According to estimates, 435 million women globally were living in extreme poverty in 2021; the number of employed women fell by 54 million in 2020; almost one in five young women got married before turning 18 in 2021; female genital mutilation has affected at least 200 million women and girls worldwide; and the COVID-19 outbreak widened existing gender disparities. These statistics help us understand the current scenario and depict the downside despite the gains over the last few decades.

The United Nations believes that gender equality is the basis for a peaceful, wealthy, and sustainable world. Sustainable Development Goals-5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) is a commitment and bold action to advance gender equality.

The goal is defined by nine targets and 18 indicators and sub-indicators focusing on ending discrimination, eliminating violence, promoting economic empowerment, and ensuring healthy lives, participation, and leadership. These indicators help us measure and monitor progress, taking us a step closer to a gender-equal future, one day at a time.

Even though we have set ambitious targets, the data gap remains a huge challenge, with only 47 per cent of data available to track progress on SDG-5. Based on analysis, only 12 per cent of the SDG-5 indicators have met their target, 28 per cent of the indicators are extremely distant or far from their target, with the rest being at a moderate distance and close to the target. These percentages clearly show how far we are from women-led development.

Progress on SDG-5 will play a pivotal role in the progress of the other SDGs. To end discrimination against women and girls, we need to ensure they have access to essential health services (SDG-3), access to good education at an affordable price (SDG-4), access to the labour market (SDG-8), and access to political participation (SDG-10). Furthermore, ending discrimination will help women explore opportunities in the labour market and contribute to economic growth (SDG-8), promote a peaceful and inclusive society (SDG-16), and contribute to a reduction in poverty (SDG-1).

As we understand and uncover the interlinkages between various goals, it is important to recognise the significance of gender-specific indicators for each of the 17 goals. As per our internal research and analysis, there are ten goals with gender-specific indicators working towards eradicating poverty, achieving zero hunger, good health, gender equality, quality education, and economic growth, among others.

The gender-specific SDG indicators along with the supplemental indicators contribute to the progress of these individual goals and take us a step closer to achieving SDG-5. However, we also need to focus on goals that lack indicators related to women’s empowerment and gender.

Consider the issues of affordable and clean energy (SDG-7). Globally, 770 million people lack access to power and more than 2.5 billion people lack access to clean cooking, with ~2.5 million premature deaths every year due to household pollution. Additionally, women and girls are most severely affected by energy poverty, depriving them of healthcare, education, food security, and access to economic opportunities. Since women continue to face gender disparities in both access and use of energy, we need to solve the issue of energy poverty through a gender lens by building gender-responsive policies at the national and global levels, providing women with equal opportunities in the workforce and supporting women-led business ventures in the energy space.

Another issue to focus on is clean water and sanitation (SDG-6). According to data, 800,000 women die each year from illnesses linked to a lack of water, basic sanitation, and hygiene. Moreover, women and girls globally spend about 200 million hours collecting water every day, which increases their risk of facing violence and harassment and results in psychological stress.

As women remain underrepresented in water governance, we should work towards recognising them as water management stakeholders and promoting gender-inclusive water and sanitation initiatives. Apart from these critical issues, we should also focus on increasing women’s participation in creative solutions and innovation (contributing to SDG-9), and involve women and their communities in decisions that affect the environment, livelihoods, and the way of life (contributing to SDG-12, SDG-13, SDG-14, and SDG-15).

Over the years, India has secured its women and empowered them through various schemes and policies. Since traditional cooking methods disproportionately affect women, the Indian government launched the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna to replace polluting cooking fuels with LPG for more than eighty million households. Through the Jal Jeevan Mission launched in 2019, the government aims to address the issue of water scarcity in rural India by placing women at the centre of water access. Moreover, the government has adopted various initiatives to assist women in the energy sector, including the women empowerment scheme, subsidy for female-installed solar home systems, and mainstreaming clean-energy-based solutions in India’s rural economy through the Decentralised Renewable Energy (DRE) policy. Through these initiatives, the country is not only enhancing women’s empowerment but ensuring health and economic benefits.

Finally, to meet the goal of gender equality, more such programmes must be made available along with increased global collaboration and investments (SDG-17). It is evident that gender equality impacts all 17 SDGs, and we need to do better. To accelerate progress, we must go beyond the current boundaries and introduce gender-specific indicators in all those goals that lack the gender lens. It is important to recognise the strategic reflection of this enhanced relationship. Women and girls must be at the forefront of all elements and areas if we want to move ahead and not fail as a community. Moving forward, progress in SDG-5 will be achieved by increasing social sensitisation, developing advanced legal and policy frameworks, community practices, global cooperation, funding, affirmative action, and shared accountability between men and women.

Excerpted with permission from Pathways to Equality Advancing Gender Goals in the G20, edited by Vaishali Nigam Sinha and Nitya Mohan Khemka, Observer Research Foundation.