Gender Equality: a Goal For All Genders

Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Senior Advisor to the Under-Secretary-General of UN Women and
Head of HeForShe Initiative

We often hear that achieving the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 will require a collaborative effort: all sectors, stakeholders and actors need to be on board to create a sustainable future. The same holds true for Goal 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment; and specifically, all genders have a role to play.

When the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in 2015, its drafters considered stark gender disparities that are still rampant around the world: no country in the world has achieved gender equality; women all over the world earn less money for equal work; 1 in 3 women globally suffers some form of violence; and millions fewer women have access to bank accounts, the internet and education.

At the same time, while the impacts of gender inequality impact women much more visibly, they reflect a cultural and social imbalance that is damaging for everyone. On the surface, what looks like “women’s issues” inhibit us all from reaching our full potential and at the same time, many men struggle with confining gender norms. Furthermore, millions of men want more gender equal societies for the betterment of everyone. For every man who commits an honor killing, many more defend women’s rights. For every man who denies women their rightful property or inheritance, many more want to see these entitlements honored. For every man at the top of the ladder who doesn’t believe in women’s abilities, many more want to see them shine.

When British actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson launched HeForShe in September, 2014, men’s commitment to gender equality was immediately apparent. Ms. Watson’s impassioned speech contained a simple premise: gender equality is not a man’s issue or a woman’s issue; it’s about mutual freedom and everyone stands to benefit. Within days of the launch, 100,000 men and boys, including one from every country in the world, signed up to be advocates for gender equality. Instantaneously, student clubs began emerging on college campuses and they’ve been growing ever since. Today, nearing the 3rd HeForShe birthday, there have been over 1.7 million commitments to the HeForShe website, more than 250 student clubs have been established, and each week we receive inquiries and updates from people around the world who want to contribute.

While HeForShe engages with people at all levels, the reality is that 95% of all global CEOs and the overwhelming majority of global power players are male. For this reason, in January 2015, we launched the IMPACT 10x10x10 initiative. IMPACT 10x10x10 is comprised of 30 male global leaders - ten Heads of State, ten CEOs of major corporations and ten university presidents – who have each made three game-changing gender equality commitments designed to accelerate outcomes. This pilot project is now nearing the halfway point, the realization of 90 commitments by prominent global leaders are well-underway and we’re amazed by what they have done in such a short time. They are not only bringing gender equality into their own domains, they’re part of the larger solution to realize Planet 50/50 by 2030.

This month, we’re launching a full report on the initiative’s progress to date, but following are some key highlights:

  •  The government of Iceland is on its way to ensuring equal pay for all citizens by 2022. Part of their strategy is to audit every single company from the biggest corporation down to the smallest enterprise.
  • The government of Malawi passed legislation and a constitutional amendment to end child marriage. By September 2016, more than 1400 child marriages had been annulled and more than 1200 girls had been sent back to school.
  • Multinational company PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) female senior leadership representation moved from 18% to 47%, and the company created an online training course about gender and unconscious bias.
  • Tupperware reached gender parity at board level, moving from 40% to 50%.
  • Twitter implemented a 20 weeks “gender-neutral” parental leave policy for all employees.
  • McKinsey made its gender parity data public, for the first time in the company’s 90 year history.
  • Unilever no longer uses sexist ads to sell its products.
  • The University of Waterloo launched a $288,000 HeForShe IMPACT Scholarship program to close the gap on STEM.

These Champions have not only shown that change can happen fast, they are part of a broader sea change of people who don’t want to wait 170 years before we close economic gender disparities (as the World Economic Forum now predicts.) Furthermore, because the IMPACT initiative has been so successful, we’ve launched a subsequent programme called Thematic Champions. Thematic Champions are part of the next pipeline of IMPACT Champions and they commit to one powerful and concrete change toward achieving gender equality. For example, multi-national Danone has implemented 20 weeks of gender-neutral paid parental leave for its entire global staff, while the World Bank committed to achieving gender parity in its senior leadership by 2020.

Part of the appeal of the IMPACT and Thematic initiatives is precisely that change doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Progress in one arena often leads to progress in another, and the work of these gender pioneers is often overlapping and reinforcing. Furthermore, while the benefits to Goal 5 are obvious, we also know that such powerful commitments impact many other Goals. For example, a law to outlaw child marriage not only has gender equality gains, but it also impacts Goal 3 on Health, Goal 4 on Education and Goal 10 on Inequalities, and others. Or take the HeForShe STEM scholarships: they impact Goal 4 on Education, Goal 8 on Decent Work and Goal 10 on Inequalities. And if some of these young women become climate scientists, well, we may hit Goal 13 as well.

The global community is seeking to meet the Sustainable Development Goals against a ticking clock, and in the midst of massive social flux and technological change. Seismic shifts are taking place in the way we live and work with some sectors losing millions of jobs and others gaining them. Apart from being a human rights issue, unleashing the power and potential of all genders is absolutely necessary to meeting the global challenges on our doorstep and filling the jobs of the future. True and substantive gender equality is not only a goal, it is a key feature of a sustainable future. All genders have a role in making it happen.

About the Author

Elizabeth Nyamayaro is Senior Advisor to Under-Secretary-General of UN Women and the Head of the HeForShe Initiative. A strong advocate for women rights and economic empowerment, Ms. Nyamayaro has worked at the forefront of Africa’s development agenda for more than a decade in both the public and private sector, and previously held positions with UNAIDS, World Health Organization and the World Bank. Prior to UN Women, she was Director External Affairs & Policy, Africa and part of the Corporate Strategy Office at Merck. Born in Zimbabwe and a Political Scientist by training, Ms. Nyamayaro holds a MSc in Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science.