Saturday, March 05, 2005

[MDGs] Clock Ticks for Twin Aims of Equality and Prosperity

By Isaac Baker

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 4 (IPS) - Making faster progress on gender equality is essential if states are to reach the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by their deadline, U.N. officials and women's rights experts said during the first week of the world body's international women's conference. The conference, which ends Mar. 11, has been focusing on the interdependency of ensuring women's rights and achieving the MDGs, eight development objectives that all 191 U.N. member states have pledged to help each other meet by 2015. "There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said at the opening of the conference. "No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, or to reduce infant and maternal mortality." "No other policy is sure to improve nutrition and health," he said. "No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation." The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in poverty and hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; and the reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. The third MDG is the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. While this is the only goal to explicitly speak of fighting gender inequality, U.N. officials say all the MDGs must include gender-based initiatives if they are to be fulfilled. "Gender equality is not only a goal in its own right," Zephirin Diabre, associate administrator of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), said Thursday at a panel discussion on women and development. "It is clear that the other goals cannot be reached without gender equality." The conference, titled "Beijing at 10," marks the 10-year anniversary of the Beijing Conference and Platform for Action and aims to analyse the progress of implementation of the conference's action plan. While advances have been made in overcoming gender inequality in the decade since the Beijing convention, officials said, women are far from enjoying rights on an equal platform with men, a situation that is jeopardising the development goals. With the 10-year review of the Beijing conference, and the MDG deadline a decade away, U.N. officials and women's advocates are looking at 2005 as a turning point for gender equality. "It is clear that if we continue on this trajectory, we will not reach the MDGs," Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini Zuma, South Africa's minister of foreign affairs, said Thursday. "But with commitment, both national and international, it is still possible." In order to halve poverty, the first goal, individual states and the international community must create gender-sensitive anti-poverty measures, officials say. U.N. officials and members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) spoke Thursday of the "feminisation of poverty" and criticised anti-poverty action that does not specifically target women. "Women still live in conditions of abject poverty," Diabre said, adding that women spend twice as much time in unpaid labour as men. "It is clear that the fight against poverty is a fight against women's poverty." While it is difficult to assess the exact number because gender-stratified statistics on the MDGs are limited, officials say women are especially vulnerable to poverty due to discrimination in employment and many other factors. Women and girls are also more often deprived of education, which only fuels the prevalence of poverty among women. Achieving gender equality in primary and secondary education is one of the development goals, and is also at risk of failing. "Education is the right of every one of the world's daughters," Annan said in a message Wednesday. "It is also crucial to our progress in reaching many other development goals." "If we are to succeed in our efforts to build a healthier, peaceful and equitable world, classrooms must be full of girls as well as boys," he said, adding that the most of the 100 million children not in school are girls. "By educating girls, we will trigger a transformation of society as a whole -- social, economic, political." By the end of 2005, all states pledged to have reached gender equality in primary education -- secondary by 2015. However, Caren Grown of the International Centre for Research on Women told member states Thursday that if current trends continue, 19 states will miss the 2005 goal and 24 will miss the 2015 goal. The goal of halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS must also include gender-sensitive initiatives, U.N. and NGO officials said this week. The increase in sexual trafficking of women and girls, continued sexual violence against women, and other factors leave women unequally susceptible to infection with HIV/AIDS. Improving maternal health, also one of the MDGs, can only be accomplished when coupled with reproductive rights and proper health care, women's rights experts said this week. Planned births and protection from unwanted pregnancies also increase a woman's chances of employment, Diabe noted.