There is a lot we need to do to address the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 on gender equality if we are to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Around the world, women and girls are still overrepresented in the lowest income groups globally, carry out the majority of unpaid domestic and care work, and face increased risk of gender-based violence and stigmatization in public spaces. 

[Editor’s note: This post is the last post in a blog series on think tanks and gender equality, edited by Shannon Sutton and Natalia Yang.]

A major tenet of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is around the “leave no one behind” principle, and think tanks are demonstrating (and historically have demonstrated) efforts to engage with individuals, communities and organizations to change attitudes, reduce stigmatization and share knowledge on gender equality.

Think tanks face many challenges in their efforts to address SDG 5, but are adopting innovative strategies to address these challenges in the research that they produce, the capacity of the organizations they work with, and with policy makers and communities they engage. 

Challenges

In reading the blogs, I appreciated the honesty of the authors in outlining the challenges they have faced as they work towards greater gender equality.  As a gender researcher and a woman, some of the obstacles in the policy research environment that I have noticed through experience and through reading and reflecting on the blogs include:

  1. Weak institutional contexts and entrenched attitudes that maintain gender discrimination and prevent women from progressing in their careers and taking on leadership positions;
  2. Challenges to mobilize strong support for prioritizing gender in all stages of research;
  3. Lack of interest and engagement from external stakeholders to implement evidence from gender research on the ground in public policies and interventions;
  4. Informal networks and mentorship opportunities that are often more accessible to male researchers;
  5. Lack of disaggregated data and data availability to be able to track progress and develop effective solutions for achieving gender equality; and
  6. Lack of visibility and representation for excluded groups that experience marginalization across intersecting identities such as class/caste, race, geography, and ability, and LGBTQ2 communities who are often left out of conversations about gender. 

How think tanks are creating a more gender-friendly environment

The blogs highlight creative strategies and reflections from the authors aimed at fostering a more enabling environment for gender equality. Here are three:

1. Reframing the issue to put gender equality first      

An ongoing reflection on the ways that issues are framed in media, policies, and even informal conversations forces us to question commonly held beliefs and areas of exclusion within social systems, thus impacting policy recommendations. In the fifth post, Shrimoyee Bhattacharya of CSTEP  points out a commonly held belief among urban planners that as quality of life in cities improves, the gender equality agenda will somehow naturally be addressed. However, she reframes this idea by acknowledging that prioritizing a gender-inclusive urban plan will lead to an improved quality of life, placing the rights of women to participate equally in how their cities are planned at the forefront. In addition, Lissette Calderón and Margarita Beneke de Sanfeliú of FUSADES expand on the idea that women’s empowerment leads to enhanced economic growth by documenting their institutional commitment to placing women in decision-making positions and how this has encouraged FUSADES to delve into policy areas that were previously ignored, such as gendered violence on public transportation in El Salvador.

2. Leave no one behind = participation from all

“Leave no one behind” is a framework for achieving the SDGs, and the blogs elaborate on two crucial ideas behind this phrase: access and inclusivity.

Recognising that women from rural and remote areas face greater challenges to accessing essential health services, Job Eronmhonsele reflects on CPED’s study that investigates challenges and solutions to ensuring that women from rural areas not only have access to, but also seek out and use maternal, newborn and child health services.

Not only is it crucial to ensure equitable access to basic rights and services, inclusive participation (from the most marginalised to the most entitled) is necessary to address gender inequity and dated gender roles. Lissette and Margarita from FUSADES as well as Maria from Grupo Sofia stress the need to not make gender equality the responsibility of the individual, and more specifically just a 'women’s issue', but to understand it as a process of articulating and changing gender inequalities that both men and women often take for granted. Lissette and Margarita write that it is about taking time to convince our male colleagues that it is not an issue of 'up with women -  down with men.’

3. From research to action

Finally, the authors from the blog series have been able to draw from their research and personal experiences to initiate changes at the individual and institutional level.

For Grupo Sofia, this was creating a toolkit for individuals and organizations that facilitates thinking on gender and a directory of female social science experts to increase the visibility of women in the media and at academic events.

For FUSADES, this was consciously instituting changes from the inside out, from incorporating more women in their Board of Directors, to creating the Institute for Salvadoran Women to promote women’s economic empowerment.  

For CPED, this was reaching out to women in hard-to-reach areas and understanding their needs and demands when it comes to accessing maternal, newborn and child health services and institutionalizing community health insurance schemes that prioritize inclusive health services.

For CSTEP, this was including gender considerations and protocols across all the stages of research, particularly when it comes to data collection, analysis and dissemination.

Moving Forward

Many of the think tanks TTI supports have been working for years to improve gender equality in their countries and internationally. However, achieving gender equality is a slow change process. Perhaps because of this, I feel that it is even more important to highlight the small victories and the challenging, but ultimately rewarding process of reflecting, unpacking and sharing experiences of gender inequality in our lives, in order to not lose perspective of our progress.

As Naila Kabeer writes in reflection of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and gender equality, “we need to pay more attention to the substance of the changes we want to see, not just their form, to the quality of the solutions we achieve, not just their quantity, and we need to pay more attention to the process by which we achieve our goals, to questions of participation, inclusion and accountability, because this is how we can achieve substance, quality and structural transformation.”

Drawing from the lessons of the MDGs, and in line with the proposed participatory nature of the SDGs, I believe that this is an opportunity for think tanks to define for themselves what gender equality means in their communities and to come together globally to learn from each other about how to transform the gender inequalities entrenched within structures and mindsets.