“The timeframe for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — 2015 to 2030 — can and must be used to break the back of discrimination against women. This must be a period that will enable the 21st century to be regarded as the century that empowered women and empowered humanity” –  Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as “the Global Goals”, are a set of 17 goals for the international development community, which were formulated by the United Nations in response to reaching the deadline for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. The SDGs were adopted by UN Member States on the 25th of September this year and will guide global development efforts for the next 15 years until their expiry in 2030.

The new sustainable development agenda builds on the MDGs, drafted in 2000, which focused on reducing poverty, hunger, disease, gender inequality, and ensuring access to water and sanitation by 2015. While the MDGs achieved significant progress, such as the halving of the global poverty rate 5 years ahead of the 2015 deadline, progress has lagged in some crucial areas. The SDGs therefore aim to complete the unfinished business of the MDGs and go further in addressing the root causes of inequality in order to make historic progress towards the eradication of poverty worldwide and the development of a more equitable and just global society.

The SDGs are ambitious and broad-reaching. With 17 Goals and 169 associated targets, there are more than double the number of SDGs than there were MDGs, thus covering a broader range of issues. Significantly for UN Women, the SDGs include a stand-alone goal dedicated to women’s empowerment and gender equality, SDG 5, which calls upon states to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. The SDGs are also uniquely universal; they have been negotiated by, and are applicable to, all UN Member States, thus including both developed and developing countries.

The SDGs will shape international development efforts by providing national governments with goals around which to frame national policies and budgets. The targets associated with the SDGs will also keep Member States accountable and ensure that crucial progress is being made. The Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, held in September 2015 at the UN Headquarters in New York, saw historic commitments to gender equality being made by Member States, spurred by the momentum of the SDGs. It is the role of civil society, and entities such as UN Women, to hold Member States to account through monitoring and documenting progress towards these commitments and the realisation of the SDGs.

Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development