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Views from the Center


This is one of a series of CGD blogs on tweaks to the SDG targets.

The Open Working Group’s Goal Five (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) is a notable departure from the first four goals.  Its six targets for global progress on gender, unlike all but two of the 26 that come before (and the considerable majority of those that come after), have no dates attached.  

This may reflect realism about the achievement by any particular date of at least some of the targets.  It is (literally) fantastic to imagine that by 2030 all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere and all forms of violence against all women and girls would be eliminated.  At the same time, real progress has been achieved in areas covered by the targets and it is short-changing women and girls not to demand progress that is as time bound and specific for gender as it is across other areas of the SDGs.  While any level of discrimination is clearly unacceptable, targets could nonetheless include progress markers.

For example, Target 5.3 aims to “[e]liminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.” It is possible to make rapid progress on this target with strong government commitment: over an approximately fifteen-year period, Burkina Faso reduced the prevalence of female genital mutilation by around two thirds from 60 to 20 percent.  Progress against child marriage has traditionally been slower, but UNICEF suggests that doubling the rate of decline over the past decades would reduce the proportion of women aged 20 to 24 who were married before 18 from 26% in 2010 to around 17% in 2030.   The target could be amended to read: “Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.  By 2030, reduce the global proportion of women aged 20 to 24 who were married before 18 to [below one in six] and global prevalence of female genital mutilation by [one half].

Target 5.4 calls for recognition and valuation of unpaid work largely performed by women.  The best way to recognize the value of such work at the national level would be to value it in the national accounts.  A proposed amendment would read “Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate. Revise systems of national accounts to incorporate measures of unpaid care and domestic work by [2020].”  

Target 5.5 involves equal opportunities in political, economic and public life.  Global labor force participation for women (one partial measure) has changed very slowly over time, from 50.2 to 51.8 percent between 1980 and 2008.  Over the same period participation for men has declined from 82.0 percent to 77.7 percent.  At the least, however, the target could be amended to include a measure of such progress.  Perhaps it could also use (imperfect) measures of gender equality in politics in addition: “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life. Further reduce the global gap between male and female labor participation rates, male and female parliamentary representation and gender gaps in voting.” 

Finally, regarding reproductive rights, World Bank data (from the DHS) suggests that progress in meeting the needs of women for contraception worldwide has been slow and frequently slips backwards.  Some countries have made dramatic progress in reducing unmet need, however: Rwanda reduced the proportion from 38 percent to 21 percent 2005-2010, Cambodia from 30 to 17 percent over the same period and Ethiopia from 34 percent to 26 percent 2005-2011.  Given that, perhaps target 5.6 could be amended to “Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences. Reduce the global percentage of fertile, married women of reproductive age who do not want to become pregnant and are not using contraception by [one third] by 2030.”

Progress could be measured and momentum could be maintained by including a set of timelines to SDG Goal Five.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.