By Asmau Ahmad
United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has called on world leaders to give priority to advancing gender quality to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Guterres said this in his message to mark the Word Population Day (WPD) on Tuesday in New York.
World Population Day is observed on July 11 every year, to raise awareness on global population issues.
He said the world population had grown to eight billion, and the increase had made the human family larger than ever.
Guterres also said that leaders had failed in efforts to ensure a peaceful and prosperous world for all.
“Halfway to the 2030 deadline the SDGs are dangerously off track.
“Gender equality is almost 300 years away. Progress on maternal health and access to family planning has been glacial,” he said.
2023 WPD focus is on unleashing the power of gender equality and giving greater voice to women and girls.
Although they comprise half of all people on the planet, women and girls are often ignored in discussions on demographics, with their rights violated in population policies, according to the UN.
As a result, women and girls can be limited in their ability to make decisions about their own health and sexual and reproductive lives, and this heightens their vulnerability to violence, harmful practices, and preventable maternal deaths.
The secretary-general said gender-based discrimination harms everyone, while investing in women uplifts all people, communities and countries.
“Advancing gender equality, improving maternal health, and empowering women to make their own reproductive choices are both essential in themselves, and central to achieving all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he added.
Guterres called for standing with women and girls fighting for their rights and for intensifying efforts “to make the SDGs a reality for all eight billion of us.”
What women and girls want matters, according to the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA.
World Population Day is a reminder that a more prosperous, peaceful, and sustainable future can be achieved “if we harness the power of every human being on the planet,” Dr Natalia Kanem, the UNFPA Executive Director, said.
Her message for the Day highlighted that over 40 per cent of women around the world cannot exercise their right to make decisions as fundamental as whether or not to have children.
“Empowering women and girls, including through education and access to modern contraception, helps to support them in their aspirations and to chart the path of their own lives,” she said.
Kanem stressed that advancing gender equality is a crosscutting solution to many social problems.
She said for ageing societies worried about labour productivity, achieving gender equality in the workplace represents the most effective way to improve output and economic growth.
“Meanwhile, in countries experiencing rapid population growth, women’s empowerment through education and family planning can bring enormous benefits by way of human capital and inclusive economic growth,” she added.
Kanem said the solution is clear, as “accelerating the advancement of gender equality – through access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, improved education, appropriate labour policies, and equitable norms in the workplace and home – will result in healthier families, stronger economies, and resilient societies.”