Governments urgently need to improve their policy readiness if they want to have any chance of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on inequalities. Governments in developing countries do not yet have the laws and policies in place to allow them to achieve SDG 5 on gender equality and SDG 10 on reduced inequality within and among countries. In ActionAid’s study, only three of ten developing countries had over 65% of key inequality-reducing policies in place. To make things worse, rich countries are not adequately supporting developing countries to achieve the SDGs, contrary to SDG 17’s aim to “revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development”. Indeed, some rich countries’ domestic and development policies deepen inequalities globally. Ultimately, governments’ failure to address women’s inequalities may jeopardise achievement of all SDGs.

The focus of the inequality debate generally has been on reducing income inequality. But this ignores the fact that inequality has a more severe impact on women. ActionAid’s experience shows that reducing income inequality will not be enough to change women’s lives; laws and policies must also respond to the multiple and overlapping inequalities that affect different groups of women. Significant among these are violence against women and girls (VAWG), the inequalities facing women in education, health, mobility, obtaining decent paid work, unequal access to and control over land and resources, and unpaid care burden. ActionAid analysed that the total amount of both paid and unpaid work undertaken by women and men and found that globally, a young woman entering the job market today can expect to work for the equivalent of an average of four years more than her male peers over her lifetime, as she is balancing both paid andunpaid care work. This amounts to the equivalent of an extra one month’s work for every woman, every year of a woman’s life.

In The Price of Privilege ActionAid shows how powerful forces at the global level prevent countries from addressing inequalities. Blockages at the national level also stop laws and policies to reduce inequalities from being put in place. For example, social protection is recognised as a key redistributive policy with positive effects in reducing inequality, yet only two of the ten developing countries ActionAid studied have comprehensive coverage.

In this report, ActionAid looks at where governments are policy ready and where they are not, identifying where key policies, laws and supportive environmentswill allow governments to take the first step towardsgreater economic and gender equality.

ActionAid believes that empowered communities pushing for change can make the change sustainable.For example, women’s collective action in Nepal has led to the adoption of a strikingly progressiveconstitution that commits the government to measuring women’s unpaid care work. Policy or laws alone may not always lead to change but their existence strengthens civil society campaigns for change on the ground. To improve their policy readiness to achieve the SDGs, civil society and national governments should:

  1. Shift policy decision making power away from those who currently hold power and influence, including multilateral institutions, rich-country governments, elite groups, and multinational corporations, and towards developing country governments and their people.
  2. Develop and hold governments accountable to redistributive national plans with policies that support the accomplishment of the SDGs. Such policies would aim to:
    • recognise, redistribute and reduce women’s unpaid care work
    • improve opportunities for decent work and wages for women and young people
    • stop violence against women and girls
    • improve women’s mobility, and their capacity to organise and participate in decision- making at all levels
    • improve women’s access to education and health, and their access to and control over natural and economic resources.
  3. Put in place appropriate systems, governance, financial support, and monitoring and evaluation programmes so policies can be designed with a genuine “feminist lens” insisting that women’s development potential be at the centre of analysis and decisions. Those systems should be implemented with sufficient information, infrastructure and budget, and rigorously monitored by women and girls who are given the power to hold decision-makers accountable.

In a forthcoming study, Shifting Power, ActionAid will look at developing-country women’s perspectives of inequality and show how women’s collective action can spur implementation of improved policies and change cultural norms, thus reducing inequalities women face. ActionAid recognise that policies and laws are only the starting point. However, it is clear that having the right policies and laws in place is a crucial first step towards genuine change for women.