“Equality between men and women is a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice and is also a necessary and fundamental prerequisite for equality, development and peace.” – Beijing Platform for Action. We said this in 1995, when we penned one of the most holistic and far-reaching international accords ever authored to affirm the unique experience and rights of women: the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Five years later, we had another global declaration: the Millennium Declaration, wherein we committed ourselves to a time-bound plan of action to eradicate poverty and achieve equality through the internationally-agreed Millennium Development Goals. Two of them were specific to women.
At the same time, we were beginning to see more and more research coming out of places like the World Bank and the Economist—well respected sources of economic research and analysis—showing that investing in women is the best way to achieve broader development goals and stimulate economic growth. One such statistic is that women invest up to 90% of their income in the family, as compared to 30-40% by men (World Bank).
And it’s not just the ending poverty target that can be achieved by investing in women. Increasingly, we’re realizing that investing in women to achieve MDG3 - gender equality - can truly be the key to achieving all 8 Millennium Development Goals. Consider the following:
According to the World Bank, “Greater economic and educational opportunities for women mean her daughters are more likely to go to school, her babies are more likely to survive infancy and her family is more likely to eat nutritious meals.” That’s progress on MDGs 2, 4 and 1, respectively, all through investment in the mother.
Also according to the World Bank, the children of educated mothers are 40% more likely to live beyond the age of 5 and 50% more likely to be immunized. That’s MDG 4.
We also know that women are the stewards of and the closest to the environment (MDG 7), and they are the fastest-growing population infected with HIV/AIDS (MDG 6). And we know that the MDG that has made the least progress-nay, that has not moved-is MDG 5, on maternal health.
Or consider the words of Theres M’Canunani, a Congolese woman who had this to say after participating in a year-long training in rights and economic empowerment at Women for Women International: “I did not know that a woman has the right of defending herself anywhere, the right of inheritance, the right of giving childbirth, the right of standing in good health.” That one statement touches on MDGs 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
This is all evidence of how critically increased investment in women is needed. So one might imagine that fifteen years after Beijing and ten years into the Millennium Development Goals—a mere 5 years remaining on that charter—we would be making some real strides in doing just that.
One would be wrong. As of 2009, it was estimated that the U.S. was spending less than 4% of its foreign assistance funds on women and girls. 15 years after Beijing and 10 years after the penning of the MDGs, women still do 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the world’s food (up to 90% of the world’s staple food crops such as maize and wheat), yet earn 10% of the world’s income and own less than 2% of its land (UN). Clearly, our investments have failed to keep pace with our rhetoric.
And that’s just the problem the Secretary General of the United Nations points to in a recently-released report on member-state progress on the Beijing Platform and the MDGs. Looking at global trends, lack of resources was identified as the major hindrance to implementation in almost all areas. A quick examination of efforts on poverty, education, health and environment (the areas where BPfA and MDGs explicitly intersect) shows this.
On poverty, for instance, member states had made much progress in drafting national-level policies and action plans to address poverty for women and girls, but insufficient resources were allocated to implement them. Unequal access to employment and markets for women were also identified as major obstacles, as was women’s illiteracy and the lack of development cooperation across sectors—which is to say, member-states were good at investing in anti-poverty measures for women and girls in areas like health and education, but slow to recognize that equal investment had to be prioritized in areas such as agriculture, infrastructure and finance.
On education, 2/3 of member-states had achieved gender parity in primary school enrollment rates, but most saw uneven implementation across regions or even within states. Again illiteracy was marked as a major challenge, with women still accounting for 2/3 of illiterate adults worldwide.
On health, again national-level policy and action plans to implement were largely promising, but insufficiently resourced. Much progress had been made on expanding health infrastructure—the availability of clinics and hospitals and the capacity of health professionals to deliver quality health services to women and girls—but reproductive health issues such as pregnancy complications still are the leading source of women’s ill health and death worldwide. Widespread violence against women and malnutrition aggravated by the financial and food crises were also supreme challenges.
Finally, on environment, not only were resources insufficiently allocated to gender programs, but policy recognizing women’s unique experience in environmental degradation, agriculture, energy and climate change was largely nonexistent, owing to a severe lack of awareness on the topic. Gender is not only absent from environmental policy, but women are also largely excluded from relevant discussions.
Between the Secretary General’s report and the stories the statistics continue to tell us about women’s perennial obstacles to empowerment and equality, the outlook seems quite bleak for achieving our commitments to gender equality and development on schedule. It is estimated that one billion people will still live in poverty by 2015, our target gate for achieving the MDGs. While we didn’t set a date to realize the Beijing Platform, we can still see how far we have to go. As we close the 54th UN Commission on the Status of Women, there’s no mystery as to what it takes to close this tremendous gap between policy and practice: money. Best-laid plans are moot if not resourced. So, on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, we at Women for Women International are coordinating a pledge encouraging member-states to invest in women to achieve the MDGs. We will deliver these signatures to the UN General Assembly this September, and make plain our concern that our promises are critically off-track. Join us today at www.womenforwomen.org/bridge and sign the pledge. As the UN motto reminds us, It’s our world.
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