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UNIFEM-UNDP: “Making the MDGs work better for women”

Jointly, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published “Making the MDGs work better for women: implementing gender-responsive national development plans and programmes.” The objective of this publication is to reconsider gender equality and empowerment of women as a precondition for achieving each of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), because as the publication demonstrates: “Where women are empowered we have seen better health and education outcomes for their children as well as more sustainable use of natural resources.”

This publication is the result of the compiling of monitoring reports, analytical assessments, action guides and training modules developed and published by various stakeholders including UN agencies and task forces, the World Bank and other donors, women’s networks and individual gender experts. It brings about experiences of good practices in making the MDG work better for women through the “Gender and the Millennium Development Goals” project.

Section I entitled: “The MDGs and Gender Equality: Progress and Challenges,” explores progress made as well as remaining challenges in meeting MDG3, which is about gender equality and women’s empowerment. Correlated to the ongoing crisis in food and energy security, the economic crisis is seriously threatening advances towards achieving the MDGs. With the decline of government revenues, foreign direct investments dry up and official development assistance (ODA) declines. The implications for women are: “restrictions on women’s labour market participation, women’s unpaid access to financial resources and other productive assets, higher burden of unpaid care work and heavier reliance on social spending and safety nets,” the report notes.

On the other hand, the report does find progress towards gender equality in education and literacy within all regions in the world, except for Sub-Saharan Africa; In terms of employment, women’s participation in paid, non-agricultural employment has continued to increase, if only marginally, averaging nearly 40 per cent in 2006 compared to 35 per cent in 1990; and in political participation women’s share of seats in national parliaments was 18.4 per cent as of January 2009, up from 13 per cent in 1990, thanks to the introduction of quota-based system.

However, the report shows that the picture is mixed for other indicators in the three areas:
• In education: of the estimated 72 million primary age children who were not in school in 2007, 54 per cent were girls;
• in employment: in the developing world, still 80% jobs occupied by women are vulnerable and involve own-account and unpaid family work;
• and in political participation: in nine countries, including six in the Pacific Island States have no women members of parliament at all.

Section II, “Engendering Local and National MDG Policy Processes,” focuses on strategic priorities and actions among which to create a sustainable, inclusive and participatory process, and ensure broad participation of women.

Section III, “Good Practices: Gender and the MDGs Project,” highlights worldwide processes and activities that have effectively contributed to achieving increased gender equality, among which the project in Kyrgyzstan that developed harmonized gender-responsive MDG indicators to monitor progress made in gender equality, and created a unified national Gender Monitoring Mechanism framework; or in Kenya where gender training of persons taking part in the budgetary process fostered gender issues to play a prominent role in the Participatory Poverty Assessment and Kenya Integrated Budget Household Survey.

In Section IV, “Scaling Up Progress on MDG3: Investing in Gender Equality for Development,” the report identifies upcoming challenges such as the need to increase ODA to 0.7% as agreed at the 2002 UN International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico and mobilize greater domestic resources. It encourages governments to add a gender perspective to their development plans and budgets; to enhance gender commitments and expertise; to distil and/or update accurate data on the situation of men and women; to combine domestic resources with external assistance, especially for developing countries; and to provide women’s organizations with adequate funding.

Section V provides a summary of the key recommendations put forward in sections I-IV mainly highlighting the importance of women’s participation in debating national priorities in order to enhance their sense of ownership of these issues, and calling for a harmonization of efforts, along with transparent performance assessment frameworks based on accountability through the implementation of gender-responsive indicators.

Overall, seven priorities have been identified as requiring immediate action in order to keep the MDG3 promise:

1. Strengthen opportunities for post-primary education for girls while simultaneously meeting commitments to universal primary education.
2. Guarantee sexual and reproductive health and rights.
3. Invest in infrastructure to reduce women’s and girls’ time burdens.
4. Guarantee women’s and girls’ property and inheritance rights.
5. Eliminate gender inequality in employment by decreasing women’s reliance on informal employment, closing gender gaps in earnings and reducing occupational segregation.
6. Increase women’s share of seats in national parliaments and local governmental bodies.
7. Combat violence against girls and women.

Although gender equality is becoming more and more common worldwide and recognized as a tool for economic growth and social cohesion, “it has been difficult to translate that knowledge into development policy and practice at the scale required to bring about fundamental transformation in the distribution of power, opportunity and outcomes for both women and men…” (UN Millennium Project 2005). Therefore, the remaining challenges are real but reversible as long as action is taken now. It is particularly essential to take into consideration the interconnection between each MDG in the build-up for 2015. For example, the achievement of MDG3 also highly depends on the progress achieved in each of the MDGs – from reducing poverty and mitigating hunger to ensuring environmental sustainability. Similarly, gender equality is “not only a goal in its own right, but also an important means for realizing all the MDGs”, the Administrator of UNDP highlighted.

More importantly, the World Bank stressed that the MDGs will not be achieved unless women and men have equal capacities, opportunities and voice.

The publication is available online.