Understanding social equity and sustainability interactions in the SDGs

Gender differences in food security.

The world has made tremendous progress in food production in the last few decades, lifting people out of poverty and greatly reducing hunger and malnutrition. However, women and girls are still more likely than males to go hungry or eat poorly.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an opportunity to address these inequities, specifically through SDG 5 – “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” – and SDG 2 – “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”.

This SEI discussion brief aims to lay a foundation for research on how to bridge those two goals by identifying key interactions between them, including potential synergies and trade-offs. The analysis also identifies knowledge gaps and questions to prioritize in future research.

The SDG document, or ‘Agenda 2030‘, pledges to leave no one behind and “seek to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. To achieve these commitments it will be crucial to integrate the pursuit of the stand-alone SDG 5 on gender with actions to achieve the other SDGs. Integration is not the norm in policy-making, however.

Indeed, decisions are often taken without consideration of how different policy realms interact, resulting in incoherence. Agenda 2030 provides a new framework for cooperation, bringing the multiple policy dimensions into sharper focus, and calling for a closer look at interactions across different areas of policy. The goal is to ensure that efforts to advance the different SDGs work in tandem, supporting one another instead of leaving gaps or even creating conflicts.

The discussion brief helps to unpack some of the main interactions, synergies and conflicts between the goals of gender equality and agricultural sustainability, but much more remains to be explored to better understand the issues. Further research should examine, test and explore in greater detail several important, additional questions, such as:

  • Can sharing of unpaid/domestic work (such as caring) by both women and men also lead to both goals of enhancing women’s empowerment and creating food- secure households?
  • What can we learn about the role of men in ensuring women’s empowerment, gender equality, and food security?
  • Can policies to alleviate poverty eliminate household food insecurity, while also dealing with the need to empower women, and to face the changes in women’s lives as the result of increasing globalization?

The analysis suggests two main targets for intervention: 1) social/cultural norms that give strong priority to males in some societies, and 2) economic and legal structures that discriminate against women. Governance tools are needed to promote the synergies and reduce tensions and trade-offs among the various goals and targets of SDG 2 and SDG 5. Monitoring data and monitoring systems are equally important. Further key questions are:

  • What monitoring tools could be employed by public bodies at national levels, and by civil society organizations at local levels, to enhance synergies and reduce conicts?
  • What principles should be used for constructing suitable new indicators derived from challenges identified in SDG 2 and SDG 5?

Download the full text here: Gender & Social Equity Programme

Further resources:




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