Gender’s Role in the Global Goals

Lina AbiRafeh
4 min readMar 22, 2022

Do we even have Global Goals?

Yes, we do!

In 2015, the United Nations adopted a collection of 17 goals to help us build a better world. These goals are supposed to be a blueprint for peace and prosperity, for people and planet, making connections between peace, equality, health, education, the economy, the climate, and all the other big issues we tackle.

We were given 15 years to achieve these goals, meaning we’ve got 7 years left. Where are we now? How are we doing? And will we meet our goals?!

These goals came after the Millennium Development Goals expired in 2015. The world had to come up with a second set of goals when we failed to meet the first ones. OK, there was some progress — but it wasn’t enough. And this time we’ve got a new set. This time will be different… right?!

The reality is that no country has achieved any of these goals, nor are we on track to achieve them by 2030. In fact, at the current pace we won’t hit the targets until 2073.

Progress is uneven at best, and unless we can guarantee rights and safety, we’ll fail again.

The fifth goal in this new batch is focused on women’s rights and gender equality. So that’s where I sit. And that’s how I ended up getting involved with Equal Measures 2030, a global partnership of public and private groups committed to creating and sharing useful data on women and girls to drive change forward faster.

Fast-tracking social change is just the stuff I love. Why? Because you’ve heard me say a bazillion times that at the current pace it will take a bazillion years (or, 136 years, precisely) to close the gender gap. And that’s just TOO.DAMN.SLOW.

Why should you care?

I’ve made the case plenty about why we all should care about women’s rights and gender equality. How are we going to achieve this as long as women’s leadership, participation and voice continue to be obstructed?! Meanwhile, in every country, women are continuously having to defend all three.

We live in a world where gender stereotypes, patriarchal attitudes, discriminatory legal systems, and economic inequality are interconnected. This toxic cocktail compounds women’s vulnerability to violence. Add in conflict or insecurity and bam! It’s no surprise that the countries that rank lowest on all global indices are also plagued by conflict. Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria are but a few.

And COVID, that’s an emergency too. It means that women and girls will be left even further behind. Thanks to COVID, the gender gap has increased. We need an additional 36 years to close it — that’s a whole additional generation of women and girls who have to “wait” for equality.

Even limited progress is constantly challenged, and incremental gains continue to backslide. Backsliding and backlashes of women’s rights, particularly in leadership, are a global problem. Meaning, they are your problem too.

We know this to be true, and the data backs it up. There has been little progress on gender equality at the global level between 2015 and 2020.

As I said before, we are living in an era of pushback and polarity, where gender equality has become a political battlefield — from the erosion of abortion rights in Texas to anti-rights policies in Brazil, Hungary, India, Poland and Turkey that aim to silence voices that are already muffled — namely those of women and girls.

In positions of power and decision-making, inequality is most visible because women are rendered virtually invisible. The World Economic Forum estimates that it will take about 146 years to attain gender parity in politics.

Progress is snail-slow, but there are some positive trends. More girls are going to school, more women are in leadership, and more laws are being reformed to advance gender equality. Progress on leadership, participation and voice can — and does! — happen, as seen at every level, including in parliaments around the world.

Do we even need Global Goals?

Yes, we do!

Firstly, let’s restate the obvious: Women’s leadership, participation and voice is better for everyone — and brings tangible benefits for societies and economies. Visibility is important. Representation is critical. And presence needs to also mean power — otherwise what’s it for!? Everyone has a role to play in making this happen — policymakers and practitioners, academics and activists, students and seasoned professionals.

Goal #5 isn’t just a goal, it’s a principle that underlies all other goals. The other 16 goals will flop if we don’t get this one goal right. Ultimately, our fight for gender equality isn’t just about ticking off goals — it’s a way to live our lives.

Here are four things we can do right now:

  1. Challenge relentless whataboutery. I can be an ally for many causes but still make my own choices about where to direct my energy. Working on women’s rights does not negate other issues — our causes align.
  2. Influence the movable middle. Meaning: meet people where they are, with the stuff that matters to them. Reach farther and include more people in our fight. Not those already around us, nor those directly opposed to us, but that big blob in the middle. Those people!
  3. Support frontline feminist groups. Fuel them, fund them, and trust them to get the job done. They know what they’re doing better than all of us. And while we were out there creating goals, they were doing the work all along.
  4. Invest in, create space for, and listen to young feminists. They are already leading the charge for change. Globally, we’re in good hands.

Let’s be clear: The presence or absence of women is the barometer for everything. Right now, we need to claim and defend our space, our voice and our movement. And then we can move forward.

That’s the real goal.



Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights activist, author, speaker, aid worker with 3 decades of global experience - and lots to say! More on my website: