“This will not work,” Latha responded, much to our surprise.
“They will know,” she explained, “and they will demand them. They will beat us if we resist. We can hide our rupees throughout the house, or in the folds of our sarees, but if they are in a bank account, our husbands will know when we have gone to the bank, and they will take them from us.”
Working as an intern for a development organization in India, I listened to countless women recount the dreams they have for themselves and their children, the dreams for which they hid their wages in the folds of their sarees. Through them, I learned a simple truth: We cannot approach development without a gendered perspective. Gender inequality continues to pervade all aspects of women’s lives, and there is undeniable evidence that empowered women can transform their families, communities, and even nations.
This has never been more true than when it comes to sustainable development.
With the Millenium Development Goals set to expire in 2015, the United Nations is currently formulating a new development paradigm, intended to drive and measure global progress towards a new set of goals for 2015 and beyond. Last week, the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda released their recommendations to the U.N. Secretary General for these future goals. The panel’s report presents an innovative paradigm centered on five transformational shifts, and while the ultimate goal remains the eradication of poverty, the panel has recognized that sustainable development is paramount to this vision. To me, the first two “shifts”—leave no one behind and put sustainable development at the core—both underline the centrality of women.
“Leave no one behind” is intended to promote social inclusion, by engaging and acknowledging marginalized populations. It seeks to ensure that development targets are reached across all levels of income, ethnicities, genders, and nations. This is especially important for women, as their needs, such as reproductive health and gender equality, are often sidelined or left out of larger development conversations. The report does a good job of proposing that “gender equality is integrated across all of the goals, both in specific targets and by making sure that targets are measured separately for women and men, girls and boys, where appropriate.”
“Put sustainable development at the core” reflects the panel’s recognition of the potential of sustainable development practices and the threat of environmental degradation to the achievement of all development goals. Women—as the primary managers of crops, water sources, and natural resources—often suffer the most as these resources become scarce, but are also uniquely positioned to create more resilient communities and helping countries adapt to climate change.
Looking to other areas of the report, it only becomes more clear that the integration of gender and the unique concerns of women and girls is paramount to achieving all future development goals. We cannot “Ensure Food Security and Good Nutrition” (Goal 5), without addressing cultural expectations that women eat last, and thus often least, in deference to their husbands, children, and in-laws. We cannot “Manage Natural Resource Assets Sustainability” (Goal 9), without enabling women to adapt to the effects of climate change by providing adequate education and universal access to contraception and reproductive health to plan their families. We cannot “Create Jobs, Sustainable Livelihoods, and Equitable Growth” if we are not investing in 50 percent of our population, and if women are not provided the training or opportunities for professional advancement.
If the post-2015 agenda is to succeed in its intention of eradicating extreme poverty and transforming economies through sustainable development, each goal must recognize and address both the challenges and potential of women and girls.
Kat Kelley is a summer population and climate intern at Population Action International. Follow her on twitter at @KatKelley46.