Women meet in March 2011 as part of Mahila Jagurk Manch, organized by The Hunger Project and U.N. Women. The international community can do more to mainstream gender issues within its operations and programs, suggests UNOPS chief Jan Mattsson in an exclusive guest commentary for She Builds. Photo by: Anindit Roy-Chowdhury / Ashutosh Negi /U.N. Women / CC BY-NC-ND

Sustainable development and gender equality are two sides of the same coin. The international community cannot reach its 2015 Millennium Development Goals, nor the follow-on generation of sustainable development goals, without enshrining women’s rights into its practices and programs.

We have come a long way, but not far enough. There is a tendency of talking the talk but not always walking the walk.

We tend to say the right things about gender. But we need more concrete results on the ground. We must take individual and organizational responsibility for ensuring gender equality and women’s rights.

Collectively, we need even greater impetus through the new SDGs, both in terms of a specific gender goal and the mainstreaming of gender dimensions in all of our endeavours.

The She Builds partnership campaign brings the issue of women’s empowerment and gender equality to a wide audience and in a highly focused way. By communicating in real-time — via social media channels and on Devex’s dedicated website — She Builds reiterates the importance of women and girls in sustainable development and in creating a more equitable global landscape.

Evidence supports this: Peace agreements that include women last longer. Women in parliament help enact important legislation on health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. Companies with more gender equality have better economic growth.

More girls now than ever attend school, but the reality is that in many countries, boys continue to outnumber girls in primary school. The gender gap in educational settings among developing countries has a direct link to women’s presence in the workplace, government and leadership positions.

At UNOPS, we recognize that we need to do more, practically, on the ground.

To this end, we adopted a framework for gender mainstreaming, using tools that ensure accountability towards gender-related aspects across the organization via reporting mechanisms. As part of this, we are piloting a Sustainability Marker, modelled on the Gender Marker. This tool helps design interventions and monitor specific deliverables — holding us accountable for impacts on gender and all other critical dimensions of sustainability.

Practical approaches make way for real actions and lasting change.

UNOPS works with women in local communities in our projects around the world. This means looking beyond bricks and cement to make sure construction projects attain their real goals. For example, in cooperation with the Italian Development Cooperation, UNOPS helped construct 14 schools in two areas of South Sudan. Key to the success of the project was understanding how to increase the participation of female students. Different phases of the project involved liaising with local women on gender-sensitive issues. These consultations resulted in training on how to make sanitary napkins — the lack of which is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism among girls in the country. What’s more, the decision to sell the sanitary napkins created a means of income generation.

We still have a long way to go. Achieving gender equality doesn’t happen overnight, but we must strive towards it — and indeed step up the game — if we are to ensure sustainable development results that make a real difference for communities.  

Want to learn more? Check out She Builds and tweet us using #SheBuilds.

She Builds is a month-long conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, Creative Associates, JBS International as well as the Millennium Challenge Corp., United Nations Office for Project Services and U.K. Department for International Development.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Jan Mattsson

    Jan Mattsson is a development professional with over 30 years experience in managing development programs and international organizations. Since joining UNOPS in 2006 as executive director, he has, together with colleagues, passionately pursued “operational excellence for results that matter.” This has been done with a keen eye on core values and principles, especially respect for national ownership and capacities, and transparency and accountability for results. Jan holds a doctoral degree in engineering with a multi-disciplinary thesis on management of technological change based on research in his native Sweden, India and Tanzania.