Assessing progress towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls: Progress made but more needs to be done!


The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) met last month for its 58th session. The main agenda was to review progress made on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls.

The main message coming out of the meeting was yes, progress has been made, but much more needs to be done to reduce gender inequalities across all the MDGs. The Commission noted that the achievement of the MDGs has been slow and uneven both within and across countries.

While there is a goal (MDG 3) dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment, gender is relevant and critical in the achievement of all the other goals, and the achievement of these goals is critical for the status of women and girls.

The assessment does not paint a rosy picture of the status of the MDGs as far as women and girls are concerned. In three of the MDGs, the commission noted positive progress, while in the other five, it was clear targets would not be met.

Some of the MDGs where progress has been made is MDG 2 (Achieve universal primary education) where significant progress has been made in net primary school enrolments and towards eliminating gender disparity in primary education enrolment. The commission however expressed concern on the focus on numbers at primary level that has led to less focus on quality of education and transition of girls and young women to secondary and tertiary education. The majority of youth lacking basic education are young women.

Another goal where progress has been made is MDG 4 (Reduce child mortality) where significant progress has been made in reducing child mortality globally including through the efforts to eliminate new HIV infections and vertical transmissions in children, and other factors including lack of vaccines, malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, hunger and anemia. The commission however notes the interconnectedness of child mortality and women’s empowerment and the targets for this goal may be missed especially for poor countries and countries with high gender inequalities.

For MDG 7, the assessment concludes that while progress has been made globally in access to safe drinking water, progress on access to basic sanitation has been particularly slow, and the target is likely to be missed, with serious implications for women and girls, especially those living in vulnerable conditions. The Commission expressed concern at the disproportionate impact of climate change, natural disasters and other environmental disasters on women and girls.

On all the other MDGs, the commission notes that little progress has been made globally and there are great disparities between countries. Women remain disproportionally poorer than men, labour markets and wages remain unequal, maternal mortality remains high especially in poor and rural areas, number of women with HIV has increased globally since 2001 and not enough funding is going to women focused programs.

Not enough progress has been made on MDG3 (Promote gender equality and empower women) where progress has been noted to be slow with: “persistent gender disparities in some regions in secondary and tertiary education enrolment; the lack of economic empowerment, autonomy, and independence of women including lack of integration into the formal economy, unequal access to full and productive employment and decent work, under-representation in non-agricultural wage employment, over-representation in low paid jobs and gender-stereotyped jobs like domestic and care work, and the lack of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value; as well as the unequal burden of unpaid care work and insufficient measures to reconcile paid work and care responsibilities; the persistence of discriminatory attitudes, norms, stereotypes, and legal frameworks; insufficient social protection and insurance coverage for women; and despite progress, the low proportion and unequal participation and representation of women at all levels of decision making, including in national parliaments and other governance structures”.

One of the main concerns by the commission that has implications for research is the absence of consistent sex disaggregated data that would allow for a rigorous assessment of the situation of women and girls with regards to all the eight MDGs. This needs to be looked at in the broader context of mainstreaming gender and integrating gender perspectives in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of future development goals.

The Commission recommends a standalone goal on Women’s empowerment and gender equality that takes into account aspects of gender inequality such as gender- based violence, women and girls disproportionate share of care and unpaid work, the gender wage gap, and women’s access to assets and productive resources including land that have been missing from the current goals.


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