Innovation That Matters

Innovation and SDG 5: gender equality

Sustainable Source

Gender equality is not simply an issue for women. It is a necessary pre-requisite for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. But it is also a fundamental human right. And gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive human rights violations in the modern world.

Women and girls make up half of the world’s population. Yet, even in the 21st century, they face barriers and challenges that infringe on their rights and limit their opportunities. And because the female population represents half of the world’s human potential, this limits the prosperity of humanity as a whole. Without gender equality we cannot create a truly sustainable, future-proofed society.

Over the last century some progress has been made. For example, data from 2020 shows that 90 per cent of 95 countries surveyed have passed legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of gender. However, this is nowhere near enough. For example, only 28 per cent of managerial roles are held by women. And violence against women and girls is a particularly pervasive and insidious problem. Estimates show that nearly 736 million women have been subjected to physical or sexual violence – that’s one in three women on earth. And globally, the law doesn’t provide as much protection as it should. Less than two-thirds of countries have rape laws based on the principle of consent.

Solving gender equality will require cultural change, shifts in the attitudes of men and boys, and legislative intervention by government. But innovation also has a role to play, and, at Springwise, we have seen numerous innovations that aim to improve women’s position in society.

Violence against women

Given its shocking prevalence, SDG 5 places a heavy weighting on the issue of violence against women. Target 5.2 within SDG 5 sets the challenge of eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres. While our focus as a society should be on changing men’s behaviour, innovators are providing women with valuable tools that help them to reduce the risk that they will be victims of violence. For example, Safe and the City is a free app that uses crowdsourced data and crime statistics to help female pedestrians stay safe. And in India, another app makes it easy for users to locate clean and safe toilet facilities when they are away from home.

Innovation can also play an important role in raising awareness about sexual violence against women. A campaign devised by Ogilvy Brasil, used a sensor-packed smart dress to record instances of sexual harassment in a night club. The campaign results showed that four women were groped 157 times in the space of just four hours.

Reproductive health

In many parts of the world, women must overcome misinformation, myths, and mistreatment during menstruation. And the cost of menstrual products exacerbates issues of poverty. Many women lack access to safe menstrual products altogether. Designers Kara Wong and Ruby Maky of Waveee Design have developed the Looop Can – a portable kit to wash menstruation pads. This kit is designed with the particular needs of vulnerable female refugees in mind.

Shockingly, according to UN Women, only 52 per cent of women married or in a union freely make their own decisions about sexual relations, contraceptive use, and health care. When women are free to make choices about contraception, there are significantly more contraceptive methods designed for women than men. As a result, the effort of prevention often falls more heavily on women – rather than being a joint responsibility. In response, German design graduate Rebecca Weiss has designed an ultrasound-based, reversible and hormone-free male contraceptive device for home use.

Gender equality in the workplace

While many countries have now put in place legislation prohibiting gender discrimination in employment, gender imbalances remain, with only 28 per cent of managerial roles held by women. Technology can play a role in righting these imbalances. For example, a Canadian AI platform helps companies track areas where they face specific challenges with diversity and inclusion. And an Indian startup is making it easier for women to become business owners with a customer-to-customer platform that helps local women build home-based retail businesses.

Women in culture

Discrimination is often perpetuated by stereotypes of women in popular culture. In response, many innovators are finding creative ways to change the narrative. For example, Frame of Mind is an online storytelling platform for female and under-represented filmmakers, photographers, and writers. The platform’s aim is to reintegrate women’s stories back into the cultural narrative, while focusing on how female storytellers have explored social issues and created social change. Other innovators are taking sub-cultures associated with masculine stereotypes, and turning them on their head. For example, a female-focused magazine is attempting to break patriarchal stereotypes of surf culture.

Education and skills

Investing in girls’ education has myriad benefits for the whole of society. But worldwide, 129 million girls are out of school according to Unicef. Ensuring women and girls have access to education and skills is crucial for delivering the goal of gender equality. Fortunately, innovators are working hard to deliver female education. India’s third-largest state, Rajasthan, has one of the country’s lowest female literacy rates. The Gyaan Center—an organisation and place dedicated to promoting and supporting girls and women through education and into employment—has been developed to fight this problem. Elsewhere in India, luxury, sustainable brand Sirohi is helping women to become financially independent by providing them with sustainable craft skills.

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