Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls today constitute an opportunity to advance a sustainable tomorrow. Gender equality is a fundamental human right and a foundation for peaceful, prosperous and sustainable societies. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go to achieve equality between men and women. On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2022, we at the United Nations System Staff College (UNSSC) join the UN family in reflecting on gender equality under the "Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow" theme.  As highlighted in the recent Our Common Agenda report, it is important for us to strengthen awareness of gender equality and women’s empowerment within the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Gender Equality challenges and Climate Action

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, recently noted that fulfilling gender equality is “the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world”. Despite progress over the last decades, many of our challenges have been  exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, reinforcing stark gender disparities in economic, social, political, environmental realms. Among some of the key challenges is gender-based violence , discriminatory laws and social norms, women’s political and leadership underrepresentation,  and gender pay gaps which all continue to persist globally.

With the recent release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, another challenge that has come to the fore is gender equality in the context of the climate crisis and disaster risk reduction.  Women are increasingly recognized as being more vulnerable to climate change impacts when compared to  men. They constitute the majority of the world’s poor, and are more dependent on the natural resources which are  threatened by climate change. This dynamic has implications for their livelihoods and well-being, and in turn our goal to build a more sustainable future for all.

At UNSSC we are contributing to this  effort  through learning programmes like the “The Paris Agreement on Climate Change as a Development Agenda”, “Climate Sensitive Programming for Sustaining Peace” and the “Sustainable  Development Leadership Reflection Series for Saudi Arabia”. Beyond advancing learning to demonstrate the interlinkages and interdependencies between sustainable development, peace and security and climate change, the programmes are designed to encourage participants to incorporate relevant human rights and gender dimensions into their work. I am also inspired by the work that other entities are doing to raise awareness about climate change as it relates to gender equality. In particular, I look forward to the upcoming 66th Commission on the Status of Women which  will explore gender equality in the context of climate change, environmental, and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes.

Gender-Sensitive Peace Approaches

Another challenge that requires further intervention is women's marginalization in peace processes. Landmark resolutions like the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 call for increased participation of women at all stages of a peace process. However, the number of women who participate in formal peace negotiations is limited. In addition, while it has been widely acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has further amplified the gender gaps in existing peace and security structures, UNSSC initiatives like the 2020 “Virtual Torino Forum for Sustaining Peace” has sought to address this issue by creating a knowledge exchange forum to highlight they key role that youth and women play in the peace process. The Torino Forum provided a unique opportunity for different stakeholders to gain more insights into women’s security needs, and the issues that affect them as individuals, peacebuilders and members of marginalized communities. What became increasingly evident after the five-day event is the collective view that more work, and learning opportunities are required to ensure more inclusive peace processes and implement the Women Peace and Security Agenda effectively.

An Intersectional Approach to Gender Equality and the 2030 Agenda

Beyond the critical need to foster peace, the broad scope of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDG) means that a gender equality lens needs to be applied across the Sustainable Development Goals, including good health and well-being, decent work and economic growth, clean water and sanitation. SDG 5 on gender equality plays a central role as a stand-alone goal, and as a crucial driver to achieving all 17 SDGs. It Is mainstreamed across 14 out of 17 SDGs and 230 gender-responsive indicators, and covers gender dimensions related poverty, hunger, health, education, employment, safe cities, and peace and security.  However, more needs to be done. A resounding global call for action is necessary to foster greater structural changes to ensure that women’s rights are incorporated across all the goals to support the building of a more sustainable future for all.

Our Common Agenda: Gender Equality as a Key Priority

The UN Secretary General’s  Our Common Agenda report,  issued in September 2021, proposes a path forward for the next 25 years.  It highlights how we can  build a better future centered around a renovated social contract, greater solidarity and a new global deal. This new global deal is expected to reinvigorate inclusive, networked, and effective multilateralism. To realize this  effectively and build a sustainable future for all, we need to renew the social contracts that exist between governments and their people. For societies it will be  crucial to rebuild trust and embrace a comprehensive vision for human rights.

Where the active and full participation of women is concerned, the report proposes among the 12 areas of action identified to accelerate the achievement of all the SDGs, that placing women and girls at the center is a key priority This recommendation further  complements other UN guiding documents like the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Global Acceleration Plan for Gender Equality, that urge Member States and stakeholders to consider effective transformative measures in our pursuit of gender equality. The measures include achieving equal rights and repealing all gender-discriminatory laws; promoting gender parity in all spheres and at all levels of decision-making, while including quotas and special measures; facilitating women’s economic inclusion, including through large-scale investment in the care economy and equal pay, and more support for women entrepreneurs; eradicating violence against women and girls, including through an emergency response plans, supported by the UN and promoting greater inclusion of the voices of younger women.

Expanding Opportunities to Amplify Women’s Voices

To help promote greater inclusion of the voices of young women, the Staff College is proud to have contributed to this through initiatives like the Women’s Voices for an Equal Future thought leadership series. The initiative was a significant milestone in expanding our opportunities to amplify women’s voices and highlight the significance of women’s leadership, gender equality, women’s empowerment, and much more.  

We are of the view that learning is an important vehicle to ensure women’s economic, political and social empowerment. This recognition has inspired learning interventions like the Leadership, Women and the UN programme which has been instrumental in promoting the expansion and renewal of prevalent paradigms of leadership, and ensuring a more gender-balanced workplace across and beyond the UN system.

Our Commitment to Gender Equality

The importance of strengthening efforts towards gender equality across all UN intergovernmental processes is clearly outlined in the  Our Common Agenda report, and other UN guiding documents that urge us to commit to achieving gender equality across all dimensions of the 2030 Agenda.

To ensure gender parity at all levels within the UN by 2028, key actions are envisaged. The actions call for a  review of the working methods of the Commission on the Status of Women (2021) and a concerted effort to build on the multi-stakeholder momentum of the Generation Equality Forum.

At UNSSC, we stand ready to work alongside our UN counterparts and partner organizations to accelerate gender equality, and fully empower women and girls worldwide to lead and drive change. We will support this important process through learning and training.


Photo: Ryan Brown (UN Women)