August 22, 2017 John Reed, President and Chief Executive Officer Canadian Audit and Accountability Foundation

Auditors Preparing to Hold Government Accountable for Gender Equality and the SDGs


Now that our national governments have adopted the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), how will we hold them accountable for these commitments? How will we know if they are meeting their goals and targets and living up to the promises they have made about gender equality and women’s empowerment?

One way will be through the work of auditors. National audit offices, called supreme audit institutions (SAIs), provide independent, fact-based, and objective information to parliamentarians, enabling them in turn to hold government to account. Their performance audits identify weaknesses in government programs and services—in terms of their economy, efficiency, and effectiveness—and give concrete, practical recommendations for improvements. And now, SAIs are turning their attention to the SDGs.

The Canadian Audit and Accountability Foundation, in partnership with Women Deliver and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), has developed guidance to help—focused specifically on auditing gender equality and the SDGs. Our Practice Guide to Auditing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Gender Equality will help auditors to understand gender equality and its place in the 2030 Agenda, and to plan either an audit focused on SDG 5—gender equality and women’s empowerment—or an audit that examines gender equality within other SDGs, such as poverty, hunger, health, or education.

Eight months ago, secondhand clothing vendor Bety Anoyi set up shop in what was then a mostly vacant lot in a rapidly developing space in Accra's East Legon neighourhood. Informal vendors have become a collective economic magnet, bringing new commerce and productivity.
(Photo Credit: Jonathan Torgovnik / Getty Images)

I spoke about the need to audit gender equality at a recent conference organized by the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. INTOSAI has included auditing the SDGs as a crosscutting priority in its current strategic plan, and at this conference the leaders of many SAIs gathered to discuss their first step: auditing governments’ preparedness to implement the SDGs.

As part of a panel discussion on “Leaving No One Behind – Auditing Inclusiveness,” I emphasized to the Auditors General and other leaders in the room the fundamental importance of gender equality to the 2030 Agenda. The SDGs cannot be achieved without gender equality. Therefore, I told them, if you plan to audit the SDGs and hold your government accountable for its commitment to the 2030 Agenda, it is inevitable that you will at some point need to audit for gender equality.


The guidance I shared with the SAI leaders, and that is presented in our Practice Guide, is the result of our partnership with Women Deliver and IISD. The Canadian Audit and Accountability Foundation, which focuses on auditing and parliamentary oversight, found it enlightening and exciting to work with these new partners.

I’m thrilled to be able to share to their expertise on gender equality and sustainable development with auditors and other readers of our guide. Our collaboration is a good example of how many different players will need to come together and cooperate around the SDGs.

Implementing the SDGs will require a global effort, with engagement from all stakeholders. So, too, will achieving accountability for the SDGs.

Cooperation will certainly be important to SAIs’ audits. SAIs from different countries will be working together on collaborative audits, and auditors will be reaching out to work with various subject matter experts. I also hope to see others, like civil society groups and individual citizens, actively engaged in SDG accountability efforts, which could include making use of published audit reports and amplifying the impact of audits by sharing and promoting the findings. And although our Practice Guide is written primarily for auditors, I hope that it will also be an informative and inspiring resource for others who are interested in governments’ efforts to implement the SDGs and in seeking accountability for gender equality.

The Practice Guide to Auditing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Gender Equality will be published at the end of August 2017.

The Canadian Audit and Accountability Foundation is a research and education foundation with the mission to strengthen public sector performance audit, oversight and accountability in Canada and abroad. We thank Women Deliver and the International Institute for Sustainable Development for their contributions to this Practice Guide. The Practice Guide was produced with funding from the Government of Canada, provided through Global Affairs Canada.

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