Focus on Gender: Rooting SDG commitments in reality

Women on Tablet_Flickr_GPE_Deepa Srikantaiah
Copyright: Flickr/GPE/Deepa Srikantaiah

Speed read

  • A draft of the SDGs has been criticised for a lack of detail on implementation
  • Empowering women needs to be measureable to be a real target
  • Many ICT projects successfully empower women, with measureable results

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A UN working group has recently released a ‘zero’ draft proposing 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and related targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals, which expire next year. Some experts have criticised the draft because it lacks detail on how the goals might be delivered.

But the draft does contain some concrete points about how to empower women. Aside from the specific goal of attaining gender equality and empowering women and girls everywhere, there is another goal that refers to strengthened and enhanced means of implementation for all SDGs.

Under this heading, the draft proposes achieving universal access to ICT for both sexes by 2030, including as a means to empower women. [1] This is a practical and measurable delivery mechanism — more of which should follow in future drafts.

“There is evidence that young girls who have become pregnant and dropped out of school can benefit from mobile learning”

Henrietta Miers

International commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment are notoriously difficult to implement and measure (how do you measure ‘empowerment’?) and their effectiveness will slip away if they are not accompanied by mechanisms for delivering measureable results. One of the Millennium Development Goals, to promote gender equality and empower women, aimed to eliminate gender disparity in all levels of education by 2015. To date it has only been achieved in two countries, perhaps because of the lack of tangible suggestions for reaching it. [2]

Ultimately it is up to individual aid agencies to determine how they work towards the goals. But there are plenty of examples of projects that use ICT to empower women that they can learn from.

For instance, last year I wrote about an application — Mobile4Good, pioneered by the NGO OneWorld — that gives young people in Nigeria the opportunity to seek information confidentially about sexual health. And there is evidence that young girls who have become pregnant and dropped out of school can benefit from mobile learning. [3]

It will be much easier to measure the impact of projects such as these, rather than the notion of ‘empowerment’.

The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, held in London last week (10-13 June), also attempted to find innovative tech ideas to help women and girls. One of the fringe events was a ‘hackathon’, which involved teams of experts from different disciplines collaborating to generate new ideas to help survivors of sexual violence and improve communication amongst NGOs and activists. [4]  

Critics of the zero draft for SDGs have called for a clearer roadmap for implementation. This roadmap should include more suggestions — like the draft’s ICT proposal — that focus on practical solutions, bring immediate results, and root the draft’s ambitious commitments to gender equality and women's empowerment in reality.

Henrietta Miers has worked across Africa and Asia as a gender and social development consultant for 20 years, specialising in gender policy. She is senior associate of WISE Development, a consulting company that focuses on boosting economic opportunities for poor women.


[1] UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform Zero Draft (UN, 2014)
[2] UN Entity for Gender Equality and the empowerment of women The gender dimension of the Millennium Development Goals Report 2013 (UN, 2013)
[3] Ronda Zelezny-Green Bringing education to young mothers through mobiles (The Guardian, 11 October 2013)
[4] We Got Coders team win People’s Choice award at #endsvchack (We Got Coders blog, accessed 18 June 2014)