Thursday 16 August 2012

Gender and the MDGs: where do we stand?

With the 2015 deadline for the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) fast approaching, it is important that government, donors and policy makers identify how progress towards the goals can be accelerated. There is growing consensus that gender equality is central for achieving the MDGs. However, the recently released Millennium Development Goals Report 2012 (The MDGs Report 2012) tells us that there is much more to be done to achieve the goal of gender equality. Framed into the third and the fifth MDGs, gender inequality is assessed by the gender gap in education, the share of women in wage employment, the proportion of seats held by women in national legislatures, maternal mortaliy and universal access to reproductive health.

The MDGs Report 2012 indicates that there have been impressive gains in achieving gender parity in primary education. The Gender Parity Index in primary education showing the ratio between the enrolment rate of girls and boys has grown from 91 in 1999 to 97 in 2010. However, at the secondary level, girls still face greater barriers to school attendance which emerge from gender-based discrimination in the family and in the society. Parents favour sons over daughters once they are forced to ration resources among children because girls’ education is perceived as generating lower returns. Son bias measured by the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) 2012 is particularly prevalent in South Asia, with India showing the highest level of son bias within the region. Another barrier is early marriage which restrains girls from progressing to secondary school. Sub-Saharan Africa is a region gripped by this problem with more than 50 percent of girls aged between 15 and 19 years being married in Mali and Niger. Parents may also be concerned about the safety of adolescent girls going to secondary school, which are often further from home than the primary school, leading to a greater risk of gender-based violence. These findings reinforce the need to urgently tackle discriminatory social institutions to ensure that every girl can fulfil her aspirations and potential.

On the employment front, women’s share in paid jobs outside of the agricultural sector increased slowly though men still outnumber women in non-agricultural paid employment in all developing regions. Data indicates that in developing countries women are more likely than men to be invulnerable employment, with greater risk of poverty and reduced access to social protection. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest – 85 percent – share of women in vulnerable employment whilst Northern Africa and Western Asia have the widest – 18 and 19 percentage points correspondingly – gaps between women’s and men’s vulnerable employment. This indicates that in addition to increasing women’s engagement in the paid labour market, it is important to pay attention to the quality of jobs.

Promoting the ability of women to become the “architects of change” is vital to overcome persisting discriminatory socio-cultural norms and gender gaps on social and economic indicators. The MDGs Report 2012 demonstrates that the number of women parliamentarians has increased by 75 percent since 1995. However, the overall rate of representation remains low and progress is spread unevenly with Latin America and Caribbean ranking the highest. Introducing quotas as a special measure to boost women’s political participation could be an option since in 2011 in countries where quotas were used women took 27.4 percent of seats in comparison with 15.7 percent of seats in countries without any form of quota. In 2011 the greatest progress was observed in Nicaragua where women have taken 40.2 percent of parliamentary seats, which is 21.7 percentage points higher compared with the previous legislature.

Maternal mortality, addressed in MDG 5, has halved since 1990 though it is still 15 times higher in developing regions than in the developed ones. Increased risk of maternal mortality is linked to early childbearing because mothers younger than 17 have bodies which are not yet mature enough to bear children. Early childbearing is also related to lower educational attainment and poverty though there was some progress with the number of births per women aged 15 to 19 years decreasing between 1990 and 2000. In countries where early marriage is common, developing and implementing programmes to delay the age at marriage and enacting laws concerning minimum age of marriage  is needed to reduce adolescent childbearing and consequently, maternal mortality rates.

It is evident that while progress has been made in some areas, we need a renewed and sustained commitment to meet the 2015 deadline. The UNDP report Innovative Approaches to Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment recommends expanding women’s economic opportunity, strengthening women’s legal status and rights and expanding opportunities for women’s voice, inclusion and participation in economic decision-making. However, these changes won’t be achieved in a vacuum. We also need to create an enabling environment by tackling underlying perceptions and attitudes towards gender roles in society.

Anna Eliseeva, Gender Team, OECD Development Centre

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