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A Tale of Multiple Disconnects

Why the 2030 Agenda does not (yet?) Contribute to Moving German Gender Equality Struggles Forward

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This study addresses the percolation and domestication of the United Nations’ “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – Transforming our World” in Germany with a view to understanding its impact on domestic gender equality policies. Concentrating on federal-level policymaking, the main finding of the study is that the 2030 Agenda and SDG 5 have, as of yet, not had a discernible impact on domestic gender equality struggles. This is surprising, since the 2030 Agenda offers a holistic conception of sustainability, and thus has the “value added” advantage of merging and transcending the rather disjointed gender, social justice, and ecological sustainability policy strands. Based on 28 interviews with government officials, CSO representatives, and researchers, the study observes multiple disconnects. There is a lack of cohesion and consistency across ministries and civil society actors, resulting in a horizontal disconnect. There is a vertical disconnect between the 2030 Agenda as a multilateral agreement and its domestication. Perhaps because the 2030 Agenda is a soft-law tool, it has limited clout for transformative change; it is moreover seen to be weaker on gender equality commitments than other pertinent international agreements. An obvious conclusion of the study is to strengthen institutional linkages. The vision of gender equality needs to resonate with all actors supporting sustainable development. This could support women’s struggles in addressing Germany’s structural gender disadvantages.

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Creating interfaces between the gender equality and sustainability policy fields — finding added value for both sides

The preceding section presented evidence that a range of factors accounts for the lack of traction of the 2030 Agenda’s gender equality commitments in the German domestic discourse. The problem is both substantive and institutional: the current sustainability architecture, as sophisticated as it may look on paper, does not succeed in creating coherence within the Government, and thus has no meaningful impact on domestic policy thinking with regard to sustainability overall, and gender and sustainability in particular. Germany’s 2030 Agenda commitment thus largely comes across as a rhetorical exercise when looking at its domestic policy impact – which, after all, is the major paradigm shift offered by the 2030 Agenda. Domestic social and gender equality policy does not appear to be influenced by the 2030 Agenda, despite the German Sustainable Development Strategy and its sophisticated institutional architecture. As one interviewee, working on SDG implementation at the local level, commented: “Germany likes to hide behind its beautiful architecture”.

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