By Tamara A. Kool, individual member and PhD fellow at Maastricht Graduate School of Governance and UNU-MERIT
The 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development may be argued to be a change maker as it is said to acknowledge many structural issues underlying gender inequality when compared to the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). This hope is reflected in the ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality’ campaign by UNWOMEN marking the International Women’s Day 2017. This campaign aims to build a momentum for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to allow girls and women to reach their full potential. While the 50-50 is an admirable goal, the realisation seems yet to be far away with various elements hindering this ambition. This blog focuses specifically on the issue of power structures and accountability that need to be transformed if we want to achieve a Planet 50-50.
Many power structures will need to be addressed in order to achieve gender equality. The targets of goal 5 on achieving gender equality, recognise that power inequalities cut across the economic, social and political arenas. In particular, one of the targets recognises the burden of unpaid care and domestic work. This is a crucial target as these responsibilities restrict women in their ability to participate economically and as a result hampers the economic growth which is also a central discourse in the 2030 agenda.
Though SDG 5 already signals some of the policies in its target through which it can either redistribute or reduce the unpaid care and domestic work, these policies may not lead to the desired result. There are many other elements restricting women in their work. Occupations will most likely remain segmented with a larger share of women working part-time, in lower level functions, or in the informal market to name a few.
Part of why they are unable to make a significant change is because the power structures at work lie within the current liberal economic model. Norms permeate our social life. Gender dynamics in the economy take place both internally, in terms of how humans relate to each other, and externally, in the manner that gender norms are embedded in institutions. At the end of the day, the symbolic facet of gender norms and women’s agency becomes visible in the political and economic struggles.
Hence, the assumption that economic growth will generate gender equality is a pre-mature one. The question remains to what extent the SDGs will be able to address these power struggles. Not only does goal 5 fail to include the element of women’s rights but above that, part of the 2030 agenda is particularly focused on economic growth and trade liberalisation (in amongst other goal 8 and 9) and continues to see industrialisation as the main driver of economic growth. In turn, there is a disconnect between the economic growth and the needed social change.
Accountability is one of the elements that is related to this disconnect. The SDGs still regard the state as the main duty-bearer. However, merely considering the state as the main duty-bearer assumes a trickle-down effect. Nonetheless, as the report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Centre for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) indicated that the relationship between the state as duty-bearer on the one hand, and people as rights-holder on the other, has become more complex with actors such as international institutions, private sectors and civil society.
These actors that are outside the state-people relationship also have an impact on poverty and inequality. This could be negative when you think of the financial crisis of 2008, but also be positive in questioning the status quo of societal structures. They therefore ought to be taken into consideration. Yet, as Pogge and Sengupta rightfully state, the SDGs fail to make explicit references to individual or collective agents who are responsible for the realisation of the goals. Subsequently, this risks that the SDGs will not be realised by 2030
One of the ways in which actors can be held responsible for the realisation of the SDGs is by aligning the international goals under national goals. By developing national goals, national ownership and commitment on these goals will be realised. Consequently, this will result in a higher likelihood to accomplish the goals. This ties in with the argumentation that as gender norms and women’s agency are inherently historic, part of the interaction is found in the economic structure of the country, and hence, each country should develop its own policies which takes into consideration its own context.
To ensure accountability, national goals are a starting point but moreover a critical perspective on the underlying power structures is needed. Civil society should continue its function as watchdog where it holds governments accountable. Furthermore, civil society plays an important role in changing structures in society. It is therefore important to work towards a conducive environment in which civil society can function as partners alongside governments and corporations – as envisioned by SDG 17 – for 50-50 to become a reality.
Tamara Kool is a PhD fellow at Maastricht Graduate School of Governance and UNU-MERIT. She has a particular interest in the impact of conflict on society. Her current work looks at the inclusion of regional-based refugees in the labour market of Jordan. She holds a MSc. in Public Policy and Human Development from Maastricht University and UNU- MERIT where she specialized in Social Protection Design and Financing. Prior to that, she obtained a BA in General, Comparative and Intercultural Literature at Leiden University amongst others and has worked in the cultural and creative industries. For the past years, she has been active in the field of gender, peace and security as independent research consultant and as program officer at the Women Peacemakers Program.