Gender equality and women’s empowerment

VSO campaigns to ensure that “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment” remains a stand-alone goal in the Post-2015 development framework with a target specifically dedicated to enhancing women’s participation in public and political life. Here, Research and Policy Intern, Kristine Albrektsen, reflects on her experience with the Post-2015 debate.


My name is Kristine Albrektsen. I graduated from Cambridge University with an MPhil in African Studies in July 2011. Before joining VSO, I spent half a year in Magburaka, Sierra Leone, working for Project-REACT, a Danish NGO seeking to build local capacity through primary education and computer training. Having experienced in person how gender inequality and gendered violence in primary schools hamper social opportunity for girls in Sierra Leone, I am excited to contribute to VSO’s efforts to make ‘Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment’ a central feature in the post-2015 Framework. At the same time, my internship with VSO allows me to expand my skill set and gain valuable hands-on experience with policy formulation and advocacy activities.

Five weeks into my internship, I am fully engaged with the post-2015 debate that will determine the framework to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. During a number of stakeholder debates, I have been struck by the lack of clarity in the messages of certain debaters. Most concerning, I think, is the tendency of some to refer to ‘income inequality’ as merely ‘inequality’. This is problematic, not only because it causes confusion, but also because it seriously undermines advocacy efforts to eradicate other forms of inequality not visible from existing data on income disparities.

Proposals have been put forward aiming at the replacement of the current gender equality goal with a more general ‘inequalities’ goal. However, the inaccurate reference to ‘income inequality’ as ‘inequality’ highlights the very real danger that such proposals hold for reversing the progress made under the MDG3. Without a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment, these issues will be overshadowed by goals with more explicit objectives; and accordantly, the political and economic commitment that we have seen so far will fade.

Gender inequality reflects fundamental social structures that heavily distort equal social opportunity. From VSO volunteers who live and work among some of the world’s most marginalised people, we know that the disadvantage experienced by girls and women is especially pervasive, because they hold a socially inferior position in both private and public spheres. Girls and women have poorer access to health care, education and secure jobs, and in turn, they have less or no influence on decision-making within their household, their community and in national and international-level politics. The marginalisation of girls and women not only represents a grave violation of human rights, its structural nature also impairs progress in all other areas of development. For these reasons, it is pivotal that gender equality and women’s empowerment is given a central position in the post-2015 agenda.

Rumour has it that the High Level Panel Report, to be presented to the UN Secretary General by the end of this month, recommends a stand-alone gender goal in the post-2015 framework. While this of course would be a positive outcome, we must continue to recognise the damaging consequences of inaccurate terminology in development debates, especially when discussing inequality issues. Taking the post-2015 debate forward, stakeholders must therefore maintain clarity in proposals and argumentation.

To learn more about VSO’s work on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment go to their Women in Power page or read their Briefing Note:
Advancing women’s participation & influence in political & public life through the post-2015 framework.


Kristine Albreksten

This blog first appeared on the VSO's Changing Times blog. You can see the original version here.