5. Gender Equality

How business leadership can advance Goal 5 on Gender Equality

Gender equality is a fundamental and inviolable human right. Yet women around the world continue to face significant economic, social, and legal barriers to equality. Women are more likely than men to be unemployed, are overrepresented in low wage jobs, hold fewer managerial, entrepreneurial and leadership positions, and on average, only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. In 18 countries, men can legally prevent their wives from working. Women continue to bear disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work and often experience maternity-related discrimination. Women entrepreneurs also face particular challenges to building and growing their businesses including lack of access to financing and business networks. In fact, less than 1 percent of spending by large businesses on suppliers is earned by women-owned businesses. 

While progress has been made in terms of education and health, significant gaps remain. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programmes and fields continue to be dominated by men, women around the world continue to lack access to reproductive and maternal health care, and worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.

The private sector has an important role to play in advancing gender equality. All businesses have a fundamental responsibility to respect the rights of women and girls, as per the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Leading companies recognize that their greatest contribution to Goal 5 is ensuring that they meet this responsibility and will prioritize the management of potential human rights risks accordingly. Leading companies will also seek to maximize their positive impact towards gender equality across all levels and functions of their business, throughout their supply-chain and within the communities where they operate, rather than only identifying the easiest point of entry. The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) provide a holistic framework for business action to advance gender equality and can provide further guidance to businesses looking to contribute to the achievement of Goal 5. This SDG Brief draws from the WEPs to provide additional inspiration on what comprises business leadership in support of Goal 5.

By ensuring respect for women and girls and supporting gender equality, businesses can unlock vast amounts of economic potential. Research demonstrates that gender diversity helps business perform better. Fifty percent of the population has been unable to realise its true potential due to gender-based discrimination. If this were to be corrected, businesses would find themselves with more productive labour, higher levels of innovation and, a more stable, inclusive and equitable climate.

Gender equality is both an objective and driver of sustainable development. Women’s empowerment has a multiplier effect and is essential to building strong economies; establishing more stable and just societies; and improving the quality of life for families and communities. Action to support gender equality can contribute positively to a host of other Goals. Estimates suggest that advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth. It can also reduce poverty by bringing work opportunities to women and ensuring equal access to economic resources; improve health and educational outcomes since initiatives to foster gender equality will focus on maternal health and reduce the educational gap between men and women, and directly contribute to the overarching goal of reduced inequalities, which in turn will create the foundations for more peaceful and inclusive societies.

Do your actions satisfy the Leadership Qualities?

Guiding Questions to apply to the Leadership Qualities to your business






  • Is your company committed to supporting the achievement of Goal 5? Have you developed a holistic strategy that reflects this commitment, covering end-to-end operation and the wider community?
  • Are you committed to learn from your actions and do you have processes in place to improve them accordingly?
  • Is your strategy supported by the highest levels of management, including the Board of Directors?

Key Considerations

Top-level commitment helps position gender equality as a strategic business priority. Establishing a holistic strategy that manages risks and opportunities across the workplace, marketplace and community is crucial. Intentionally addressing unconscious bias is particularly important to ensuring that gender equality policies and practices have their intended impact.

  • Do your actions achieve long-term outcomes that greatly exceed those resulting from current industry practice?
  • Are your actions aligned with what is needed to achieve Goal 5?

Key Considerations

Ambitious action on gender equality is holistic and goes well beyond normal good practice. Leading companies will identify cutting-edge approaches based on industry and/or regional best practice, establish robust policies and practices, and set clear targets to track progress and ensure continuous improvement.

  • Is support for Goal 5 embedded across all organizational functions?
  • Are staff and board incentives aligned with achieving Goal 5?

Key Considerations

Rather than looking for the easiest point of entry, leading companies will identify how they can maximize their positive impact toward the achievement of Goal 5. Leading companies will ensure that their gender equality strategy is embedded across all organizational functions. Importantly, leading companies know that action taken to support women’s empowerment is a complement to, not a substitute for, action to respect the rights of women and girls.

  • Do you proactively look for opportunities to partner with Governments, UN agencies, suppliers, civil society organizations, industry peers and other stakeholders to inform how to advance Goal 5?

Key Considerations

Leading companies understand the importance and benefits of meaningful multi-stakeholder consultation to inform policies and practices. Stakeholders may include those affected by the company’s operations as well as external experts. Leading companies also recognize that achieving gender equality cannot be achieved by one sector alone and proactively look for opportunities to partner and collaborate to achieve common objectives.

  • Do you publicly express your commitment to advance Goal 5?
  • Do you identify, monitor, and report on impacts, including potentially adverse impacts?
  • Do you mitigate risks associated with your action?
  • Do you remediate negative impacts associated with this action?
  • Do you engage stakeholders in a meaningful way?

Key Considerations

Making commitments public, and progress transparent is key to drive gender equality performance. The use of sex-disaggregated data is critical to making and measuring progress and accountability for specific goals and targets related to gender equality. When it comes to addressing adverse impacts, having in place effective grievance mechanisms is particularly important.

Business Actions


Prevent gender-based discrimination


Support women's employment


Develop products that empower women


Promote gender equality

How taking action on Goal 5 is interconnected with other Goals

The Global Goals are inherently interconnected. Action taken toward one Goal can support or hinder the achievement of others. Identifying and addressing these interconnections will help business to build holistic and systemic solutions that amplify progress and minimize negative impacts. To help build a greater understanding, we have illustrated some of the ways in which the Goals connect. These are not exhaustive, and we encourage business to consider how they apply in their own operations.

Maximise likelihood of positive impact on:

Maximise likelihood of positive impact on: Action to support gender equality can contribute positively to a host of other Goals and is a precondition for advancing development and reducing poverty. With women and girls making up more than half the global population, improving health and educational outcomes (Goals 3 and 4), reducing poverty (Goal 1), and tackling inequality (Goal 10) requires specific consideration of the particular needs of women and girls and the barriers they face. At the same time, women’s empowerment is proven to have a multiplier effect, contributing to the health and well-being of whole families and communities, as well as economic growth (Goal 8) and peaceful societies (Goal 16).

Goal 5 Targets

Targets of Goal 5

  1. End gender based discrimination
  2. Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation
  3. Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation
  4. Recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work
  5. Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership
  6. Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights
  7. A. Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources
  8. B. Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women
  9. C. Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels