Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 5 in the UK Contents

1Why should the UK engage with SDG 5?

Government commitment to the SDGs

9.The UK Government has been widely acknowledged as playing an important role in the development of the SDGs, and SDG 5 in particular.3 Lord Bates, Minister of State for the Department for International Development, told us:

a number of the goals that we secured, whether it be on forced marriage, FGM, access to education or sexual reproductive health—which came up against real opposition—involved tremendous effort from the Government working internationally and with civil society to bring about those changes. We have shown leadership.4

10.This leadership came from the highest political levels. Former Prime Minister David Cameron played a key role in the development of the SDGs as Co-Chair of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda 2012–13. He also personally hosted a side-event on the theme of ‘leaving no-one behind’ during the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Summit.5

11.In her first speech to the UN, in September 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May emphasised the UK’s role in the implementation of the SDGs, specifically referring to women and girls:

We will drive forward the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. We will continue to champion the rights of women and girls, making sure that all girls get the education they deserve, and tackling horrific abuses such as female genital mutilation and the use of sexual violence in conflict.6

12.The Government stated its continuing commitment to the SDGs in its evidence to this inquiry, saying that it

is committed to the implementation of the goals—both as part of our continuing commitment to being a key player in strategic international development and through our own domestic policy agenda.7

13.The Minister for International Development reiterated the importance of the domestic implementation in oral evidence to us, emphasising that

the SDGs apply not only internationally but equally domestically, and that is what makes them unique and different from the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals], and therefore we have to ensure that we meet all of those obligations at a national level as we meet them and advance them at international level.8

14.Caroline Dinenage MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women, Equalities and Early Years, told us that for Government Equalities Office (GEO), “Goal 5 embeds everything that [it is] always trying to do,” and that it is “very keen that that spreads throughout Government.”9

Why domestic implementation of SDG 5 matters

15.Several stakeholders told us that domestic achievement of SDG 5 was key to maintaining the UK’s position as a leading proponent of women’s rights globally. The British Council argued that if the UK took a proactive role in sharing its experience of implementing the goals with other countries, that “would cement the UK’s credibility and leadership in this area and help spread values of equality around the world.”10 The Government Equalities Office states that one of its priorities is “using our influence to promote international equality”.11

16.Witnesses drew attention to the potentially negative effects of any discrepancy between the UK’s leadership role in championing SDG 5 and its record in taking action to achieve the goal. Jessica Woodroffe of the Gender and Development Network pointed to the leadership shown by “both David Cameron and Justine Greening [ … ] on the international stage, particularly on gender” and noted that without the UK’s contribution “a lot of the language on gender equality would not have been in Agenda 2030.” She warned that if the UK is not seen to take action in developing a clear plan, it “runs the risk of looking very paternalistic, very patronising and not being prepared to practise what it preaches, by having called on countries with far fewer resources to do things that it will not itself commit to.”12

17.Other witnesses told us that not clearly setting out a strategy for SDG 5 domestically could affect the UK’s position within the UN. Marianne Haslegrave of the Commonwealth Medical Trust said:

We could put ourselves into isolation when it comes to the whole process, which is not a good place to be, particularly when we worked so hard to get gender equality, women’s empowerment, sexual and reproductive health and rights into the agenda. The UK spoke up, spoke up and spoke up all the time. Now it is not there.13

Domestic opportunities presented by SDG 5

18.The SDGs present the Government with an opportunity to demonstrate work already done in the UK and show commitment to further work towards gender equality in the UK. As Plan International UK noted, “the SDGs have the potential to transform girls’ and women’s lives.”14 The Government Equalities Office (GEO) itself drew attention to the alignment between SDG 5 and its own priorities, saying that “our domestic policy agenda on equality strongly supports the aims and spirit of Goal 5, as well as many of the priorities set out in it.”15

19.The focus within the SDGs on the principle of ‘leaving no-one behind’ also presents opportunities for alignment with the Government’s domestic policy priorities. This principle commits signatory countries to prioritising the needs of the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups within each country. Dr Carole Easton of the Young Women’s Trust explained how there is evidence that women’s equality and empowerment is already valued in the UK, but that SDG 5 can add “weight and leverage” to this, particularly in terms of women not being left behind.16

20.The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) pointed out that the SDGs can play a role in supporting other government commitments on gender equality. Specifically, it said a focus on the SDGs could strengthen the UK’s forthcoming state report to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), due in July 2017.17

21.The UK Government was at the heart of developing the Sustainable Development Goals and led globally on the inclusion of a standalone goal addressing gender equality. Existing policies and legislation show the Government’s commitment to gender equality but a clear plan is needed now. Domestic engagement with the SDGs is therefore critical to the UK’s standing at the UN, and to its position as a world leader on gender equality. The Government needs to act to ensure the effective implementation of SDG 5 in the UK as a matter of priority.

22.Domestic engagement with the SDGs, and SDG 5 in particular, can do more than protect the UK’s international standing. The Goals present the Government with an opportunity to further its work on achieving gender equality and improving the lives of the most marginalised and disadvantaged people and to leave no-one behind.

3 Independent Commission for Aid Impact, DfID’s efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls: a learning review (May 2016), para 3.52

4 Q199

5 Department for International Development, Leaving No-One Behind: our promise, accessed 28 February 2017

6 Prime Minister’s Office, Theresa May’s speech to the UN General Assembly (September 2016)

8 Q199

9 Q163

10 British Council (SDG0019), para 1.8

11 Government Equalities Office, About us, accessed 28 February 2017

12 Q33

13 Q4 [Marianne Haslegrave]

14 Plan International UK (SDG0018), para 33

16 Q112 [Dr Easton]

17 CEDAW was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly. It is often described as an international bill of rights for women.

10 March 2017