World Survey on the Role of Women in Development 2014: Gender equality and sustainable development

UN Women


This World Survey focuses on gender equality and sustainable development, with highlights on the green economy and care work, food security, population dynamics, and investments for gender-responsive sustainable development. The report uses three criteria to assess whether policy actions and investments for sustainable development adequately address gender equality. Do they support women’s capabilities and their enjoyment of rights? Do they reduce, rather than increase, women’s unpaid care work? And do they embrace women’s equal and meaningful participation as actors, leaders and decision-makers?

Key findings:

  • Current trends in relation to growth, employment, food, population, water and sanitation, and energy provide examples of how unsustainable development and gender inequality reinforce each other. Economic growth trajectories continue to perpetuate gender inequalities, confining women to low-paid jobs and relying on women’s unpaid care work, while at the same time exploiting natural resources and damaging ecosystems and biodiversity. The focus of food policy on aggregate production has not only neglected pressing challenges posed by climate change, but also issues of access to and the right to food for all, along with the complex gendered dynamics of local and global food markets, intra-household allocation of food and production systems that drive hunger and malnutrition.
  • Narrowly focused population policies may prescribe coercive measures to achieve fertility reduction that can have significant implications for women’s enjoyment of human rights. Further, the dominant population paradigm shifts attention away from patterns of consumption and production, which play a more significant role than population in environmental degradation.The lack of universal access to water, sanitation and energy that are environmentally sustainable and of good quality bears significant consequences for women’s and girls’ human rights and capabilities.
  • Power imbalances in gender relations, in the exercise of rights, access to and control of resources, and participation in decision-making, persist as a significant obstacle to women’s full and equal contribution to and opportunity to benefit from sustainable development.
  • Looking forward to the post-2015 development agenda, efforts to achieve gender equality and sustainable development should be grounded in human rights and underpinned by principles of equality and justice for present and future generations. As such, sustainable development is economic, social and environmental development that ensures human well-being and dignity, ecological integrity, gender equality and social justice, now and in the future.
  • All sustainable development policies and frameworks, at the global, regional, national and local levels, must include an explicit commitment to gender equality and the realization of women’s and girls’ human rights and capabilities. This requires redressing gender inequality, discrimination and disadvantage and addressing their intersection with other inequalities. Women’s collective action and full and equal participation in all aspects of decision-making related to policy development and monitoring must be supported and are central for achieving results.

Recommendations for states, international organizations, human rights mechanisms, the private sector, NGOs, trade unions and other stakeholders include:

On sustainable development and gender equality overall:

  • Develop and implement policies on the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development in line with international norms and standards on gender equality, non-discrimination and human rights;
  • Promote transitions to sustainable low-carbon, climate-resilient consumption and production patterns while ensuring gender equality;
  • Ensure women’s right to an adequate standard of living, through increasing access to decent work and providing gender-responsive, universally accessible and high quality services, social protection measures and infrastructure, including education, health, water and sanitation, and energy.

Green economy, gender equality and care:

  • Ensure that macroeconomic policies are geared towards creating decent work and sustainable livelihoods and reducing inequalities based on gender, age, income, geographical location and other context-specific characteristics;
  • Prioritize the development of gender-responsive policies aimed at generating decent work, with a focus on labour market segregation, gender wage gaps and the unequal distribution of unpaid care work within households, and between households and the state;
  • Invest in women’s skills development and education to increase their access to green jobs, including targeted measures to increased women’s education, employment and leadership in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Food security:

  • Develop and advance global standards and norms to support food security and women and men smallholder farmers in areas such as equitable trade rules, regulation of commodity markets and large-scale land investments, including for biofuels;
  • Design and implement comprehensive gender-responsive and human rights-based policies that ensure equitable and sustainable access to adequate, safe, affordable and nutritious food for all, addressing the specific constraints individuals and households face in acquiring food through own production, wage exchange and social transfers.


UN Women (2014). World Survey on the Role of Women in Development 2014: Gender equality and sustainable development. New York: UN Women.