Why Empowering Women Is Essential For Sustainable Development and Health

Why Empowering Women Is Essential For Sustainable Development and Health

In the last few decades, female education rates have improved globally but economical, social and reproductive inequality is still stifling women and girls across the world. This doesn’t just impact women, it’s a global problem. This is also particularly an issue for indigenous women, women of colour and trans women, which requires the most attention and action.

‘While the world has achieved progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment…women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world. Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.’ United Nations, Goal 5, 2015

Women’s empowerment and equality is of such importance for global sustainable development and health, that both the United Nation’s global Millennium Development Goals (2000-15) and Sustainable Development Goals (2015-30) have targets for women’s equality and health. Sustainable development involves development, without compromising natural resources and ecosystems.

Traditional women in North Vietnam. Photo: Ives Ives.

Empowerment is a process through education, training and political and social commitment; providing equal opportunities and decision-making. This means equality in social, economic, relationships, work, education, reproduction, and removing stereotypes and gender violence. It’s a big task that must be employed by all policies and organisations.

Community Health

Did you know that women contribute $3 trillion to global healthcare through formal roles (doctors, midwives etc) and informal roles (unpaid carers, volunteer health worker etc)? Healthcare is a highly gendered profession, with up to 70% of community health workers female. Empowering women in these roles and in the community is essential for everyone’s health, particularly in under-resourced settings and developing countries. This involves influencing domestic roles such as empowering men to care more for children and encouraging women to enter the workforce through policies and programs. This also requires more women in health management positions and encourages men to take up more traditional roles.

Related Post: Women in STEM: Barriers Females Face and How to Encourage More Girls to Pursue STEM Careers

A doctor in Angola. Photo: Francisco Venancio.


It is essential in both politics and workplaces that there are equal opportunities for different genders. This is important for role models for the community, but it’s also important in decision-making and better problem-solving. Women in politics is suggested to lead to policies that support gender equality. Researchers have also shown that diversity in leadership leads to better problem-solving (this includes different genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities and race). Furthermore, research has shown that women in leadership are perceived as more honest, ethical, fair and better at guiding young employees; men are perceived as more effective at risks and negotiations (apparently).

Women hold just 4% of the leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies The Rockefeller Foundation

The Economy

Increased agency and participation in contributing to the economy and in economic-decisions (such as in marriage), dramatically increases the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country. This is not just directly, the economy increases through increased productivity and other positive development. For example, if OECD countries increase female employment rates to Swedish levels, it could boost its GDP by over US$6 trillion. Getting more women into work is not just about increasing opportunities, it also requires more policies (such as men accessing parental leave so women can go back to work), and reducing discrimination in the workplace.


Climate Leaders

Climate change impacts genders differently, which means that women need to be represented in senior leadership to address specific issues. Women have a track record of being exceptional climate leaders. Women are also underrepresented in climate science, with less than 20% of women in physics and geosciences. The UN recognises that to address climate change, women need to be involved in climate organisations and policies such as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Related Post: Green with Rage: Women Climate Change Leaders Face Online Attacks

Another aspect of climate change in which women are essential are within communities and at home, especially in developing countries. In Indonesia for example, women in rural villages are in charge of waste management amongst their communities and households.

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Feature image by Steve Rybka.

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