Where are we on gender equality? A new SDG 5 tracker charts the way

The 2021 World Data Forum has once again brought us together, different stakeholders, united in the desire to make the world a better place through data. Participants in this year’s forum have benefitted from discussions around innovations and synergies across data ecosystems as well as on new approaches to capacity development for better data. As the forum wraps up and we all go back to another year of producing, collecting, analyzing and presenting data, the vow to Leaving no one behind in statistics, particularly women and girls in all their diversity must be renewed and acted upon. With just 9 years left to achieve the Global Goals by 2030 and COVID-19 slowing progress, there’s no time to lose!

Women and girls are faring worse than men across many of the key SDG target areas

Each year, UN Women in collaboration with UN DESA releases Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The Gender Snapshot Report. The report presents the latest evidence on gender equality across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. This year's edition (available also in French and Spanish) highlights that one and a half years since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, the toll on the poorest and most vulnerable people remains devastating and disproportionate. The combined impact of conflict, extreme weather events and COVID-19 has deprived women and girls of even basic needs.

  • SDG 1: In 2021, an estimated 435 million women and girls globally are living in extreme poverty vs 430 million men.
  • SDG 2: The global gender gap in food security has risen dramatically during the pandemic, with more women and girls going hungry. Women’s food insecurity levels were 10 per cent higher than men’s in 2020, compared with 6 per cent higher in 2019.
  • SDG 3: Disruptions in essential health services due to COVID-19 are taking a tragic toll on women and girls. In the first year of the pandemic, there were an estimated 1.4 million additional unintended pregnancies in lower and middle-income countries.
  • SDG 4: A year and a half into the pandemic, schools remain partially or fully closed in 42 per cent of the world’s countries and territories. School closures spell lost opportunities for girls and an increased risk of violence, exploitation, and early marriage.
  • SDG 5: Reports of violence against women and girls, a “shadow” pandemic to COVID-19, are increasing in many parts of the world.
  • SDG 8: COVID-19 is also intensifying women’s workload at home, forcing many to leave the labour force altogether. The number of employed women declined by 54 million in 2020 and 45 million women left the labour market altogether.

Women roles and participation in society remains unequal

Globally, an increased demand for clean energy and low-carbon solutions is driving an unprecedented transformation of the energy sector. But women are being left out. They hold only 32 per cent of renewable energy jobs. Women activists, scientists and researchers are working hard to solve the climate crisis but often without the same platforms as men to share their knowledge and skills. Only 29 per cent of featured speakers at international ocean science conferences are women.

Women are also absent from government positions where key decisions are being made on the pandemic and other emergency recovery efforts. In conflict-affected countries, 18.9 per cent of parliamentary seats are held by women, much lower than the already low global average of 25.6 per cent. The worst impacted are women facing multiple forms of discrimination, including women and girls with disabilities, migrant women, women discriminated against because of their race/ethnicity and those from the poorest households. Globally, more than 1 billion people live in informal settlements and slums. Women and girls, often overrepresented in these densely populated areas, suffer from lack of access to basic water and sanitation, health care and transportation. Yet, they are excluded from urban planning and development processes.

Only one indicator under the global goal for gender equality (SDG 5) is ‘close to target’ and data gaps remain rampant

This year’s Gender Snapshot report, for the first time, includes an SDG 5 tracker to highlight both the global and regional progress towards gender equality. This assessment reveals a long road ahead. Globally, only 1 of the 18 indicators (including sub indicators) is assessed as being “close to target”: proportion of seats held by women in local government, 9 indicators are moderate distance to target and 2 are far or very far from target. Where data are available over time (child marriage, female genital mutilation and women in national parliaments), they reveal limited or no progress across regions and in at least one case a deteriorating outlook! Take a look at the tracker for more on how each SDG Region is doing on its commitment to achieve gender equality by 2030.

In 6 out of 18 indicators global data remain insufficient to assess current levels. Trend data are even more sparse. Only 2 of the 18 indicators have sufficient data to assess progress over time across all regions. If we want to track progress, we need robust gender data. As a crucial next step, we need to replicate this tracker at the national and sub-national level to bring visibility to differences in women’s well-being within and across countries.

As a community of data providers, data users and data advocates, we each have a role to play in promoting more and greater use of gender data to inform policy and spur change for a better future for women and girls. As we leave the forum, let’s ask ourselves: what are our key take aways? What will we commit to doing over the next few years to promote gender equality through data?