

“While some indicators of gender equality are progressing, such as a significant decline in the prevalence of female genital mutilation and early marriage, the overall numbers continue to be high,” notes a UN status report. “Moreover, insufficient progress on structural issues at the root of gender inequality, such as legal discrimination, unfair social norms and attitudes, decision-making on sexual and reproductive issues and low levels of political participation, are undermining the ability to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5.”

Women worldwide also continue to face socio-economical hurdles that are often rooted in time spent handling domestic chores and unpaid work. For example, according to the UN, women have about three hours less available per day than men for work, education, and/or leisure activities.

Recent UN data also shows that women continue to be under-represented in both management positions in business, and in political leadership. “Over the past 25 years, there has been progress in reforming laws towards improving gender equality, yet discriminatory laws and gaps in legal protection remain in many countries,” the UN report observes.

“When we look at the low numbers of women in senior roles in the private sector, academia, politics and in international organizations, including in the United Nations, we all have to say:  ‘we can and must do more,’” says UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Gender equality, adds Guterres, is both a fundamental human right and a path to a more peaceful and prosperous world. “There is overwhelming evidence that investing in women is the most effective way to lift communities, companies and countries,” he says. “Women’s participation makes peace agreements stronger, societies more resilient and economies more vigorous.  And that is why the empowerment of women and girls is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Quality Education Remains Elusive for Millions of Children Worldwide

With more than 265 million children currently out of school – 22 percent of them of primary school age – there is a long road ahead to ensure that a free, equitable, and quality primary and secondary education leads to relevant and effective learning outcomes by 2030.

The fourth sustainable development goal of the United Nations’ SDG initiative, is to provide quality education for students worldwide. Over the past decade, the UN says that major progress has been made towards increasing access to education at all levels and increasing enrollment rates in schools — particularly for women and girls.

“Basic literacy skills have improved tremendously, yet bolder efforts are needed to make even greater strides for achieving universal education goals,” reports the UN. “For example, the world has achieved equality in primary education between girls and boys, but few countries have achieved that target at all levels of education.”

But reaching the 2030 goal for providing a quality education for all students will require better trained teachers, improved conditions of schools and better educational opportunities for rural children. “For quality education to be provided to the children of impoverished families,” notes a UN report, “investment is needed in educational scholarships, teacher training workshops, school building and improvement of water and electricity access to schools.”

The problem is most acute in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for half of out-of-school children around the world. How to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all was a key focus of high-level political forum held last year by the United National Economic and Social Council. 

“Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all is critical for achieving the 2030 Agenda,” noted a recap of the 2019 UN program. “Platforms for cooperation, new partnerships, more support for teachers and increased investment in universal quality education and lifelong learning are imperative.”

One of the key observations from the Economic and Social Council forum was that increasing access to quality education for all is an essential component for dealing with global challenges, such as climate change, employment opportunities, and economic development.

“In order to secure the quality of education in the future, it is necessary to have platforms for cooperation, new partnerships and shared values around the importance of education, greater support for teachers and increased investment in universal quality education and lifelong learning,” the recap report noted.

Experts have warned about an education “crisis” for more than a decade, according to Human Rights Watch. With stalling quality and access to education, growing numbers of young people are leaving schools without the skills they need, and large gaps in education funding are evident in many countries.  

 “While most out-of-school children are in lower-income countries, there are huge and growing gaps in access and learning in middle- and higher-income countries too,” the Human Rights Watch report notes. “The source of the problem is not always poverty, but entrenched discrimination and sustained exclusion, perpetuated by impunity for governments that negligently or intentionally keep children out of their education systems, including through under-investment in education.”

To improve the status quo, the UN says, people around the world need to ask their governments, NGOs, and companies to prioritize education. “Encourage the private sector to invest resources in the development of educational tools and facilities,” the report says, and “urge NGOs to partner with youth and other groups to foster the importance of education within local communities.”

Uphill Battle To Provide Good Healthcare Worldwide

SDG goal 3

Access to basic healthcare is a given for many people around the world. But 400 million people in less developed countries lack access to basic healthcare and social safety nets.

What’s more,  about 39 million people are battling HIV, and 15 million of them are not receiving any treatment. Achieving Goal 3 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals will require much more progress over the next decade.

“The world is off-track to achieve the health-related SDGs,” notes a UN update on SDG 3.  “Progress has been uneven, both between and within countries … And while some countries have made impressive gains, national averages hide that many are being left behind.”

The UN report advocates for increased multisectoral, rights-based and gender-sensitive approaches for achieving the goal of providing better healthcare worldwide. “Good health is essential to sustainable development and the 2030 Agenda reflects the complexity and interconnectedness of the two,” the report notes.

Solutions in the coming decade need to address economic and social inequalities, rapidly increasing urbanization, climate change, and the ongoing battle against infectious diseases.

“Universal health coverage will be integral to achieving SDG 3, ending poverty and reducing inequalities,” says the UN report.  

Businesses and industry groups can make a difference. For example, companies in the biopharmaceutical industry are mobilizing resources to help improve healthcare worldwide. The industry has helped create Global Health Progress, an online knowledge hub highlighting 200-plus collaborations between the biopharmaceutical industry and 850 partners in support of the SDGs.

The private sector and industry groups in every sector will have to step-up in the coming decade to help the United Nations achieve its goal of improved healthcare worldwide by 2030.

A framework for action has already been created by the UN. In September 2019, 12 multilateral agencies launched a joint plan to to accelerate progress towards the health-related SDGs over the next decade. The “Stronger Collaboration, Better Health: Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All” outlines how health, development and humanitarian agencies will collaborate to be more efficient and provide more streamlined support to countries to deliver universal health coverage and achieve the health-related SDG targets.

“The plan is called, ‘Stronger Collaboration, Better Health’ for a reason,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of World Health Organization.  “Although collaboration is the path, impact is the destination.  The release of this plan is the beginning, not the end, of that path.”

Achieving Zero Hunger Goal Requires More Resources

Efforts to achieve Zero Hunger in the world – the UN’s sustainable development goal 2 – requires a transformation of the global food and agriculture system in order to feed the 815 million hungry people today, and the additional 2 billion people expected by 2050.

Despite efforts to reduce hunger by 2030, the United Nations estimates that approximately one of every nine people in the world is under-nourished. “Hunger is on the rise again globally and undernutrition continues to affect millions of children,” notes a UN progress report on sustainable development. “Public investment in agriculture globally is declining, small-scale food producers and family farmers require much greater support and increased investment in infrastructure and technology for sustainable agriculture is urgently needed.”

According to the UN Report, more needs to be done to improve the capacity of small scale farmers. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, up to 85 percent of food producers are small farmers. “Strengthening the resilience and adaptive capacity of small-scale and family farmers, whose productivity is systematically lower than all other food producers, is critical to reversing the trend of the rise in hunger,” the report notes.

“Our actions to tackle these troubling trends will have to be bolder, not only in scale but also in terms of multisectoral collaboration,” the heads of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) urged in their joint foreword to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World.

According to the WHO report, the situation is most alarming in Africa, which has the highest rates of hunger in the world. In Eastern Africa in particular, the report notes, close to a third of the population (30.8 percent) is undernourished. “In addition to climate and conflict, economic slowdowns and downturns are driving the rise,” the report concludes.

SDG Goal 2 seeks to end hunger by 2030, and to ensure that everyone everywhere has enough good-quality food to lead a healthy life.

More information about the UN’s sustainable development goals and progress on SDG Goal 2 are available online.

World Lags Behind United Nations Goal To End Poverty by 2030

No Poverty SDG
SDG Goal 1: No Poverty

The decline of extreme global poverty continues, but has slowed, according to a United Nations status report on efforts to eliminate poverty, one of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). At its current rate, the report says, the world is not on track to achieve the target of less than 3 percent of the world living in extreme poverty by 2030.

“People who continue to live in extreme poverty face deep, entrenched deprivation often exacerbated by violent conflicts and vulnerability to disasters,” the report notes. “Strong social protection systems and government spending on key services often help those left behind get back on their feet and escape poverty, but these services need to be brought to scale.”

While the total number of people living in extreme poverty DEFNED AS, declined from 16 percent in 2010 to 10 percent in 2015, the UN projects that 6 percent of the world’s population will be living in extreme poverty by 2030. “The situation remains particularly alarming in sub-Saharan Africa, where the share of working poor stood at 38 percent in 2018,” according to the report.

The 2030 UN agenda for sustainable development notes that eradicating poverty “is the greatest global challenge.”  

The goal to end poverty includes eliminating extreme poverty for all people everywhere, reducing the number of people living in poverty, and implementing national measures as recommended in the Education 2030 Framework for Action.

“To end poverty, boost shared prosperity, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we must use development financing and technical expertise to effect radical change,” said Jim Yong Kim, past president of the World Bank Group.

According to the UN Global Compact, some actions that businesses can take to ensure they do not exacerbate poverty include respecting worker and migrant rights, implementing a zero tolerance policy for forced labor and child labor, and paying workers a living wage.

More information and tools for action on SDG Goal 1 can be found on the UN Global Compact website.

SDG Goals

Reaching UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Requires Global Business Leadership

By Greg Sandler

The United Nations is leading a worldwide sustainable development initiative to address issues ranging from poverty and climate change to environmental degradation and urban infrastructure. While the initiative has strong support from governments and policymakers, business leaders around the world need to do more to help realize the 17 global sustainability goals that are part of the 2015 United Nations Global Compact.

The UN’s latest report card on progress across all 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) paints a rather grim picture of the future. While some progress has been made since the SDG initiative was launched, António Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, notes that “much deeper, faster and more ambitious response is needed to unleash the social and economic transformation needed to achieve our 2030 goals.”

The 2030 agenda provides a blueprint for action by governments, non-governmental organizations, and the business community. As Henrik O. Madsen, past president of DNV GL Group observed when the 2030 goals were rolled-out: “Now is the time for business statesmanship.”

That means private sector leaders need to take the lead in moving from a “business as usual” perspective to a mindset which recognizes that a failure to achieve the SDG goals will ultimately lead to a planet that can no longer sustain business. “Business must continue to work together with the Global Compact, policymakers, scientists, labor organizations and civil society to scale up actions and achieve real transformative impact,” said Madsen.

The good news is that a UN-supported coalition of 30 business leaders was launched in October 2019 to help mobilize private sector resources for sustainable development. The Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance (GISD) will initially spend the next two years focusing on solutions related to long-term SDG investment. The group’s work will include identifying investment opportunities for developing countries, and enhancing the impact of private funding in development efforts. 

“We face widening inequality, increased devastation from conflicts and disasters and a rapidly warming Earth,” said Guterres. “These leaders have seized our sense of urgency, recognizing that our pace must be at a run, not a crawl. They are committing to cooperate across borders, across financial sectors and even with their competitors, because it is both ethical and good business sense to invest in sustainable development for all people on a healthy planet.” 

Among the actionable solutions the alliance is expected to advance are innovation in financial instruments, aligning business models with the 2030 agenda, and addressing industry obstacles to long-term investment in sustainable development. 

The Alliance is comprised of 30 recognized leaders from major financial institutions, manufacturing corporations, and technology service providers – spanning all regions of the world. A full list of participants is available here.   

“The Alliance has come together to help drive financing for the 2030 Agenda as we enter a crucial decade of action,” said Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary general of the United Nations. “In particular, to help forge concrete solutions for securing the long-term finance and investment necessary to achieve the SDGs.”   

Greg Sandler is executive director of The ThinkGlobal Institute