Copyright: Robin Hammond / Panos Uncategorized

Sustainable development is “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[1]

I have been writing and talking a lot (on my YouTube channel) about the importance of including women’s needs in every aspect of global development because gender disparity is among the most pervasive forms of inequality in the world[2]. Without serious steps to tackle this issue, sustainable development cannot be achieved.

Women’s Empowerment

Women’s empowerment is a process that addresses the disadvantages apparent in the different spheres of economic, socio-cultural and political life facing women in all societies. Empowerment in this context means women gain more power and control over their own lives. They determine their own choices and have access to opportunities and resources that provide them with a range of options they can pursue.

The general understanding is that women need to be “empowered” in order to narrow the gender differences (gender gap) and create an equal playing field between women and men before gender equality can be achieved and maintained.

Sustainable Development

While aiming to maximize the well-being of today’s generation, it is equally important to consider the long-term perspective, taking into account the consequences of our actions on future generations and ensuring that the resources they will require for their own well-being are not depleted or destroyed.

Sustainable development is based on three interdependent pillars: economic development, social development and environmental protection. These categorizations can lead to addressing these areas in isolation without accounting for a whole range of channels through which these pillars reinforce each other and bring about sustainable development. In this spirit, it is important to acknowledge that women’s empowerment and gender equality is not a question of social development alone, but is a cross-cutting issue through economic and socio-cultural development and environmental protection.

Gender Dimensions of Sustainable Development

In general, women – who predominate among the world’s poor – are at greater risk from environmental challenges as they often lack the necessary means to successfully adapt and protect themselves.

Gender dimensions of sustainable development can be characterized by the allocation of resources between women and men, and by how these resources are spread over time and generations. Sustainable development requires a perspective that accounts for what both women and men need. At the same time, it calls for a more equitable distribution of resources among those living where resources are unequally distributed.

We cannot underestimate the importance of gender-sensitive approaches, which can challenge gender stereotypes and promote more equitable relations between women and men. That it especially the case for sustainable development. This can happen by creating an enabling environment that encompasses action at all levels: relevant policy measures at municipal, state and federal levels, as well as initiatives and support by the private sector, civil society, family and friends.


Note: Title from the Discussion Paper Series “Empowering Women in Sustainable Development”, United Nations Economic Commission For Europe, Geneva, Switzerland

[1] Sustainable development as defined in the World Commission on Environment and Development’s report “Our Common Future” (1987).

[2] UNDP (2005), Human Development Report, p. 61.

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