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Gender Equality and Sustainable Development: A Pathways Approach

image of Gender Equality and Sustainable Development: A Pathways Approach

The challenges of building pathways to sustainability and enhancing gender equality are both urgent. This work explores why they must be addressed together, and how this might be done. It puts forward a ‘gendered pathways approach’, as a conceptual framework for addressing the interactions, tensions and trade-offs between different dimensions of gender equality and of sustainability. The publication provides a historical review of how diverse concepts—or narratives—about women, gender and sustainability have emerged and come to co-exist. It acknowledges tensions and trade-offs in different pathways and addresses the policy and political challenges of transforming pathways towards greater gender equality and sustainability. Ultimately, the authors argue, feminist movements and collective organizing, emerging in diverse ways and places across the world, offer the greatest hope both for challenging unsustainable pathways and for charting new ones that lead us in more sustainable, gender-equal directions.

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Pathways of (un) sustainable development and gender (in)equality

Our arguments in this paper are framed by growing evidence that dominant pathways of development are unsustainable in economic, social and environmental terms. The decades since the 1950s have seen huge growth across many indicators of production and consumption. The global economy has increased by more than a factor of 15, and real world gross domestic product (GDP) grew from US$2 trillion in 1965 to US$28 trillion in 1995.19 This has depended, for the most part, on a development model focused on market- led economic growth under late capitalism. It is supported by powerful narratives, deeply entrenched among many international agencies and market actors, that depict economic growth as the core goal and market-led approaches as the best way to achieve this. Such narratives have co-developed with patterns of production and consumption generally geared to increasing monetary accumulation. Hyper-consumption and materialistic lifestyles are encouraged. Neo-liberal policies and logics emphasize the pursuit of private profits by firms and individuals in markets left as free as possible from state involvement. Business competition and free trade are encouraged, nationally, regionally and globally, but monopolistic practices are left largely uncurbed. There is increased financialization of many resources and sectors of the economy – and trade and speculation in those financialized resources. While there is obviously variation between countries, regions and sectors, much of this lies within the broad parameters of a market-oriented, neo-liberal growth model.

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