The United Nation’s 193 world leaders unanimously agreed to a new set of ambitious goals to end extreme poverty by 2030 on September 25. The fifth goal on the list: achieve gender equality.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) create a global agenda for all countries — not just those in the developing world — to work towards ending extreme poverty. The SDGs, a continuation of the eight Millennium Development Goals established by the U.N. in 2000, aim to unify the world around giving everyone the basic rights they deserve. For gender equality, that means everything from improving access to education for girls to eliminating gender-based violence and child marriage.
While each of the 17 goals can lead to significant change, U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka believes that gender equality will impact the success of all of them the most.
“We know now that without gender equality and a full role for women in society, in the economy, in governance, we will not be able to achieve the world we hoped for,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said in a U.N. Women op-ed. “No other issue is as critical to the success of the new agenda as a whole.”
A year ago, U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador and actress Emma Watson started the #HeForShe campaign challenging men to fight for women’s rights. In a speech launching the initiative, Watson said, “how can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feels welcome to participate in the conversation?”
Today, 471,499 men have joined the #HeForShe initiative — 83,204 in the United States alone. These advocates work in all sectors from government to private corporations. Pop culture figures like Matt Damon, Aziz Ansari, and Matt McGorry have stepped up to proclaim their feminism.
Outside of men taking a stand for women, the past year since Watson’s speech has seen significant milestones in the ongoing fight for equality. From Malala Yousafzai becoming the youngest person and woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2014 to more women receiving recognition in Hollywood and on Broadway, women continue to break barriers in all aspects of society.
There has been significant progress since the first Millennium Development Goal dedicated to promoting gender equality was established as well. Maternal mortality rates have decreased, but about 800 women a day still die from preventable causes including childbirth and pregnancy complications. About two-thirds of developing countries have achieved gender parity in primary education, but 62 million girls still aren’t in school around the world.
Yousafzai, along with 193 youth representatives from the U.N.’s member states, stressed the importance of education. “I’m hopeful that we all in the UN will be united in the goal of education and peace, and that we will make this world not just a better place, but the best place to live. Education is hope, education is peace,” she said.
During the SDG summit over the weekend, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced that $25 billion over the next five years will go towards ending preventable deaths for women and children. Corporations and foundations also pledged investments valuing in the millions to support the fight for equality.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with prominent corporations like Unilever and the Alibaba Group, guaranteed substantial financial commitments towards improving gender equality.
“Women drive progress for all of us by demanding better health care and opportunities for their children and greater equity for everyone,” Melinda Gates told the U.N. “That’s why, when we invest in women and girls, we’re investing in the people who invest in everyone else.”