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Gender Equality – A Catalyst for Sustainable Development

Gender Equality – A Catalyst for Sustainable Development

Last week, the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly convened in New York, where all 193 Member States gathered to discuss and address world issues such as sustainable development and climate change. At the same time, Canada celebrated Gender Equality Week – established by Bill C-309, the Gender Equality Week Act – and Canadians took the opportunity to applaud our progress and reflect on the work that still needed to be done. Although the timing may be a coincidence, achieving gender equality is an essential component in addressing the world’s most pressing issues and achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). No society can prosper – economically, politically, or socially – when half of its population is overlooked.

Each of the 17 SDGs work towards accelerating the three pillars of sustainability – environmental, economic, and social –  and reaching the Global Goals will require the help of the Canadian private sector. By taking a look at how gender equality helps to advance environmental, economic, and social sustainability, we can better understand how prioritizing SDG 5 – Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls – in the workplace can accelerate sustainable development on a deeper level.

Gender Equality and Environmental Sustainability: The World Resource Institute notes that in areas where gender inequality is high, forest depletion, air pollution, and other measures of environmental degradation are also high. As women are considered active agents of conservation and restoration, it is important that corporate sustainability teams adopt a gender lens and ensure women are included during planning, development, and implementation phases of all environmental sustainability initiatives. Guaranteeing inclusion will increase employee engagement and participation, bring in different perspectives, and encourage everyone to be involved in the organization’s environmental goals.

Gender Equality and Economic Sustainability: Embedding gender equality within businesses’ core strategies can help them thrive in the marketplace and gain a competitive edge because women have tremendous value in the marketplace. For instance, there are approximately 187 million women entrepreneurs worldwide who own between 32 percent and 39 percent of all businesses in the formal economy. In addition, women dominate the global marketplace as they control more than 20 trillion in consumer spending, a number that is expected to rise to $30 trillion in the next decade. By bringing more women to the table and applying a gender lens across all business operations, businesses can develop strategic insight on how to effectively target and attract this key demographic group.

Gender Equality and Social Sustainability: Businesses have the capacity to address issues of gender equality beyond their workplaces and within the communities they operate in. By designing CSR and outreach initiatives to support women and girls’ empowerment, the private sector can help to address gender inequalities. Businesses must be aware of and respond to their social responsibilities. At the same time, they can build a sustainable license to operate, mitigate potential social risks, and support larger commitments towards sustainable development.

Global Compact Network Canada (GCNC) looks forward to continue working towards gender equality in the workplace while supporting its mission to assist Canadian organizations with the advancement of the 17 SDGs. Consequently, GCNC’s project, Gender Equality Leadership in the Canadian Private Sector, engages the private sector as a responsible accelerator to eliminate barriers faced by women in the workplace. The project is set to begin its third and final year and is now looking to engage 4 additional organizations to join the current cohort of 17 participating companies. Is your organization working to advance gender equality in the workplace? We’d like to hear from you!

Image 1 – UN Women