Stay Informed

Your go-to source for the latest trends impacting gender justice and women’s rights around the world

Sustainable Development Goals: What’s next from a feminist perspective?

The 2030 sustainable development agenda, formally adopted by Heads of State and governments at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2015, was the result of a three-year process throughout which women’s rights activists and organizations mobilized to put gender equality and women’s human rights at the center.

The process converged multiple UN-led agendas, notably the Rio+20 sustainable development review conference, the financing for development process and the follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that expired in 2015. The final 2030 agenda proposes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets as well as guidelines on how implementation and funding will take place. Its uniqueness lies in its formulation when compared to MDGs; as the process was led by a wide range of actors beyond the States and professionals.

While the 2030 agenda is not as ambitious as AWID and other women’s rights organizations advocated for, there were nonetheless important gains on gender equality, recognition of human rights, decent work and the need to change patterns of production and consumption to name but a few major improvements from the MDGs.

One of the key milestones is the achievement for gender equality and women’s empowerment is the stand alone goal (Goal 5) which gives prominence to women’s issues as opposed to considering it a cross cutting issues as has been done in the past.

The goal has 8 targets which includes commitments to:

  • end discrimination and gender-based violence

  • eliminate child marriage and female genital mutilation

  • ensure access to sexual and reproductive health care services and education for all

  • protect women and girls' reproductive rights

  • eliminate gender disparities in schools and ensure equal access to education

  • provide education that promotes gender equality and human rights

  • expand women's economic opportunities and recognize their rights to resources

  • reduce the burdens of unpaid care work on women and girls

All of these commitments present important tools for civil society organizations, including women’s rights organizations and young feminist activists to press governments and other stakeholders for the coherent implementation of these goals at the local level.

In addition to Goal 5 other achievements were witnessed under goals related to gender quality, and a more comprehensive analysis of poverty, hunger, education, health, environment and of the inter-linkages between social, economic and environmental dimensions.

The SDGs contested the one size fits all model, a breakthrough when compared to MDGs. There was also recognition that national context and circumstances need to be understood in order to measure progress effectively. The SDGs are global and aspirational, but not compulsory and can and should be adapted to national circumstances. This needs to be accompanied by a strong civil society movements that participate in monitoring processes and ensure that States apply principles of maximum available resources, non retrogression, progressive realization and full protection of human rights that are at the centre.

Despite the stated gains, we cannot lose sight of the inequality perspective. Goal 10: Reduced Inequality, was also strongly contested during the process and much was lost in the text. However the goal still allows for inequality to be addressed. As the indicators and implementation are defined, we must continue addressing root causes of inequality, such as tackling tax dodging; and States should ensure progressive taxes, provide universal free public health and education services, support workers’ bargaining power, and narrow the gap between rich and poor. This should be done under a much more broader review of the

Risks ahead

If the goals are indeed achieved as planned, there is certainly transformative potential to lift millions out of poverty and improve the lives of women worldwide. However, one of the major obstacles to successful implementation is the lack of concrete funding commitments to make this a reality.

AWID welcomed the announcement by the President of China to support women’s development and the work of the UN Women worldwide by donating USD 10 million for the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the realization of the related goals in the post-2015 development agenda. More than 80 world leaders at the UNGA in September committed to ending discrimination against women by 2030, announcing concrete and measurable actions to kick-start rapid change in their countries. We applaud UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, who urged Heads of State to create, and energetically implement coherent gender equality policies and provide significant financing for gender equality so that commitments become a reality.

However the outsourcing of responsibilities on this matter to the private sector in the forms of public-private partnerships, direct corporate investment and UN partnerships with businesses poses more challenges than solutions. The role of the corporate sector in development and their accountability thereof is one that did not receive adequate debate during the negotiation and yet as was evident, the corporatization of the development agenda continues to take center stage.

Our concern therefore is that as businesses and governments shake hands, exchanging promises to work together on the SDGs, little has changed on the structural issues that allow an unprecedented concentration of wealth in the hands of the richest 1%. The Means of Implementation (MoI) Chapter of the 2030 Agenda that is envisaged to provide the implementation road map, promotes more trade liberalization as the solution and does not attempt to address the continued drain of resources from developing to developed countries through illicit financial flows and debt payments, among many other issues that are paramount to addressing persistent inequality.

If these structural issues continue unchecked it would not be surprising to find that in 2030 the concentration of wealth has in fact further deepened and is one of the main barriers to the achievement of this agenda.

Ultimately, the story of the impact of the 2030 agenda will be told on the ground, based on the capacity of civil society organizing to make this agenda a reality by reclaiming the power of the people.

It is also key to push for advancements in those areas omitted by the SDGs, such as oppression of LGBTQI peoples, the rights of peoples with disabilities, full sexual and reproductive health and rights, including family planning and abortion rights to truly ensure that no-one is left behind

What to watch out for


A United Nations (UN) Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators was established to develop indicators to monitor global progress on the goals. The Group’s proposal will be presented for approval to the UN Statistical Commission at its forty-seventh session in March 2016. An open consultation took place 11 August – 14 September 2015 in New York, and there is still room for civil society to influence what the set of indicators should look like, in particular reflecting a human rights and gender equality approach.

Learn more about how to get involved and read about some of the recommendations already presented by civil society observers, including women’s rights organizations and experts:

Visit the Sustainable Development Goal indicators website


The time for local, national and regional implementation has already begun and it is in this area where participation of women’s rights activists is the most crucial to ensure commitments made in New York don’t get diluted in practice. Contact your government to ask about how the SDGs will be implemented in your country and demand that feminist voices are heard and are an integral part of any development plan.

High Level Political Forum

The United Nations high-level political forum on sustainable development (HLPF) is the central UN platform to watch for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda. There is already a meeting planned for July 2016 under the auspices of ECOSOC to keep track of progress and provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations. The participation of organized civil society, including women’s rights activists and organizations must be guaranteed so that different voices are heard and governments can be held to account at the global level for their failures or successes in implementing this agenda.

Learn more