In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed by world leaders at the United Nations, in which the UK strongly advocated for the inclusion of SDG 5, a commitment to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls by 2030. However, unlike 22 other countries, the UK Government has not set out a clear strategic plan for how this international obligation will be met.
The Committee's report found that many of the targets under SDG 5 require cross-departmental working and it is not clear that effective lines of responsibility for co-ordinating this have been established. The Committee has called on the Government to ensure that appropriate measures are put in place to achieve this.
In the report, the Committee recommends that:
- The Government should domestically publicise its commitment to the SDGs in the UK and immediately commit to reporting to the UN's High Level Political Forum in 2018.
- The Minister for Women and Equalities should take responsibility for ensuring the achievement of SDG 5 across government.
- The Government Equalities Office (GEO) should immediately consult on developing the most effective mechanism for facilitating ongoing partnership between government and civil society to achieve SDG 5.
- The GEO should ensure that the key SDG principle of 'leaving no-one behind' is fully embedded in its revised Single Departmental Plan.
- There is confusion around the role of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in developing national indicators and monitoring progress towards SDG 5, and this role must be clarified. The Government should also ensure funding for expert organisations to participate fully in the data collection and monitoring functions necessary for the successful achievement of SDG 5.
Maria Miller MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said:
"The UK has led the world in developing the SDGs and we should be proud of the Government for championing the inclusion of a standalone gender goal. Achieving the SDG 5 commitment domestically is key to maintaining our position as a proponent of women's rights globally.
The UK has strong policies in many areas included in SDG 5 but stretching goals need to be agreed to demonstrate commitment to gender equality at home as well as abroad.
Other countries, including Germany, Norway and Finland have already set out clear plans for action and the UK appears to be lagging behind.
We strongly welcome the Government's promise to include SDG 5 in its cross-departmental work, but the need for an overall strategy to ensure its successful delivery is clear. Leadership must come from the top."
The Sustainable Development Goals
In September 2015, 193 Member States attending the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Summit in New York adopted a new global development framework: 'Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development'. The Agenda consists of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), under which sit 169 targets. These commit all signatory countries to making significant progress by 2030 across a range of issues including climate change, access to quality education and the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies.
The UK Government played a significant role in ensuring the universality of the SDGs, also known as Agenda 2030, which apply equally to developed and developing countries. This is in contrast to their precursor, the Millennium Development Goals, which applied only to developing countries. The SDGs officially came into force on 1 January 2016 and the UK must now move forward with achieving the Goals domestically.
Sustainable Development Goal 5
UN Women describes Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5) as "the stand-alone gender goal" because it is specifically dedicated to achieving women and girls' equality and empowerment.
There are nine targets under SDG 5. These are:
- End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
- Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
- Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
- Recognise 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.
- Ensure women's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.
- 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.
- Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.
- Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women.
- Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.
In addition to Goal 5, it is important to note that women's empowerment and gender equality underpin many of the Goals, and that all 17 Goals are intended to work together to reinforce one another. While the Committee's report is focused on SDG 5, we recognise that action across all the Goals is essential to achieving their aims.