Sustainable development research in gender mainstreaming: Interlinked interventions for equality

Justin Francis Bionat, APMA 2018

The field of academic inquiry on sustainable development has brought to us research revolving at the nexus of economically prosperous and well-governed societies that are ecologically viable and socially inclusive.  Even in more recent works, sustainable development was presented in several approaches challenging the unequal world savaged by economic disparities. Dating back to the inception of the movement on sustainable development during the first UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, Sweden in 1972, the concept has advised the formation of goal-based agendum. After almost half a century later, unifying international efforts to resolve planetary problems continue to define sustainable development frameworks. However, while institutional and economic growth is at the helm of sustainable development research, human progress should remain as the central theme when discussing issues on urbanization, trade, security, and ecosystems. Economic development does not necessarily mean that a society is becoming more or less equal. This inequality stems from existing social hierarchization affecting persons and communities. This hierarchization has been challenged constantly by scholars and development actors, alike. Sustainable development research, therefore, must continue to place a prime focus on the ‘human’ and human subjectivities.

This article revisits scholarly works on sustainable development and human progress, particularly asserting the potentials of sustainable development research that discusses equity and gender mainstreaming. These two form the fundamental facets of human development and progress. Sustainable human development research that employs a gendered lens locates strong links between the concepts of growth, poverty and gender equity. Stressing the critical faculty of sustainable development research entails providing literature where gender is comprehensively analyzed. This article argues the need for sustainable development research in the lens of gender-sensitive human progress. The initial premise brought forward is that the success of sustainable development research manifests itself when new policies are developed that are devoid of gender-blind practices, biases and prejudices.

With the turn of the new century, Gambhir Bhatta (2001) writes about the mainstreaming of gender in development programs. The relevance of this article, despite being written almost 20 years ago when juxtaposed with more recent articles produces a comparison of the progress of human-centered research. In Bhatta’s article, the author highlights the need for policymakers to re-access their agenda to ensure that development is gender-conscious.

Definitely, there had been much policy change and scholarly growth between the signing of historic millennium declaration at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000 and more recently with the Sustainable Development Summit in 2015 and “The Paris Agreement” in 2016. Utilizing gender and development studies, such as Gambhir Bhatta’s article, to argue the essentiality of sustainable development research requires a comparison of the growth of gender and development research itself. Hence, we look into more recent scholarly work and highlight one key aspect which I now call as, “interlinked approaches to sustainable development”. As I will further discuss, sustainable development research, when tied with gender, provides a convincing paradigm wherein policy change is advised by academia.

Let us begin by talking about the interconnectedness and interdependence of the sustainable development, human-centered progress, and gender equality/equity interventions. I present three articles which were published between the period of 2016 to 2018. The first article illustrates the conjugation of ‘Goal 5 on Gender Equality’ and ‘Goal 3 on Health and Well-Being’ as gender influences health outcomes (Manandhar,, 2018). It then further presents a larger complex web wherein conversations on health equity, more broadly, are influenced by other goals like ‘Goal 4 on Quality Education’ and ‘Goal 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth’. If we are to situate gender within the sustainable development goals, we would come to realize that gender equality equally influences other goals and their targets.

Bridging gender and development brings us to the social aspect of sustainability which advocates for the importance of the legal, political, economic, social and cultural rights of marginalized genders. In the second article by Eun Mee Kim (2017), one striking highlight was how he acknowledges that the solution against gender inequality and gender rights violations might not necessarily be economic or social development, or even political democratization, rather he provides an intervention framework leveraged on education, employment, and empowerment (the 3 E’s, as he coins them) of women and girls which brings synergistic outcomes. There seems to be no single answer to the gender inequity and inequality experienced by the most marginalized women and girls.

Finally, another heavily studied subject in sustainable development research is financing. The third article by Ponte and Enriquez (2016) uses feminist perspectives to question whether the sustainable development agenda provides a suitable foundation to advance gender equality in an era of financialized globalization. The author elucidates that macro-economic (and micro-economic) instability has profound impacts on women and equality. Financing for development is pre-requisite to the advancement of gender equality and women’s human rights. The authors further explain that financing for development should adopt a gendered approach on dimensions of economic and financial volatility, the role of private sector and the domestic resource mobilization.

These three articles show interlinked approaches to sustainable development interventions that are gender-conscious and acknowledge human subjectivities. The articles challenge existing structures and provide alternatives to improve sustainable development programming. Studies similar to the ones presented above advice policy change globally (as well as regionally) and awaken a feminist perspective within sustainable development scholarship.

From the articles, we take away three crucial wisdoms. First, that the mainstreaming of gender is further reinforced in sustainable development scholarship and programming as it influences other goals and their targets. Second, that there is no single solution to gender inequality rather the formation of innovative approaches that synergize efforts prioritizing the needs of women and girls must be made. Third0, that a gendered analysis is essential in other aspects of sustainable development research, such as financing for development, being the foundation to advance gender equality globally and domestically.

We have to seriously revisit the writings of earlier scholars and juxtapose policy change between the beginning of the millennium and the later expansion of gender and development studies. Gambhir Bhatta’s article teaches us one thing, that any intervention for gender mainstreaming must acknowledge the central role of marginalized women in all their identities and subjectivities.

If we are to tread down this road, policy makers should formulate development process that place gender at the fore. The recent studies that were explained facilitate the innovation of development programming by recognizing the several interconnected approaches in the monitoring and evaluation of the sustainable development goal targets, the creation of mutualistic and context-specific interventions for women and girls, and the financing of sustainable development agenda which should acknowledge gendered realities to provide dynamic groundwork.

Therefore, the impact of sustainable development research continues to be how policy makers and gatekeepers refashion their interventions and strategies to advance human progress. The perfect marriage of human progress and sustainable development research translates to policy change that resolves all abject and dehumanizing conditions. The essence of leaving no one behind manifests itself when sustainable development research positions gender at the forefront of its analysis.


Bhatta, G. (2001). Of Geese and Ganders: mainstreaming gender in the context of sustainable human development. Journal of Gender Studies, 17-32.

Kim, E. (2017). Gender and the Sustainable Development Goals. Global Social Policy, 239 – 244.

Manandhar, M., Hawkes, S., Buse, K., Nosrati, E., & Magar, V. (2018). Gender, health and the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Bulletin of the World Health

Organization, 644–653.

Ponte, N. B., & Enriquez, C. R. (2016). Agenda 2030: A bold enough framework towards sustainable, gender-just development? Gender and Development, 83–98.

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