MDG3: Promote gender equality and empower women - Professor Elaine Unterhalter, IoE, and Professor Charlotte Watts, LSHTM Tue, 2009-06-30 02:06

This presentation looked at the ways in which MDG3 was conceptualised as foundational to the other MDGs with an earlier target date. It highlights the debate as to whether this position enabled the MDG project to take a global agenda for women’s rights further or contributed to a fracturing of the alliances built in the wake of the Beijing conference in 1995. In reviewing the limited progress made against the indicators and the significance of some key aspects of women’s inequality for which there are no indicators, notably the levels of violence against women, this presentation posed the question as to what type of opportunity MDG3 offers to understand and monitor gender equality and the empowerment of women worldwide.

Read on to read a full report of the presentation.

Millennium Development Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

Founding, furthering or fracturing?
Professor Elaine Unterhalter, of the Institute of Education (IoE), and Professor Charlotte Watts, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), pooled their expertise to present a powerful critique of the narrowness of MDG3 at LIDC’s conference on 5 November. MDG3’s target is to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015. This is measured by four indicators: the ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education; the ratio of literate women to men (age 15-24); the share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector; and the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments.

At the conference, entitled No Goals at Half-time: What Next for the MDGs?, Unterhalter began by asserting the importance of having gender equity as an MDG, but then observed that limiting this challenge to achieving gender parity in primary education fell far short of what was needed. She remarked that there was gender parity in Afghanistan under the Taliban as only three per cent of boys and girls were in school. She said gender equity should be an objective coordinated across the MDGs.

Lack of progress
Unterhalter also charted the lack of coordinated action at the grassroots level and spoke of the fragility of the alliance supporting MDG3. She said there were no dramatic consequences when 94 countries failed to meet the 2005 goal of eliminating gender disparity and education in primary and secondary education, and this prompted her to ask: “How urgently do people take their obligations under the MDGs?” Her harshest criticism was reserved for the fourth indicator – the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments. She called this situation “derisory”. In the Middle East and North Africa only eight per cent of MPs are women and the developed world’s 26 per cent figure still lags far behind parity. Unterhalter concluded by saying that MDG3 has mobilised some resources, but that progress has been slow and the target needs to be extended to include additional indicators, including gender and primary school completion, under five mortality and youth labour force participation.

Violence against women ignored
Watts concentrated on the “silences” within MDG3, most notably the absence of targets and indicators relating to violence against women. She showed the inequality in power relations between men and women by highlighting the widespread nature of domestic violence against women, which is more commonplace in low-income countries. For example, large household surveys have found between 16 to 67 per cent of women have been physically or sexually assaulted by a partner. Watts illustrated the importance of gender equity to addressing difficulties such as the HIV epidemic, part of MDG6, as women are vulnerable to HIV infection due to high levels of sexual violence. She also showed how violence against women and other important issues, such as women’s legal rights and property ownership, are not discussed as part of the MDG debate.

Professor Elaine Unterhalter works at the Department of Educational Foundations and Policy Studies at IoE. She is the Director of an ESRC-funded project called Gender, Education and Global Poverty Reduction and she co-ordinates a team working with ActionAid to support research on girls’ education in Tanzania and Nigeria. Her interests include HIV and education, education and the capability approach, and her expertise includes countries in Asia and Africa, from Bangladesh to South Africa.

Professor Charlotte Watts is the Director of LSHTM’s Gender Violence and Health Centre – a multi-disciplinary group that conducts action-oriented research on the extent, causes and consequences of different forms of violence against women, and effective strategies for change. She has been conducting international research on HIV and on violence against women for fifteen years, and she has just completed three years as Head of the School’s Health Policy Unit.