Gender Equality Can't Be Limited to Just One Sustainable Development Goal

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an outline for NGOs, governments, and other entities around the world to tackle poverty and human rights over the next 15 years. There are a lot of objectives—169 targets grouped into 17 overall goals—which some have argued will result in an unfocused effort with so many "priorities" that there will be no real priorities at all. (The Goals' predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, consisted of just 21 targets lumped into eight overall goals, for comparison.)

Gender Equality is the focus of Goal 5, and it includes nine targets ranging from eliminating gender-based violence to enhancing the use of enabling technology. To really make progress on this issue, however, every development initiative should be framed with a lens that keeps gender parity in mind.

Take for example Goal 8, which aims to "promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all." Many women are excluded from economic opportunities in developing countries, so failing to pay unique attention to their inclusion would likely maintain the unequal status quo, even as a country advances in other aspects of development.

From 2011 to 2014, Planet Aid supported a Microfinance project in India that tackled the unbalanced market system in this low-income countries. The World Economic Forum ranks India as having the 134th greatest gender disparity out of 142 countries when it comes to economic participation and opportunity. Women lose opportunities because they are commonly expected to remove themselves from the formal workforce after giving birth, while those who choose to work are subject to hostile work environments. With only 37 percent of women having access to a bank account, being able to pursue entrepreneurial dreams, or even just save enough to send children to school, is often unrealistic.

The Microfinance project supported by Planet Aid initially focused on the Alwar District of Rahasthan, about 100 miles from the capital, New Delhi. Its aim was to disperse loans to poor women and their families and train them in best borrowing practices. The project subsequently expanded to nine districts in three states and more than 120,000 women have received loans.

There are approximately 48,000 current members of the Microfinance project split up in Joint Liability Groups spread over 1,164 villages. Beneficiaries include women working as street vendors, artisans, seamstresses, and small shop owners. The loans are disbursed to support income-generating activities. The majority of these women (87 percent) use the funds to develop animal husbandry efforts, while about 13 percent of women will use them to support their small business. All women who receive a loan are also given insurance in case of an income-crippling life event.

The loans have had a significant impact on the economic well-being of participants, increasing the average monthly household income from $22 to $30. There have been additional benefits as well, notably a reduction of domestic violence due to peer pressure created among the community and member families.

The multi-targeted nature of the Microfinance project is a model for achieving gender equality in the context of the SDGs. By infusing development initiatives that fall outside of the gender-based Goal 5 with gender-focused ideas, we can make sure that no women or girls are left out of the progress we make.