Improving the position of girls and women around the world was an important touchstone for the Millennium Development Goals. But, was it at the core of the MDGs agenda? Have the last 15 years shown a marked improvement for girls and young women across a range of issues – access to education and the workforce, accountability, and political representation? And, what do the Sustainable Development Goals have to say about gender equality and women’s empowerment? As part of our series to mark World Population Day (see part 1 introducing the series here), how far have we come to meet MDG 3: promote gender equality and empower women?
What did the MDGs commit to, and why is gender equality so important?
MDG 3 called for several targets to be met. It called for the elimination of gender disparities in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015. Girls are particularly vulnerable to missing out on an education or dropping out of school. For example, one in ten girls living in Africa will miss class or drop out of school drop out of school entirely due to their periods. In India, a quarter of girls will drop out of school after their first period.
As the MDGs recognized, this has major implications for their communities and for supporting sustainable development. Girls’ education has the potential to be have a huge multiplier effect. When a girl has seven years of education, she gets married later and has fewer children on average, is less likely to be a victim of sexual violence, and more likely to use contraception. Additionally, an extra year of primary education can boost a girl’s future earnings by 10-20%, and an extra year of secondary school by 15-20%.
MDG 3 also committed governments to improving the share of women in the non-agricultural sector, and improved representation of women in parliaments. On the former point, enabling more women into the workforce – as in education – has massive implications for the economies of low- and middle-income countries. Closing the jobless gap between men and women would yield an increase of GP by 1.2% in one single year. Increasing female representation in parliaments around the world is self-evident – a system which does not accurately represent its population is not truly representative and unlikely to fully reflect the wishes and needs of girls and women. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on education and employment – as these are the issues that DSW as an organization works on in local communities.
Have the goals been met?
According to the UN’s data, significant progress has been made towards improving access to education for girls. About two thirds of countries in the developing regions have achieved gender parity in primary education. Below the headline figures, progress has varied significantly by region. For example, more than half of the countries that experienced gender disparities in primary education in 2012 were in sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, when measuring progress in the expansion of secondary education, girls in sub-Saharan Africa remain at a disadvantage compared to other regions. Progress on tertiary education is more uniform, but only because only one region has reached the target.
On progress towards increasing access for women to the non-agricultural workforce, women’s share of wage employment has grown slowly since 1990: it has increased from 35% in 1990 to 41% in 2015; at the same time, proportionately less women are now involved in vulnerable work than in the past. Despite the progress that has been made on improving access of girls and women to an education and to work, disparities in pay continue between men and women. Not only do educated women find it harder to get a job than similarly-qualified men, they are paid less (24% less globally) than those same men.
What is left to be done – and how can we do it?
We have seen first-hand just what investing in girls and women to improve their job prospects can do for local communities. DSW’s Women and Girls Empowerment (Woge) project aims at strengthening women and girls’ economic self-reliance in East Africa, and has reached over 6,000 girls across the region to date. The results speak for themselves: 93% of women and girls in the project have created cottage industries, 75% of women have access to land or property rights as a result of Woge-led advocacy efforts, eight out of ten beneficiaries have increased their household income and their economic self-reliance. Check out the infographic for more details on the project’s achievements.
In its report, the UN highlights why these disparities remain, and what we need to do in the next phase to finally eradicate them. The MDG progress report for 2015 points to issues such as household responsibilities and cultural constraints. In addition, they point to gaps in progress on gender equality in areas that were not addressed by the MDGs – together with other partners and the movement behind the Girl Declaration, this is why DSW has been calling for girls not to be left behind in the post-2015 agenda. And what is the suggested remedy of the UN? It says that we need to urgently tackle gender-based discrimination both in law and in practice, eradicate violence against women, address property and asset rights, and many other areas where gender inequality is holding women back. Essentially, we need to mainstream gender equality across the SDGs, to make sure that the needs and desires of girls and women are at the centre of the post-2015 agenda.
What do the SDGs have to say about it?
And, what of the SDGs? Well, gender equality is repeatedly references throughout the current draft document that is set to be the basis for the final negotiations in New York in September. Gender equality receives its own goal (number five), with long list of sub-targets that deal with:
– Ending all forms of gender-based discrimination
– Eliminating all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation
– Eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls
– Ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights
This is a non-exhaustive list of some of the targets set out in the latest draft of the SDGs. You can find the whole thing here. It remains to be seen if, this and other associated goals aside, gender equality and the rights of girls and young women will be fully integrated into the post-2015 agenda. A large amount will be dependent on the discussions around how we measure the progress towards reaching these goals, and how we decide to implement them in international, regional and national policies. To be continued!