Bending the Curve Towards Gender Equality by 2030

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Message from EM2030’s Director

2020 marks 25 years since 189 countries signed up to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – an ambitious and progressive blueprint for gender equality. 2020 also marks the start of the 10-year countdown to the SDGs. The clock is ticking for governments to take action to achieve the promises made to girls and women in these ambitious frameworks.

Gender equality cuts across and throughout the entire SDG framework, and the design of the SDG Gender Index is informed by the insight that gender equality can be a catalytic policy intervention, compounding and accelerating progress across the development spectrum.

The 2019 SDG Gender Index – the most comprehensive measure of gender equality aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – showed that gender equality is still unfinished business worldwide: across the 129 countries studied, no country has fully achieved the promise of gender equality envisioned in the ambitious 2030 Agenda. We also found that nearly half of the world’s girls and women – 1.4 billion – live in countries that get a “failing grade” on gender equality, where the gender gaps are particularly acute.

Since the SDG Gender Index launched in 2019, the Equal Measures 2030 partnership has had conversations about the data with women’s rights organizations, advocates and gender equality champions from across sectors. Some of the most common questions we get asked are about pace and nature of change: are countries moving towards greater equality or in the wrong direction? What are the prospects for bending the curve to reach the gender equality promises laid out in the SDGs by 2030?

In Bending the Curve we begin to answer these important questions within the limits of significant data gaps, using five of the key gender equality issues found in the SDG Gender Index (related to sexual and reproductive health and rights, girls’ education, representation of women in leadership, laws on equality in the workplace and safety).
Our conclusion is that there is both reason for hope and cause for concern. Our ability to bend the curve towards gender equality has the potential to make or break the entire 2030 Agenda.

This briefing finds that 67 countries – home to 2.1 billion girls and women – won’t achieve any of the gender equality targets we studied by 2030 if their current pace of change continues. More than a third of countries studied have been moving slowly – or even in the wrong direction – on at least four of the five issues over the past decade or two. At the current rate of progress, we wouldn’t reach the target of all girls and women saying they feel safe walking at night until the year 2179.

But, on the five issues we looked at, we also found there were countries making very rapid progress – astonishingly fast in some cases. Such rapid progress that if all countries matched the pace of these fast movers over the next decade, nearly three quarters of the world’s girls’ and women could instead live in countries that had reached four or even all five of these gender equality targets. Under this acceleration scenario, 400 million more girls and women would have access to contraception to plan if and when they have children, and 85 million more girls would complete secondary school by 2030 than if the current pace continues. These are just two examples of the potential impact on the real lives of girls and women around the world.

If there is one message to take forward in 2020 it is that rapid change on gender equality is possible but concerted action is needed to get us there. Now is the time for real action that will bend the curve towards gender equality.

Alison Holder
Equal Measures 2030