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Women’s rights, the imperative of digital literacy, and SDG 12: charting a tripartite correlation

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By Sheri R. Hinish

· 5 min read

In a rapidly globalizing world, the intersecting lines between sustainable development, gender equity, and technological advancement are more apparent than ever before. At this nexus, three components stand out: Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12, women’s rights, and digital literacy. While seemingly disparate, a deeper exploration reveals a powerful correlation between them, shaping the path to a more inclusive and sustainable future.

The United Nations SDG 12 champions Responsible Production and Consumption underpinned by circularity, behavioral, industrial, and holistic design shifts realized across sustainable supply chains. It urges for a paradigm shift in how we design, produce, market, and consume goods, emphasizing the need to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation and social exploits tied to globalization and profits at all costs. SDG 12 is often confused as addressing 2 elements of a biosphere - environmental or economic goals – when its ripples extend into the sociocultural realm, affecting societal structures, power dynamics, and gender equity.

Women’s rights: the bedrock of sustainable development

Women make up half of the global population yet remain disproportionately affected by socio-economic disparities. Basic rights that encompass health, education, representation, and employment directly influence the community and national trajectory toward sustainable development. When women are empowered to make decisions, economies witness growth, health outcomes improve, and education becomes more widespread.

Within the scope of SDG 12, women play a myriad of roles: as stewardly consumers, influencing household and community consumption patterns, and as workers, often in sectors that are rife with unsustainable practices. 

  • Economic contributions: According to the World Bank, gender disparities cost the economy of sub-Saharan Africa around $95 billion a year, which hinders the continent's growth. Equal opportunities for women can redirect these funds into more sustainable industries and practices.
  • Tradition and change: In many societies, women are the custodians of traditional knowledge, which often includes sustainable practices. By ensuring their rights, we are preserving and utilizing this knowledge for sustainable development. Furthermore, women’s educational empowerment correlates with positive environmental behaviors. A UNESCO report points out that women's education reduces fertility rates and population growth, both of which are related to consumption levels.
  • Consumer decision-makers: Women control a substantial part of household consumption. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states that women have significant control over around 60-80% of household consumption. This offers an opportunity: by empowering women with sustainability knowledge and choices, we can influence sustainable consumption patterns from the grassroots.
  • Women in agriculture: Women play a critical role in agriculture, making up over 40% of the agricultural labor force in developing nations. Ensuring women's rights in this sector can lead to the adoption of sustainable farming methods. A Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report emphasized that giving women the same access as men to agricultural resources could increase production on women-run farms by 20-30%, feeding an additional 150 million people. This highlights the potential of women in championing responsible production.
  • Innovation and diversity: Gender inclusiveness can foster innovative solutions to achieve SDG 12. A study from the Boston Consulting Group noted that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to innovation. When women are included in decision-making processes, businesses can become more responsive and adaptable in implementing sustainable practices.

The digital age and women’s rights

As the world progressively transitions into the digital age, the technology gap, or the disparity in access and usage of technology, threatens to further widen gender inequities. Digital literacy, which implies the ability to use digital tools effectively and safely, emerges as the linchpin in this scenario. But what links digital literacy to SDG 12 and women’s rights?

  • Market transformation through digital platforms: Today’s marketplaces are becoming increasingly digital. Women, equipped with digital literacy skills, can drive sustainable consumption by making informed online purchases, endorsing sustainable products, and spreading influence in the digital sphere that shapes sector behavior and product design, pushing industries and society at large towards responsible production.
  • Economic empowerment: The digital economy offers numerous opportunities, from remote work to tech entrepreneurship. For women in sectors with unsustainable practices, digital literacy could be the gateway to better, sustainable employment opportunities, directly linking SDG 12's objectives with women's rights.
  • Safety and autonomy: The digital sphere, though filled with opportunities, has its pitfalls, from misinformation to online harassment. Digital literacy ensures women can navigate these spaces safely, exercise their rights, and make informed decisions, be it as consumers advocating for SDG 12 or as individuals asserting their rights.

The interwoven tapestry of progress

Visualize a world where sustainable production and consumption aren’t just buzzwords, but daily practices. In this world, women stand empowered, equipped with digital tools, driving markets, influencing communities, and advocating for greener policies. Digital literacy is the thread weaving through this tapestry, connecting the dots between SDG 12 and women's rights.

As we stride forward, it’s evident that the synergy between SDG 12, women’s rights, and digital literacy isn't merely beneficial—it's essential. By recognizing and acting on this tripartite correlation, we aren't just paving the way for isolated goals. Instead, we're charting a holistic path to a world that’s sustainable, equitable, and digitally advanced. The future beckons, and it's digital, green, and gender-inclusive.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Sheri R. Hinish is a member of the Global Executive Leadership Team at EY for sustainability innovation. She has won numerous top industry awards, helped guide the strategy of Fortune 500 companies, and worked with SAP, Salesforce, UPS, Celonis, SAP Ariba, OMP, IBM, and many more in shaping thought leadership in sustainable supply chain and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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