Empower Women: Empower the World
By Kate Mays
Improving gender equality within a society creates a ripple effect, directly or indirectly improving the lives of everyone within that society in different ways. As we work towards achieving the fifth United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5), "achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls," we must consider all the factors that contribute to gender inequality, while also highlighting all of the subsequent benefits of eliminating it. While gender equality is in itself important, examining the other ways in which gender equality benefits broader society is necessary to garner more support for the movement.
The economic impact of gender equality has been studied extensively, supporting the idea that strengthening and expanding opportunities for women and girls strengthens economic opportunities for everyone. According to a report conducted by the World Economic Forum, “Empowering women means a more efficient use of a nation’s human capital endowment and that reducing gender inequality enhances productivity and economic growth.” In this way, improving the conditions for women and girls, allowing them opportunities to work, contribute to political life, and become empowered for success helps everyone. The World Economic Forum estimates that improving gender equality in the United States would add $1,201 billion to the GDP.
The UN has recognized the importance of gender equality by making its achievement one of the Sustainable Development Goals, while also incorporating ideas relating to gender equality within 10 of the other 16 SDGs. Additionally, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, known as UN Women, is dedicated to the empowerment of women. UN Women’s campaign HeForShe encourages boys and men to be active in for the HeForShe campaign, vowing to promote gender equality for all. Individuals can pledge their commitment by signing their name to the commitment “I am one of billions who believe that everyone is born free and equal. I will take action against gender bias, discrimination and violence to bring the benefits of equality to us all.” Many prominent men have voiced their support for HeForShe, including the President of Finland Sauli Niinistö, the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, and the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, as well as several actors and musicians like John Legend and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Recently the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) hosted a panel on gender equality and violent extremism. The five experts on the panel, discussed how gender inequality leads to violent extremism. Panelist Julia Santucci, the former Senior Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State argued that the United States government has failed to address how violent extremists exploit poor social and economic conditions. In other words, if the United States addressed the inequalities happening in the areas of the world that are seen as sources of violent extremism, violent extremism would decrease. This idea is central to the 10th Sustainable Development Goal which aims to “Reduce inequality within and among countries.” The voices of developing countries and of marginalized communities and individuals need to be strengthened in decision-making processes. Discrimination and inequality serve only to instigate and perpetuate conflict, whereas achieving gender equality, truly empowering women and girls, can serve as the key to achieving peace and prosperity within a society. For now, societies where significant violence is perpetrated against women see that violence intensifying in the form of violent extremism.
There are many reasons to promote gender equality—from bettering the lives of girls and women, to advancing economies and reducing conflict. As Unitarian Universalists, we should continue to fight for equality and stand up for women’s rights.
Kate Mays is a Women's Rights Program Intern at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. She is also a student at the University of Kansas studying Journalism and Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies.