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Not Ready, Still Waiting

Governments have a long way to go in preparing to address gender inequality and the SDGs


Governments must urgently improve gender policies to stand a chance of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on inequalities. As yet, governments in developing countries do not have the right laws and policies in place to achieve SDG 5 on gender equality and SDG 10 on reduced inequality.

In ActionAid’s report, only three of ten developing countries had over 65% of key inequality-reducing policies in place. Rich countries are not adequately supporting developing countries to achieve the SDGs, contrary to SDG 17’s aim to “revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development” and some are making things worse through domestic and development policies that deepen global inequality. Ultimately, governments’ failure to address women’s inequalities may jeopardise all the SDGs’ success.

The inequality debate has generally focused on reducing income inequality. But this ignores the fact that inequality affects women more. ActionAid’s experience shows that reducing income inequality is not enough to change women’s lives. Laws and policies must also respond to the overlapping inequalities that affect different groups of women, such as violence against women and girls (VAWG), the unpaid care burden and unequal access to education, health, mobility, decent paid work, control over land and resources.

ActionAid research into the combined total amount of paid and unpaid work undertaken by women and men globally shows that a young woman entering the job market today will on average be expected to work four years more than her male peers over her lifetime because she is balancing paid and unpaid care work. This is the equivalent of an extra month’s work for every year of a woman’s life.

ActionAid’s The Price of Privilege report shows how powerful global forces prevent countries from addressing inequalities, while national blockages stop laws and policies to reduce inequalities from being put in place.

In this report, ActionAid looks at where governments are policy-ready and where they are not and identifies where key policies, laws and supportive environments can improve economic and gender equality.

ActionAid believes that empowered communities pushing for change can make the change sustainable, such as in Nepal, where collectove action led to a strikingly progressive constitution that commits the government to measure women’s unpaid care work. Policy or laws alone may not always lead to change, but they strengthen civil society campaigns for grassroots change. To improve their policy readiness to achieve the SDGs, civil society and national governments should:

1. Shift policy decision making power away from those who currently hold power and influence, including multilateral institutions, rich country governments, elite groups, and multinational corporations, and towards developing country governments and their people.

2. Develop and hold governments accountable to redistributive national plans through policies that support the accomplishment of the SDGs. Such policies would aim to:

  • recognise, redistribute and reduce women’s unpaid care work,
  • improve opportunities for decent work and wages for women and young people,
  • stop violence against women and girls,
  • improve women’s mobility, and their capacity to organise and participate in decision-making at all levels,
  • improve women’s access to education, health and control over natural and economic resources.

3. Put in place appropriate systems, governance, financial support, and monitoring and evaluation programmes to enable policy design through a genuine “feminist lens” that puts women’s development potential at the centre of analysis and decisions. Those systems should be implemented with sufficient information, infrastructure and budget and rigorously monitored by women and girls empowered to hold decision-makers accountable.

ActionAid’s forthcoming study Shifting Power will look at women’s perspectives of inequality in developing countries and show how women’s collective action can lead to improved policies and change cultural norms that reduce inequalities. Policies and laws are only the starting point, but having the right ones in place is a crucial first step towards genuine change for women.