UN SDGs - Goal 5

Sustainable Investment
July 27 2018 - ,

Goal 5 - Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. While progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment has been made, women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence globally. Gender equality is a fundamental human right, and a foundation for peace, prosperity and sustainability. Equal access to education, health care, decent work, and participation in political and economic decision-making fuels sustainable economies and benefits humanity at large.

What is Goal 5?

Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals is focused on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. The targets for this goal are wide ranging, for example, committing to ending all discrimination against women and girls (5.1); eliminating violence against women and girls, e.g. sexual violence and FGM (5.2); ensuring full participation in social life and equal opportunities for leadership (5.5.); and ensuring equal access to sexual and reproductive rights (5.6). This is a significant expansion on the previous Millennium Development Goals, which had only one gender equality target - to achieve gender parity in education.

The suggested means of implementation, (letter targets), include promoting equal access to economic resources (5.a), enabling technology (5.b), and adopting sound policies and legislation (5.c).

Why is Goal 5 important?

The significance of Goal 5 for promoting a sustainable future is clear. Besides being a fundamental human right, gender equality is integral to achieving many of the other SDGs, particularly no poverty (Goal 1), good health and wellbeing (Goal 3) and quality education (Goal 4). Access to family planning, for example, can reduce maternal and infant mortality, as well as increasing women's participation in education and the workforce. Increased participation in meaningful work can lift women out of poverty, improving their health and wellbeing and that of their family. Research by McKinsey Global Institute has found that high gender-parity scores strongly correspond with high levels of overall development. There is also a clear business case for women's empowerment. Individual businesses benefit from the skills and insights that women can bring, and, in a climate of increasing accountability, are required to demonstrate the efforts that they are making to promote gender equality within their organisations. Various studies have shown that organisations which hire and promote more women generate higher revenues and total returns to shareholders than those who do not.

How can companies contribute to Goal 5?

Almost any company can make a contribution to Goal 5, simply by promoting gender equality within their own organisations. Ethical Screening has developed several indicators to assess companies' progress in this regard; for example, the presence of a gender equality policy, targets and programmes to increase women's representation, and the presence of a gender pay gap report with targets to redress imbalances. Companies are then awarded a minor or major contribution to the Goal according to how many of these KPIs they meet.

Our analysis of the UK Gender Pay Gap reporting noted that companies making a major contribution tended to:

  • make strong policy commitments to ensuring gender equality for employees;
  • offer shared parental leave;
  • have clear quantitative targets to redress gender imbalances, and strategies in place to achieve these;
  • join initiatives to promote gender equality in their respective fields e.g. Women in STEM.

Such initiatives have particular relevance to Target 5.1: End all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere, and Target 5.5: Ensure women's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership.

Some companies have looked beyond their own workplaces to promote gender equality more widely. Unilever has committed to promoting equality not only within its own operations, but also across its value chain. So far, around 1.2 million women have accessed skills-development initiatives via Unilever, and it aims to reach 5 million by 2020. It has also committed to 'un-stereotyping' its advertising, recognising how harmful gender stereotypes can inhibit women's progress. Similarly, Coca Cola's '5by20' programme plans to promote the economic empowerment of 5 million women by 2020. It has already reached over 1.75 million women across 64 countries with training courses, financial services and peer-connection networks, working in partnership with UN Woman, the International Finance Corporation and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Companies providing pharmaceuticals or medical care can play a distinct role in supporting Goal 5. According to the UN, at least 1 in 10 married or in-union women across the world have an unmet need for family planning services. In some countries, less than half of married or in-union women have access to modern methods of contraception. Accordingly, initiatives to support affordable contraception access can make an important contribution to Target 5.6: Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, as well as Target 3.7: ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare. American firm Pfizer has teamed with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Children's Investment Fund Foundation to broaden access to injectable contraceptives in developing countries. German pharmaceutical company Bayer has teamed up with the United States Agency for International Development to provide Microgynon® Fe to middle income consumers in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Achieving gender equality is a key part of securing a sustainable future. It is also good for business and is becoming a fundamental aspect of good Corporate Social Responsibility. As such, our work on the SDGs will include detailed analysis of Goal 5, with particular attention on how companies promote equality within their own operations.

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