While astounding progress has been made on critical global development issues such as poverty, health, and educational attainment, the fact is that rights and equalities – including gender equality – have actually declined in recent years, even in rich, democratic countries. Without a renewed focus on rights and equalities, any measured improvement towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will mask significant inequities in the distribution of the benefits of global economic and social development.
Can sustainable development continue at the same rapid pace of recent years if inequality is increasing? Can global prosperity really advance when half of the world’s population is not able to fully realize equal rights and experience equal opportunities to participate? And is progress really progress if it doesn’t apply to everyone? The embedded focus on women across the SDGs suggests universal agreement that the answer is “no” – and the mechanism that governments, businesses, and the development sector is relying on to resolve the issue is “women’s empowerment”.
This paper builds on work published in 2018 to apply learnings from research and evaluation in the women’s empowerment field, updating how Ipsos conceptualizes and measures women’s empowerment, and emphasizing the cultural and structural norms that must be challenged to achieve it.