2015 saw Gender equality being recognized and affirmed as a precondition for the realization of sustainable development, while also being defined as a key Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) – Goal 5. The goal is a promise to “achieve (not just promote) gender equality and empower all women and girls.”
This promise foresees a world where everyone has an equal chance, where everyone can access decent jobs and equal pay, where caring for the family and home is shared equitably, where there is equal gender representation in political, economic and social leadership, and where violence against women and girls is no longer a daily threat.
However, the promise is threatened by widespread gender inequalities and discriminatory attitudes which are entrenched in our societies and its norms. These include, but are not limited to, women lacking access to decent work, not being allowed in certain occupations due to their gender and facing gender wage gaps. Moreover, they suffer violence and discrimination; and are often denied access to basic education and health care. There are limitations on women’s political and economic decision-making process; even if they are able to participate, they are routinely under-represented.
Following are some facts that illustrate that gender discrimination and gender-based violence is prevalent across our societies:
- Globally, women and men participate in labour markets on an unequal basis. In 2013, the male employment-to-population ratio was at 72.2 per cent, while for females it stood at 47.1 per cent; 
- Worldwide women earn on average almost a quarter less than men; 
- Out of 143 countries examined by IMF, almost 90 per cent have at-least one gender based restriction on women’s economic participation, with 28 countries having 10 or more restrictions on women’s participation; 
- As of December 2016, women, on average, comprised approximately 23% of all national parliamentarians around the world; 
- As of June 2016, there were 38 states around the world in which women accounted for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, including 4 chambers with no women at all; 
- Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children (below 18 years of age). In the current decade itself, 14.2 million girls under 18 will be married every year i.e. 39,000 girls being forced into marriage each day; 
- In 30 countries, there are at least 200 million women and girls alive today who have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting. Moreover, in most of these countries, it happened before the girls reached the age of 5; and
- It is estimated that globally a third of women report having experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. 
Without gender equality and women’s empowerment it is impossible to establish fair political systems, alleviate extreme poverty or ensure comprehensive responses and recovery from war, conflict and disasters.
In essence it will be impossible for the world to achieve sustainability without equality for women and girls in every sphere of society.
THE FUNDING GAP
There can be no gender equality without investment, and this was also recognized in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, during which member states_
“reiterate the need for gender mainstreaming, including through targeted actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of all financial, economic, environmental and social policies.” 
However, there has been chronic underinvestment in women empowerment and gender equality. The extent of the gap in funding can be understood from the following:
- According to OCED’s DAC Gender Equality Policy Marker, in 2013-14, just 2 per cent of total bilateral aid from OCED countries targeted women’s economic empowerment as the primary objective. When looked at combined primary and secondary objective, this figure rises to 24%; implying that 76% of the aid is not responsive to women’s specific constraints; 
- In some countries, the National Action Plans on gender equality have shown financing gaps as high as 90 per cent.  Similarly, in a survey across 13 countries, conducted in 2013, it was noted that ministries or agencies working on women’s empowerment were allocated less than 0.4 per cent of the total budget; and 
- In a 2011 study conducted by The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), majority of the women’s organizations sampled had never received multiyear funding. Moreover, they had low assets, savings, and safety nets; with half of the organizations not having any assets and only 28 per cent having received core funding. 
Bridging this gap would be a game-changer for women in the context of Planet 50:50 by 2030.
WHY SHOULD THE PRIVATE SECTOR INVEST IN WOMEN AND GIRLS?
There is growing evidence that improvement in employment opportunities for women can contribute to reduced staff turnover, increase in reputational gains, profitability and productivity for the private sector. However, investing in gender equality does not only have economic benefits, it is vital to sustainable development as empowered women and a gender-equal society will result in a wide spectrum of benefits, including economic, social, cultural, and political. Some of these benefits are:
- When women participate in economic activity, own and control productive assets it leads to development by helping to overcome poverty, reducing inequality and improving children’s nutrition, health, and school attendance.  For example, if women and men have the same access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets, the consequent 20-30% increase in agricultural production on women’s farms could lead to 100-150 million less hungry people.  Moreover, women tend to invest a higher proportion of their earnings in their families and communities as compared to men – in the developing world, for every $1 given to a woman, 90% will go to her family, whereas for men the figure is 40%.   However, in order to do so, they need access to all of the credit, banking and financial services and other requirements which are necessary to more fully develop their assets, land and businesses.
- Investing in girls’ education has a multiplier effect on several aspects of development. It leads to a decrease in fertility rates, lowering of infant, child and maternal mortality rates, increased labour force participation and earnings, and further investment in education of children. For example – investing in advancing girls’ education would lead to lifetime earnings of today’s girls reaching up to 68% of annual GDP.  Moreover, increased educational attainment accounts for about 50 per cent of the economic growth in OECD countries over the past 50 years, of which over half is due to improvements in girls’ education.
- From 1995 to June 2016, the percentage of women parliamentarians at the national level has increased from 11.3 percent to 22.8 percent.  According to research, inequality is lower in countries which have more women engaged in public life. This is due to the fact that women leaders advocate and prioritize investments on issues which have broader societal implications such as family life, health and education.  Moreover, women leaders are also at the forefront of championing issues related to gender equality such as elimination of gender-based violence, parental leave and childcare, pensions, gender-equality laws and electoral reform. 
- According to a World Health Organization report, for every $1 spent in 74 high-burden countries the society will gain almost $9 in the form of economic and social benefits due to lower morbidity and mortality by 2035; and in a generation we could avoid 147 million child deaths, 32 million stillbirths, and 5 million maternal deaths.  Moreover, additional investments in family planning could lead to an estimated 53% reduction in child deaths and 47% reduction in maternal deaths due to fewer births; apart from significant social and economic returns. 
- The International Monetary Fund has shown that
“there is ample evidence that when women are able to develop their full labor market potential, there can be significant macroeconomic gains”. 
Some of these gains have been quantified in the Progress of the Worlds’ Women report 2015, according to which if female employment were to match male employment, GDP could increase everywhere, for example, by 27 per cent in the Middle East and North Africa and by 19 per cent in South Asia. Further, if women could increase their income globally by up to 76 per cent if the employment participation gap and the wage gap between women and men were closed. This is calculated to have a global value of USD 17 trillion.
With the world and world leaders’ attention riveted on Gender Equality, the private sector has a prime opportunity to position itself at the center of the women empowerment and gender equality agenda.
 STEP IT UP FOR GENDER EQUALITY: How business and philanthropic leaders can be game changers for women (UN Women, 2015)
 Global Gender Gap Report 2013
 OECD. “Women, Government and Policy Making in OECD Countries – Fostering Diversity for Inclusive Growth”, 2014.