BUILDING GENDER EQUALITY IN URBAN LIFE
TAKING ACTION TO
EMPOWER WOMEN: UN MILLENNIUM PROJECT REPORT ON EDUCATION AND GENDER
Caren Grown, Geeta Rao Gupta, and Aslihan Kes
How can the global community achieve the goal of gender
equality and the empowerment of women? This question is the focus of
Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals endorsed by world leaders at
the UN Millennium Summit in 2000 and of this report, prepared by the UN
Millennium Project Task Force on Education and Gender Equality.
The report argues that there are many practical steps that
can reduce inequalities based on gender, inequalities that constrain the
potential to reduce poverty and achieve high levels of well-being in
societies around the world. There are also many positive actions that
can be taken to empower women. Without leadership and political
will, however, the world will fall short of taking these practical steps
— and meeting the goal. Because gender inequality is deeply rooted in
entrenched attitudes, societal institutions, and market forces,
political commitment at the highest international and national levels is
essential to institute the policies that can trigger social change and
to allocate the resources necessary to achieve gender equality and
Many decades of organizing and advocacy by women’s
organizations and networks across the world have resulted in global
recognition of the contributions that women make to economic development
and of the costs to societies of persistent inequalities between women
and men. The success of those efforts is evident in the promises
countries have made over the past two decades through international
forums. The inclusion of gender equality and women’s empowerment as the
third Millennium Development Goal is a reminder that many of those
promises have not been kept, while simultaneously offering yet another
international policy opportunity to implement them.
The Task Force Perspective
The task force affirms that gender equality and women’s
empowerment are central to the achievement of all the Millennium
Development Goals. Development policies and actions that fail to
take gender inequality into account or that fail to enable women to be
actors in those policies and actions will have limited effectiveness and
serious costs to societies. The reverse is also true: the achievement
of Goal 3 depends on the extent to which each of the other goals
addresses gender-based constraints and issues.
This task force believes that ultimate success in achieving
Goal 3 depends both on the extent to which the priorities suggested here
are addressed and the extent to which the actions taken to achieve the
other Goals are designed to promote equality of men and women and boys
and girls. While this interdependence among the Goals is important, the
task force wishes to underscore that Goal 3 has intrinsic value in
itself. That is why the report focuses on priorities and actions to
achieve Goal 3.
Like race and ethnicity, gender is a social construct. It
defines and differentiates the roles, rights, responsibilities, and
obligations of women and men. The innate biological differences between
females and males form the basis of social norms that define appropriate
behaviors for women and men and that determine women’s and men’s
differential social, economic, and political power.
The task force has adopted an operational framework of gender
equality with three dimensions:
• The capabilities
domain, which refers to basic human abilities as measured by
education, health, and nutrition. These capabilities are fundamental to
individual well-being and are the means through which individuals access
other forms of well-being.
• The access to
resources and opportunities domain, which refers primarily to
equality in the opportunity to use or apply basic capabilities through
access to economic assets (such as land or housing) and resources (such
as income and employment), as well as political opportunity (such as
representation in parliaments and other political bodies). Without
access to resources and opportunities, both political and economic,
women will be unable to employ their capabilities for their well-being
and that of their families, communities, and societies.
• The security
domain, which is defined to mean reduced vulnerability to violence
and conflict. Violence and conflict result in physical and
psychological harm and lessen the ability of individuals, households,
and communities to fulfill their potential. Violence directed
specifically at women and girls often aims at keeping them in “their
place” through fear.
These three domains are interrelated. Change in all three is
critical to achieving Goal 3. The attainment of capabilities increases
the likelihood that women can access opportunities for employment or
participate in political and legislative bodies but does not guarantee
it. Similarly, access to opportunity decreases the likelihood that
women will experience violence (although in certain circumstances, it
may temporarily increase that likelihood). Progress in any one domain
to the exclusion of the others will be insufficient to meet the goal of
The concept of empowerment is related to gender equality but
distinct from it. The core of empowerment lies in the ability of a
woman to control her own destiny. This implies that to be empowered
women must not only have equal capabilities (such as education and
health) and equal access to resources and opportunities (such as land
and employment), they must also have the agency to use those rights,
capabilities, resources, and opportunities to make strategic choices and
decisions (such as are provided through leadership opportunities and
participation in political institutions). And to exercise agency, women
must live without the fear of coercion and violence.
The Seven Strategic Priorities
To ensure that Goal 3
is met by 2015, the task force has identified seven strategic
priorities. These seven interdependent priorities are the minimum
necessary to empower women and alter the historical legacy of female
disadvantage that remains in most societies of the world:
opportunities for post-primary education for girls while simultaneously
meeting commitments to universal primary education.
2. Guarantee sexual and
reproductive health and rights.
3. Invest in
infrastructure to reduce women’s and girls’ time burdens.
4. Guarantee women’s
and girls’ property and inheritance rights.
5. Eliminate gender
inequality in employment by decreasing women’s reliance on informal
employment, closing gender gaps in earnings, and reducing occupational
6. Increase women’s
share of seats in national parliaments and local governmental bodies.
7. Combat violence
against girls and women.
These seven priorities
are a subset of the priorities outlined in previous international
agreements, including the Cairo Program of Action and the Beijing
Declaration and Platform for Action. The recommendations made in these
international agreements remain important for achieving gender equality
and women’s empowerment, but the task force sees the seven priorities as
areas needing immediate action if Goal 3 is to be met by 2015. Although
empowerment and equality should be enjoyed by all women and men, the
task force believes that action on the seven priorities is particularly
important for three subpopulations of women:
• Poor women in the
poorest countries and in countries that have achieved increases in
national income, but where poverty remains significant.
• Adolescents, who
constitute two-thirds of the population in the poorest countries and the
largest cohort of adolescents in the world’s history.
• Women and girls in
conflict and postconflict settings.
A focus on poor women is justified for several reasons.
Gender inequalities exist among the rich and the poor, but they tend to
be greater among the poor, especially for inequalities in capabilities
and opportunities. Moreover, the wellbeing and survival of poor
households depend on the productive and reproductive contributions of
their female members. Also, an increasing number of poor households are
headed or maintained by women. A focus on poor women is therefore
central to reducing poverty.
Investing in the health, education, safety, and economic
well-being of adolescents, especially adolescent girls, must also be a
priority. Adolescence is a formative period between childhood and
adulthood. It is a time when interventions can dramatically alter
subsequent life outcomes. Additionally, the sheer size of the current
adolescent cohort in poor countries means that interventions to improve
their lives will affect national outcomes. The task force has given
priority to the needs of adolescent girls because in most countries they
experience greater social, economic, and health disadvantages than boys
do. Therefore, investments to help girls complete good quality
secondary schooling, support their transition from education to work,
develop healthy sexuality, and guarantee their physical safety are
urgently needed and can simultaneously accelerate progress toward
several of the Millennium Development Goals.
Responding to these strategic priorities is particularly
urgent for women in conflict and postconflict situations. Situations of
conflict have disproportionate impacts on women and children, who are
typically the majority of displaced persons in refugee camps and
conflict zones. Postconflict periods present a window of opportunity
for reducing gender barriers and creating a gender-equitable society,
which is more likely to occur if the reconstruction process fosters the
full participation of women.
Strategic priority 1: strengthen opportunities for
post-primary education for girls while simultaneously meeting
commitments to universal primary education
Gender parity in access to schooling is the first step toward
gender equality in education. However, the world is still far from
achieving gender parity in enrollment and completion rates, particularly
at the secondary school level. A review of trends shows that gender
parity ratios remain below 0.90 in Sub-Saharan African and South Asia
even though girls’ primary school enrollment rates rose steadily over
the 1990s and are now relatively high. While the trends at the primary
level are positive, a number of countries are likely to miss both the
2005 and 2015 Millennium Development Targets. Projections are for 19 of
133 countries to have girls’ to boys’ primary enrollment ratios in the
0.70-0.89 range in 2005 and for 21 countries to have ratios below 0.9 in
2015. Twelve countries in this second group are in Sub-Saharan
Africa, which should be viewed as a “priority” region for interventions.
The picture is less hopeful if primary school completion is
used as the indicator. In 1990 boys completed primary school at a
higher rate than girls in all regions of the world except Latin America
and the Caribbean. In South Asia the difference was almost 14
percentage points in favor of boys, while in the Middle East and North
Africa and Europe and Central Asia, boys’ completion rates were about 11
percentage points ahead of girls’. Despite these gender gaps, there
have been improvements in girls completion in all regions since 1990,
and narrowing of the gender gap has been due mostly to increases in
girls’ completion rates.
Less encouraging is progress at the secondary school level.
Across the world there is greater variation in enrollment rates at the
secondary than at the primary level. Once again, South Asia and
Sub-Saharan Africa fare poorly, with gender parity ratios below 0.90.
East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, and the Middle East
and North Africa have a gender parity ratio above 0.90. Latin America
and the Caribbean and developed countries have reverse gender gaps
(girls’ to boys’ enrollment ratios higher than 1).
A closer look at the numbers, however, shows that girls’
enrollment rates are still low in most regions. Although 78 of 149
countries for which there are data have girls’ to boys’ secondary
enrollment ratios of 1.0 or greater in 2000, only 33 of the 78 countries
have female enrollment rates above 90 percent. In South Asia the female
secondary enrollment rate is 47.1 percent and in Sub Saharan Africa it
is only 29.7 percent.
Country projections for gender parity in secondary education
show that 24 of 118 countries are expected to have gender parity ratios
below 0.90 in 2005. That number rises to 27 in 2015. These
results suggest that achieving gender parity at high levels of
enrollment will take concerted national and international action.
Global commitments to girls’ education have focused in the
main on primary education. While this focus must continue, and
international commitments to universal primary education must be met,
the task force notes that the achievement of Goal 3 requires
strengthening post-primary education opportunities for girls. This
focus is justified for several reasons.
First, the 2005 target for Goal 3 will be missed for both
primary and secondary education but by a larger number of countries for
secondary education. Second, evidence suggests that among all
levels of education, secondary and higher levels of education have the
greatest payoff for women’s empowerment. These empowering effects
are manifested in a variety of ways, including increased income-earning
potential, ability to bargain for resources within the household,
decisionmaking autonomy, control over their own fertility, and
participation in public life. Third, focusing on secondary education
can strengthen the pipeline that channels students through the education
system and give parents an incentive to send their children to primary
school. Primary, secondary, and tertiary education are not
separate components but are an integral part of an education system.
For all these reasons the task force believes that achieving
Goal 3 requires strengthening post-primary education opportunities for
girls and that this can be achieved without wavering from the global
commitments to universal primary education.
A number of interventions that have proven effective for
increasing girls’ participation in primary school may also apply to
post-primary education. These include making schooling more affordable
by reducing costs and offering targeted scholarships, building secondary
schools close to girls’ homes, and making schools girl-friendly.
Additionally, the content, quality, and relevance of education must be
improved through curriculum reform, teacher training, and other actions.
Education must serve as the vehicle for transforming attitudes,
beliefs, and entrenched social norms that perpetuate discrimination and
inequality. All interventions taken to promote gender equality in
education must, therefore, be transformational in nature.
Strategic priority 2: guarantee sexual and
reproductive health and rights
Goal 3 cannot be achieved without the guarantee of sexual and
reproductive health and rights for girls and women. A large body of
evidence shows that sexual and reproductive health and rights are
central to women’s ability to build their capabilities, take advantage
of economic and political opportunities, and control their destinies.
Conversely, gender inequality that restricts women’s access to economic
resources compromises their sexual and reproductive autonomy. For this
reason, the task force has identified guaranteeing sexual and
reproductive health and rights as a strategic priority for achieving
gender equality and empowering women.
Maternal mortality rates are high, particularly in developing
countries where women’s chances of dying from pregnancy-related
complications are almost 50 times greater than in developed countries.
Women’s unmet need for contraception is also high. One-fifth of
married women in the Middle East and North Africa and one-quarter of
married women in Sub-Saharan Africa are unable to access the
contraception they need. Iron-deficiency anemia is also widespread,
affecting 50-70 percent of pregnant women in developing countries.
Severe anemia has been shown to be associated with postpartum
hemorrhage and is thought to be an underlying factor in maternal
mortality. Women are also more vulnerable than men to sexually
transmitted infections, particularly HIV/AIDS. Today, almost 50 percent
of the HIV-infected adults worldwide are women, and in Sub-Saharan
Africa, that proportion is 57 percent.
Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to a range of
sexual and reproductive health problems. In Sub-Saharan Africa about 75
percent of those ages 15-24 who are infected with HIV are women. Many
sexually active adolescents do not use contraception. Of the roughly
260 million women ages 15-19 worldwide, both married and unmarried,
about 11 percent (29 million) are sexually active and do not want to
become pregnant but are not using a modern method of birth control.
Underdeveloped physiology, combined with a lack of power, information,
and access to services, means that young women experience much higher
levels of maternal illness and death than do women who bear children
when they are older. Their limited negotiating power exposes them to
greater risk of sexually transmitted infection, especially in the common
instance of having partners who are much older and more sexually
According to the World Health Organization’s 2001 estimates,
sexual and reproductive health problems account for 18 percent of the
global burden of disease and 32 percent of the burden among women ages
15-44. By comparison, neuropsychiatric conditions account for 13
percent of all disability adjusted life years lost, respiratory
illnesses for 11 percent, and cardiovascular diseases for 10 percent.
Moreover, investing in reproductive and sexual health services is cost
effective. An early study in Mexico found that every peso the Mexican
social security system spent on family planning services during
1972-1984 saved nine pesos for treating complications of unsafe abortion
and providing maternal and infant care. Beyond such savings,
reproductive and sexual health services deliver other medical, social,
and economic benefits, including prevention of illness and death,
improvements in women’s social position, and increases in macroeconomic
investment and growth.
Interventions to improve sexual and reproductive health and
rights must therefore be a priority and should occur both within and
outside the health system. At a minimum, national public health
systems must provide quality family planning services, emergency
obstetric care, safe abortion (where legal), post-abortion care,
prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (including
HIV), and interventions to reduce malnutrition and anemia. Outside the
health system sexuality education programs are needed to lay the
foundation for improved sexual and reproductive health outcomes.
Ultimately, these interventions must be supported by an enabling policy
and political environment that guarantees women’s and girls’ sexual and
Strategic priority 3: invest in infrastructure to
reduce women’s and girls’ time burdens
Women’s and girls’ ability to participate in educational,
productive, and civic activities and thus to empower themselves
economically and politically is often limited by a household division of
labor that assigns to women and girls the bulk of the responsibility for
everyday household maintenance tasks. For poor women and girls this
responsibility is made more onerous by the underinvestment in public
infrastructure that characterizes most low-income countries. Three
types of infrastructure are particularly critical to reduce women’s time
burden: transport, water and sanitation, and energy.
In most rural communities around the world women are the
primary collectors of fuel wood and water. One study comparing women’s
time use in Sub-Saharan Africa found that women spent more than 800
hours a year in Zambia and about 300 hours a year in Ghana and Tanzania
collecting fuel wood. Studies in various countries show that women
also spend long hours in water collection and management. Women’s time
burdens are exacerbated by inadequate transport systems. For instance,
87 percent of trips in rural Africa take place on foot, and women
account for more than 65 percent of the household time and effort spent
The time spent by women and girls on routine tasks can be
reduced dramatically by the provision of accessible and affordable
sources of transport systems, energy, and water and sanitation systems.
Feeder and main roads can greatly expand women’s opportunities,
especially when combined with accessible and affordable modes of
transportation. They can increase women’s chances of finding employment
or training, boosting sales of goods outside the village, thereby
increasing income, expanding their social networks, accessing
healthcare, and approaching town and district government headquarters to
seek redress for their problems. The probability that girls will attend
school also increases. To increase the likelihood that these benefits
will accrue to women and girls, the design of transport projects must
also address safety and security needs. Providing adequate street
lighting and ensuring that the location of bus stops and terminals are
not remote or secluded are examples of ways to address these needs.
Improving women’s access to alternative sources of energy
other than traditional biofuels can reduce women’s time burdens, their
exposure to indoor air pollution, and the risks of other health
problems. Cooking fuels such as kerosene and LPG are recognized as good
substitutes for traditional biofuels because of their higher thermal
efficiency and relative lack of pollutants. Other interventions that
can bring about the same benefits include the promotion of improved
Rural electrification is probably the most desirable
alternative to biofuels. However, the high cost and limited
availability of electricity in developing countries restricts its use by
households for some tasks, including cooking. One option is to
strengthen transitional, low-cost solutions that the poor are already
using. An example is diesel-powered mini-grids for charging batteries
that can be carried to households. Another example is a multifunctional
platform powered by a diesel engine for low-cost rural motive power.
Such an intervention, implemented in Mali, has been particularly
successful in reducing women’s time and effort burdens.
Even when infrastructure is made available, access for poor
women and men may be constrained by other factors such as cost. With
respect to alternative sources of energy such as LPG and kerosene, a
combination of interventions can assist in lowering transport and
distribution costs: improved road and port infrastructure, improved
handling and storage facilities at ports, bulk purchases of fuels, and
impetus from the government through regulatory reform. Giving the poor
direct subsidies or lease/finance mechanisms to cover the upfront costs
of these fuel sources (such as the cost of an LPG stove or cylinder)
will also reduce costs.
Increasing women’s participation in the design and
implementation of infrastructure projects can help to overcome obstacles
to access and affordability. This is best illustrated in the
sanitation and water sector, where women play key roles as users and
managers. As primary collectors of water, women have key information
about such issues as seasonal availability from various sources, water
quality, and individual and communal rights to those sources. If
incorporated in project design, this information could also improve
project outcomes. There is strong evidence from community water and
sanitation projects that projects designed and run with the full
participation of women are more sustainable and effective than those
that ignore women.
Adapting modern science and technology to meet the
infrastructure needs of poor people in a way that builds on the
knowledge and experience of women and is accessible and affordable to
all is therefore a development priority.
Strategic priority 4: guarantee women’s and girls’
property and inheritance rights
Ownership and control over assets such as land and housing
provide economic security, incentives for taking economic risks that
lead to growth, and important economic returns, including income. Yet,
women in many countries around the globe are far less likely than men to
own or control these important assets. Ensuring female property and
inheritance rights would help empower women both economically and
socially and rectify a fundamental injustice. Rectifying this injustice
will also have other positive outcomes because women’s lack of property
has been increasingly linked to development-related problems, including
poverty, HIV/AIDS, and violence.
Secure tenure to land and home improves women’s welfare.
Land and home ownership confer such direct benefits as use of crops and
rights to the proceeds thereof and having a secure place to live.
Indirect advantages include the ability to use land or houses as
collateral for credit or as mortgageable assets during a crisis.
Beyond the direct economic impact, assets in the hands of
women have other welfare impacts. Land ownership can act as a
protective factor for women against domestic violence. Research in
Kerala, India, found that 49 percent of women with no property reported
physical violence, whereas only 7 percent of women with property
reported physical violence, controlling for a wide range of factors.
Some studies found that in societies where husbands control most
household resources, as in Bangladesh, expenditures on children’s
clothing and education were higher and the rate of illness among girls
was lower in households where women owned assets than in households
where women did not.
In addition to welfare gains, gender-equal land rights can
enhance productive efficiency. Land title can serve as collateral,
improving women’s access to credit, which in turn can increase output.
This can be especially crucial in situations where women are the
principal farmers, such as where male outmigration is high, where widows
(or wives) cultivate separate plots owned by others, or where women farm
independently of men, as in much of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Relatively little data exist on the magnitude of gender asset
gaps within and across countries, but these gaps are thought to be
substantial. Carmen Diana Deere and Magdalena Leon, in their 2003
World Development article on “The Gender Asset Gap: Land in Latin
America,” compiled a rough approximation of the distribution of land by
sex in five Latin American countries and found that land ownership is
extremely unequal, with women representing one-third or less of
landowners in the five countries. There are similar gender disparities
in rights to land in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Central Asia.
There are myriad channels through which men and women may
acquire land: inheritance, purchase in the market, or transfers from the
state through land reform programs, resettlement schemes for those
displaced by large dams and other projects, or antipoverty programs.
The literature shows that each channel has a gender bias: male
preference in inheritance, male privilege in marriage, gender inequality
in the land market, and male bias in state programs of land
Since 1995 there has been growing awareness and policy
attention to women’s property and inheritance rights drawing on evolving
human rights-based frameworks. There is no one global blueprint for
increasing women’s access to and control over land; rather, approaches
and interventions must be context-specific. Nonetheless, several types
of changes are necessary within countries to ensure women’s property
rights: amending and harmonizing statutory and customary laws, promoting
legal literacy, supporting women’s organizations that can help women
make land claims, and recording women’s share of land or property.
These reforms need to be implemented in tandem to have maximum impact.
In areas that are moving toward formal land registration systems, joint
titling can enhance women’s access to land. It can help guard against
capricious decisionmaking by a spouse; protect against the dispossession
of women due to abandonment, separation, or divorce; and increase
women’s bargaining power in household and farm decisionmaking. Joint
titling can be mandatory or voluntary for legally married couples,
although mandatory joint titling provides the most secure land rights
International efforts to improve women’s property rights have
gained momentum in recent years. The Convention on the Elimination of
All Forms of Discrimination against Women has focused on equality in
property as one of its important directives. The United Nations
Conference on Human Settlements (UN-Habitat) focuses centrally on women
and land. A number of international nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs) and UN agencies are working to enhance women’s access to land and
property; these efforts deserve greater support.
Strategic priority 5: eliminate gender inequality in
Women’s work, both paid and unpaid, is critical to the
survival and security of poor households and an important route through
which households escape poverty. Moreover, paid employment is critical
to women’s empowerment. In settings where women’s mobility is
restricted, increased employment opportunities can improve women’s
mobility and enable women to seek and access reproductive health care.
It can also expose them to new ideas and knowledge and broaden the
community with which they engage.
In the 1980s and 1990s women’s overall economic activity
rates increased everywhere, except in Sub-Saharan Africa, parts of
Europe and Central Asia, and Oceania. Yet, despite these increasing
economic activity rates, women’s status in the labor market remains
significantly inferior to that of men’s worldwide.
Gender inequalities exist in entry to work, conditions at
work, and in exit from the labor market. Early marriage, early
childbearing, and low education constitute barriers to women’s and
girls’ labor market entry. These barriers are beginning to crumble with
the creation of new employment opportunities in many countries and as
women’s education levels rise. To further reduce barriers to entering
employment, important strategies are increasing women’s access to
post-primary and vocational and technical education and improving the
quality of education. Of particular importance for adolescent girls’
participation and achievement in post-primary education is their
enrollment and achievement in math, science, and other technical
One barrier to entry that has remained the most resistant to
change is women’s responsibility for providing care for children, the
elderly, and the sick. Studies from around the world indicate that
the presence of young children and a lack of childcare options constrain
women’s entry into paid employment and their job opportunities.
Increased migration, the breakdown of extended families, and changing
social arrangements in some parts of the world have made extended
families a less reliable source of childcare than formerly, which
necessitates other types of care services.
Expansion of national policies and programs to provide
support for care — of children, people with disabilities, and the
elderly — is an important intervention to enable women to participate in
paid employment. The governments of most industrialized countries
accept some public responsibility for sharing the cost of rearing their
nations’ children, and many governments have developed comprehensive
family policies. Recognizing the value of early education, especially
targeted to poor children, governments in many developing countries,
including China and India, also support childcare and early education
services. Yet, no single country provides the investment in care
services that is required to fully meet the needs of women and their
children. Filling this gap is essential for meeting Goal 3.
With regard to the conditions at work, women’s status in the
labor market is inferior to men’s in most countries of the world,
according to key indicators such as occupational distribution, earnings,
the nature and terms of employment, and unemployment. In the labor
force women and men typically perform different tasks and are located in
different industries and occupational sectors. Occupational segregation
by sex is extensive in both developed and developing countries.
Approximately half of all workers in the world are in occupations where
at least 80 percent of workers are of the same sex. In many countries,
occupational segregation is significantly higher for the least educated
workers than for those with higher education.
Gender gaps in earnings are among the most persistent forms
of inequality in the labor market. In all countries men earn more than
women, and this is true across different groups of workers
(agricultural, services) and different types of earnings (monthly,
Employment — both formal and informal — has become
increasingly flexible in the past two decades with globalization.
Numerous studies show women’s increased participation in temporary,
casual, contract, and part-time labor in manufacturing. Although men
are also affected by these trends, the percentage of women in “flexible”
jobs greatly exceeds that of men.
Gender differences are also apparent in unemployment, with
women more likely to be unemployed than men in recent years. Studies
from the Caribbean economies and transition economies show that women
have experienced declines in access to jobs relative to men.
To improve the nature and conditions of work,
employment-enhancing economic growth is a prerequisite for low-income
countries, coupled with social policy that eliminates discriminatory
employment barriers. For poor women, especially those in rural areas,
public employment guarantee schemes can be an important intervention for
providing work and increasing income, although evaluations of country
programs reveal a mixed track record. Public employment guarantee
schemes can also be gender-biased. In many programs, women earn less
than men, partly because they are excluded from higher-wage and
physically difficult tasks. Women are also more susceptible to cheating
For countries with large informal economies, one of the
highest priorities to improve the conditions of work is social
protection for workers in that sector. Social protection and
safety net programs all too often exclude women by failing to account
for gender differences in labor market participation, access to
information, unpaid care responsibilities, and property rights. When
programs do not account for these gender differences, women are more
vulnerable to poverty and the risks associated with economic and other
shocks to household livelihoods.
Another avenue for increasing income for poor women is
through microenterprise development. Microfinance programs have been a
popular economic strategy over the past two decades to assist poor and
landless women to enter self-employment or start their own business. In
order to have greater impact, however, microfinance programs need to be
coupled with other types of products and services, including training,
technology transfer, business development services, and marketing
assistance, among others. More attention also needs to be given to
innovative savings and insurance instruments for low-income women.
In both developed and developing countries, a common
intervention to improve pay and working conditions is the passage and
implementation of equal opportunity or antidiscrimination legislation.
This includes family leave policies, equal pay and equal opportunity
laws and policies, and legislation guaranteeing rights at work.
Empirical evidence of the impact of each of these on women’s employment
and on relative wages comes mostly from industrial countries and
suggests that there have been some improvements, but these are
conditional on the degree of enforcement and other factors.
In light of current demographic trends, female vulnerability
in old age has gained increasing importance. Women live longer than men
and in most regions are more likely to spend time as widows, when they
are more vulnerable to poverty than men. Because pension entitlements
are predominantly through work, women’s responsibilities for unpaid care
work, as well as their predominance in informal employment and seasonal
and part-time jobs, restrict their access to the private pension-covered
sector. In many countries, jobs in the public sector have historically
been a major source of pensions; as the public sector has contracted
(due to structural adjustment, privatization, and cuts in government
spending), women have lost pension coverage.
Many countries, especially in Latin America and in Eastern
and Central Europe, are reforming their pension and social security
programs. Gender equality has not been a high priority in these reform
efforts. To protect retired women, it is important that the design of
old age security systems take account of gender differences in earnings,
labor force experience, and longevity. The specifics of pension reform
vary across countries, and there are too few studies to draw clear
conclusions about the effect of different types of pension programs on
women. Nonetheless, it is clear that programs that have a
redistributive component and that require fewer years of contributions
are better able to protect women in old age.
While opportunities for paid employment for women have
increased in countries around the world, the nature, terms, and quality
of women’s employment have not improved commensurately. Having access
to paid work is critical to family survival, but it is not sufficient
for reducing poverty or empowering women. Decent, productive work for
all should be the goal.
At the international level, a framework exists for promoting
equal access to and treatment in employment — the International Labor
Organization (ILO) Decent Work Initiative. This initiative has four
interrelated objectives: fostering rights at work and providing
employment, social protection, and social dialogue. The primary goal is
“to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and
productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security, and human
dignity.” The gender sensitivity of the decent work framework, and the
sex-disaggregated indicators it proposes for monitoring country
performance, make it suitable for tracking a country’s progress toward
eliminating gender inequalities in labor markets. The task force
recommends that the ILO be given the resources and authority to take the
leadership in providing data and monitoring progress for this
Strategic priority 6: increase women’s share of seats
in national parliaments and local governments
Increasing women’s representation in political office is now
a widely held development goal and one of the four Millennium
Development Indicators for tracking progress toward Goal 3. Indeed, the
Beijing Platform for Action recommended that governments set a target of
30 percent of seats for women in national parliaments.
There are three reasons why the task force has selected
political participation as a strategic priority. Countries where
women’s share of seats in political bodies is less than 30 percent are
less inclusive, less egalitarian, and less democratic. Equality of
opportunity in politics is a human right. Evidence also suggests that
women’s interests often differ from men’s and that women who participate
directly in decisionmaking bodies press for different priorities than
those emphasized by men. Finally, women’s participation in political
decisionmaking bodies improves the quality of governance.
Yet, around the world women are largely absent from
decisionmaking bodies. Only 14 countries have met the proposed target
of 30 percent of seats held by women. In another 27 countries women
held 20-29 percent of seats in 2004. Despite these low levels, women
have made notable progress in political life since 1990. Of the 129
countries that have longitudinal data, in 96 women have increased their
share of seats in parliament while in 29 countries women’s
representation declined over the decade and in 4 it remained unchanged.
Gender quotas and reservations are an effective policy tool
to increase women’s representation in political bodies. Experience
suggests four lessons about the conditions under which quotas
effectively enhance women’s voice in political bodies. The first lesson
is that the impact of quotas varies significantly according to a
country’s electoral system. Quotas work best in closed-list,
proportional representation systems with placement mandates and with
large electoral districts (that is, where many candidates are elected
from each electoral conscription, and parties can expect several
candidates running in the district to gain a seat). Second, placement
mandates are critical to the success of quotas in closed-list
proportional representation electoral systems. Because candidates
are elected from party lists according to the order in which they
appear, placement on the list affects the chances of being elected.
Placement mandates require parties to place women in high positions on
party lists. Without these mandates, political parties tend to comply
with quotas in the most “minimalist” manner permitted by law, that is,
with the lowest possible places on the list. Third, quota laws must be
specific and stipulate details of implementation. When quota laws are
vague, they leave considerable discretion to political parties to apply
— or fail to apply — quotas as they see fit. Finally, for quota laws to
be effective, parties must face sanctions for noncompliance. The
strongest sanction is to have a party’s list of candidates declared
invalid and to forbid the party from contesting the election. These
sanctions require that judges be willing and able to monitor party
compliance and that groups be willing and able to challenge noncompliant
lists in court.
Even without quotas and reservations, countries have several
ways to catalyze women’s political representation. A country’s
political culture plays an important role in affecting women’s political
participation. A recent cross-country study of women’s presence in
parliaments in 190 countries found that governments that make the
provision of welfare (or “care work” for children, the sick, and the
elderly) an “affirmative duty of the state” tend to elect around 5
percent more women to national legislatures than countries without these
policies (holding all other factors constant). The same study found an
interactive effect between constitutionalized care-work policies,
policies upholding democratic civil rights, and women’s political
representation. Countries with both sets of policies could be expected
to have 7 percent more women in their national legislatures than other
countries. The presence of a strong women’s political movement can also
make a difference in increasing women’s political representation.
Women’s organizations can mobilize a political constituency and
pressure governments to implement specific measures to ensure that women
are well represented in political parties and national decisionmaking
Strategic priority 7: combat violence against girls
Violence against women has serious health and development
impacts and is a gross violation of women’s rights. Its continued
existence is thus fundamentally inconsistent with Goal 3. However,
violence against women is prevalent in epidemic proportions in many
countries around the world. This report focuses on two important types
of violence: intimate partner violence and sexual violence or abuse by
nonrelatives or strangers within the wider community.
Violence against women has many health consequences.
Worldwide, it is estimated that violence against women is as serious a
cause of death and incapacity among reproductive-age women as is cancer,
and it is a more common cause of ill-health among women than traffic
accidents and malaria combined. Physical and sexual abuse lie behind
unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, including
HIV/AIDS, and complications of pregnancy. Studies around the world have
found that one woman in four is physically or sexually abused during
pregnancy. Some studies indicate that women battered during pregnancy
run twice the risk of miscarriage and four times the risk of having a
low birthweight baby as women who are not battered. Violence may
also be linked to a sizable portion of maternal deaths.
In the past decade evidence has shown that violence against
women is an important development constraint. National governments,
women’s organizations, and the United Nations now recognize violence
against women as a basic human rights abuse; atrocities such as rape
committed against women during armed conflict are acknowledged as a
“weapon of war” and a gender-based crime; and social violence in the
home is correlated with economic crime outside the home, as well as with
political and institutional violence at the local and national levels.
Accurate statistical data on the prevalence of gender-based
violence are difficult to come by because of underreporting by victims
and underrecording by the police. Few national statistical bodies
collect data on the topic, and few of the available studies yield
information that is comparable across countries or regions. Where
population-based surveys are available, they typically find that
violence against women cuts across socioeconomic, religious, and ethnic
groups and across geographical areas. Evidence from diverse contexts
reveals that women living in poverty are often especially vulnerable to
gender-based violence, as are adolescent girls. Women are at risk of
violence when carrying out essential daily activities — walking or
taking public transport to work, collecting water or firewood —
especially when these activities are undertaken early in the morning or
late at night.
Although no single intervention will eliminate violence
against women, a combination of infrastructure, legal, judicial,
enforcement, education, health, and other service-related actions can
significantly reduce such violence and ameliorate its negative
consequences. Throughout the 1990s countries around the world adopted
new legislation on intimate partner violence and reformed laws on rape.
To date, 45 nations (28 in Latin America and the Caribbean) have
adopted legislation against domestic violence, 21 more are drafting new
laws, and many countries have amended criminal assault laws to include
The health system is often the first entry point for victims
of abuse. Most female victims of partner or sexual violence visit
healthcare service providers but often resist contact with the police or
other services. A range of interventions can be identified in the
health sector to provide victim support and to deter additional
violence. Education provides another important entry point for
combating or preventing gender-based violence. Educational
interventions include both school-based programs and broader
communications campaigns aimed at raising community awareness about the
damaging effects of violence. Communications media such as
pamphlets, radio, television, and theater serve to educate and promote
change, as they can reach large audiences. Because violence often
occurs in unsafe public spaces, interventions to improve public
infrastructure can contribute to reducing violence against women.
Although international agencies and the global community have
rallied to address other epidemics (such as HIV and tuberculosis), they
have not responded in the same way to the epidemic of violence against
women. For instance, while the UN General Assembly resolution 50/166
established the Trust Fund to End Violence against Women at the United
Nations Development Fund for Women, country needs and requests far
outstrip the fund’s current resources. The task force seeks to
complement national, regional, and global efforts by calling for a
global campaign to end violence against women, spearheaded by the UN
secretary-general and endorsed by the General Assembly. The goal of the
global campaign would be to mobilize leadership at all levels — local,
national, and international — to generate action to make violence
against women unacceptable.
Data and Indicators
The task force suggests several indicators for monitoring
progress on the seven strategic priorities at both the country and
international levels. These indicators are intended to supplement, or
in some cases substitute for, the indicators chosen by the UN expert
group to assess progress during 1990 – 2015, when the Millennium
Development Targets are expected to be met.
Although the task force has not recommended the adoption of
new international or country-level targets for the seven strategic
priorities, countries may wish to set their own quantifiable, time-bound
targets for establishing progress on each of the seven strategic
priorities. Examples of such targets to be achieved by the year 2015
are, for strategic priority 2, “universal access to sexual and
reproductive health services through the primary health care system,
ensuring the same rate of progress or faster among the poor and other
marginalized groups,” and for strategic priority 6, “a 30 percent share
of seats for women in national parliaments.”
Goal 3 includes four indicators for tracking progress:
• The ratio of girls to
boys enrolled in primary and secondary education.
• The ratio of literate
females to males among 15- to 24-year-olds.
• The share of women in
wage employment in the nonagricultural sector.
• The proportion of
seats held by women in national parliaments.
The indicators proposed for tracking Goal 3 are insufficient
to track all seven strategic priorities and suffer from several
technical shortcomings. To address these limitations, the task force
suggests 12 indicators for countries and international organizations to
use in monitoring the progress toward Goal 3 (box 1).
indicators for tracking progress on strategic priorities for
• The ratio of
female to male gross enrollment rates in primary, secondary, and
• The ratio of
female to male completion rates in primary, secondary, and
reproductive health and rights
• Proportion of
contraceptive demand satisfied.
• Hours per day
(or year) women and men spend fetching water and collecting
• Land ownership
by male, female, or jointly held.
• Housing title,
disaggregated by male, female, or jointly held.
• Share of women
in employment, both wage and self-employment, by type.
• Gender gaps in
earnings in wage and self-employment.
in national parliaments and local government bodies
• Percentage of
seats held by women in national parliament.
• Percentage of
seats held by women in local government bodies.
• Prevalence of
None of these indicators measure the quality of
equality, the process that brings it about, or the nature of the
outcomes. Achieving numerical balance — parity — is clearly important
in a world where even this goal has yet to be attained. However
necessary, parity by itself is not a sufficient condition for achieving
the greater goal of gender equality. Unless indicators are also
developed for measuring the quality of change, we run the risk of
placing too much weight on mere parity of outcomes as opposed to the
quality of these outcomes and the way in which they are achieved.
Work to prepare several of the indicators proposed by the
task force on gender equality and women’s empowerment is well under way.
Improving countries’ capacity to enhance the coverage, quality, and
frequency of collection of sex-disaggregated data remains a priority,
however. Country statistical agencies need an infusion of resources to
strengthen their capacity and efforts to do all that is necessary to
collect and prepare sex-disaggregated data. Work at the country level
also requires technical support from key international statistical
agencies to develop methodological guidelines and undertake new data
collection efforts. Concurrently, substantial funding is required to
coordinate these activities within the appropriate international and
At the international level, the task force recognizes the
importance of a focal point in the UN statistical system to bring
together the various gender indicators and recommends the continuation
of the Women’s Indicators and Statistics Database (WISTAT) series, which
served this purpose. The Trends in the World’s Women, which was
based on WISTAT, should also continue to be published on a quinquennial
The Financial Costs
As the above discussion demonstrates, eliminating gender
inequality is a multidimensional and a multisectoral effort. For this
reason, the financial costs of these efforts are difficult to calculate.
An accurate cost analysis is the first step in efforts to mobilize the
financial resources needed to implement the various interventions and
policy measures that have been proposed.
In collaboration with the UN Millennium Project Secretariat,
the Task Force on Education and Gender Equality adapted the general
needs assessment methodology developed by the UN Millennium Project for
estimating the financing requirements of the gender-related
interventions. There are several caveats concerning this methodology.
First, the needs assessment comprises only some of the actions and
strategies necessary to meet the goal of gender equality. Adequate
resources alone will not achieve gender equality. Second, a gender
needs assessment is possible only at the country level and meaningful
only as part of a Goals-based national poverty reduction strategy in
which all stakeholders participate. The estimated costs that such
assessment yield depend on the interventions to be included, and these
need to be locally identified based on nationally determined targets.
Third, gender needs assessments should be carried out in conjunction
with similar exercises in such other Goals-related areas as education,
health, transport and energy infrastructure, water and sanitation,
agriculture, nutrition, urban development, and environment. This
simultaneous estimation of needs is important to ensure that the total
resources capture all gender-related interventions and strategies.
The UN Millennium Project approach to assessing the needs for
gender-related interventions follows two tracks. The first track covers
gender interventions to meet all other Millennium Development Goals
affecting gender equality and empowerment of women, and the second track
covers the additional specific interventions to meet Goal 3.
The first track includes gender-specific interventions in
agriculture, education, health, nutrition, rural development, urban
development, water and sanitation, environment, trade, and science and
technology. In each area there are interventions that empower women and
reduce gender inequality. Three of the seven strategic priorities have
been partially included in the needs assessment for specific sectors:
post-primary education for girls has been costed as part of the
education needs assessment methodology, the provision of sexual and
reproductive health services has been costed within the health sector
needs assessment methodology, and infrastructure to reduce women’s time
burdens has been costed as part of the infrastructure needs assessment
The second track
involves estimating the resources for additional specific interventions
to meet Goal 3. Examples of specific interventions for Goal 3 that are
not costed in any other Goals needs assessment include:
comprehensive sexuality education within schools and community programs.
• Providing care
services (for children, the elderly, the sick, and people with
disabilities) to allow women to work.
• Providing training to
female candidates in elections at the local, regional, and national
• Preventing violence
against women through awareness campaigns and education, hotlines, and
neighborhood support groups.
national women’s machineries through increased budgetary allocations and
staffing of ministries of women’s affairs and gender focal points in
institutional reform through sensitization programs to train judges,
bureaucrats, land registration officers, and police officers.
• Investing in data
collection and monitoring activities to track gender outcomes.
This needs assessment methodology is now being applied in
several countries. The results from Tajikistan, although preliminary,
are illustrative. They suggest that the costs of universal primary and
expanded secondary education in Tajikistan would be roughly US$20 per
capita on average annually for 2005-2015; the costs of setting up a
primary health care system (for child health and maternal health, major
infectious diseases, and sexual and reproductive health) would average
roughly US$29 per capita annually; and the costs of water and sanitation
provision would average roughly US$9.50 per capita.
The preliminary estimates suggest that the additional cost of
gender-specific interventions to meet Goal 3 (such as training and
awareness campaigns, interventions to reduce violence against women, and
systematic interventions to improve ministry capacities) will average
approximately US$1.30 per capita annually for 2005-2015, with costs
peaking at US$2.00 in 2015. Most of these costs will be for programs to
end violence against women. In absolute numbers, the cost of additional
specific interventions to meet Goal 3 in Tajikistan is US$10.56 million
each year, totaling $112 million for 2005-2015, or about 0.003 percent
of GDP over this period. To put this amount into context,
debt-servicing payments alone accounted for about 4 percent of GDP in
Tajikistan in 2001.
Making it Happen
This report describes
practical actions that can be taken within each strategic priority to
bring about gender equality and empower women. Within and across
sectors, within institutions, and in different country and community
contexts, different combinations of these actions have been implemented
and shown positive results. The problem is not a lack of practical ways
to address gender inequality but rather a lack of change on a large and
deep enough scale to bring about a transformation in the way societies
conceive of and organize men’s and women’s roles, responsibilities, and
control over resources. Essential for that kind of transformation are:
• Political commitment
by and mobilization of a large group of change agents at different
levels within countries and in international institutions who seek to
implement the vision of the world.
• Technical capacity to
structures and processes to support the transformation, including
structures that enable women to successfully claim their rights.
• Adequate financial
• Accountability and
Commitment and mobilization of change agents
The first ingredient of transformation requires a critical
mass of change agents committed to the vision of a gender equitable
society. These change agents include leaders at all levels of
government who control critical levers for change — financial and
technical resources — and set the priorities for actions affecting the
lives of many. To be effective, government leaders must work in
partnership with civil society institutions, especially organizations
that represent women’s interests. Simultaneously, there must be a
critical mass of change agents at the international level in the
institutions that provide support to national governments and civil
society organizations in implementing changes necessary for a
Achieving gender equality and bringing about women’s
empowerment also requires technical expertise and knowledge of how to
mainstream gender into development policies and programs. At the 1995
Fourth World Conference on Women the world community endorsed gender
mainstreaming as a key institutional response for promoting gender
equality and empowering women. Gender mainstreaming is not an end in
itself but a means to the goal of gender equality. It is both a
technical and a political process, requiring shifts in organizational
culture and ways of thinking, as well as in the structures of
organizations and in their resource allocations. As a technical tool,
mainstreaming can be effective only if supported by a strong political
or legal mandate.
Gender mainstreaming is often compromised by a lack of
conceptual clarity about the meaning of gender and by the assumption
that certain policy areas, such as infrastructure development or
macroeconomic measures, are in principle gender neutral. Such
conceptual confusion can be clarified through gender analysis and gender
training. Gender analysis involves gathering and examining information
on what women and men do and how they relate to each other. Gender
training builds capacity to use the information from gender analysis in
policy and program development and implementation.
An unfortunate consequence of training a broad range of
professionals is the elimination or downgrading of specialized gender
units and professionals.
mainstreaming requires a shift of responsibility for promoting gender
equality to all personnel, especially managers, gender specialists are
perceived as being no longer needed. In fact, the reverse is true:
gender mainstreaming can increase the need for specialist support.
Institutional structure and processes
Institutional transformation — fundamental change in the rules that
specify how resources are allocated and how tasks, responsibilities, and
values are assigned in society — is the third ingredient essential for
achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment on a large scale.
Women’s organizations are key agents in bringing about institutional
transformation at the national and international level because they
articulate women’s priorities and organize and advocate for change. At
the international level regional and global women’s movements mobilized
throughout the 1990s to put gender equality and women’s empowerment on
the agendas of major UN conferences, thereby transforming international
norms on women’s roles and rights.
Government agencies also play key roles in institutional transformation
because they create an enabling national environment for gender
equality. Through legislation, regulatory reform, and the expansion and
strengthening of public services, governments can rectify the
deep-seated gender biases that are inherent in their own institutions,
as well as put in place structures and processes such as women-friendly
law enforcement systems that enable women to claim their rights. To
make such institutional changes happen, a central unit or ministry needs
a mandate to ensure that gender equality and the empowerment of women
are addressed across all ministries and departments. At the 1995 Fourth
World Conference on Women in Beijing governments agreed that national
women’s machineries should be the institutional entity within government
to support and build capacity to mainstream gender equality across all
development planning and implementation processes.
about institutional transformation at the international level requires
changes within international agencies similar to those within national
government, including the creation of a gender unit that is structurally
and functionally placed so that it can influence decisions on policy and
program development and resource allocation. This is particularly
important because of the interdependency between donors and low-income
country governments and because international institutions often set the
parameters for the resource envelope and policy changes that are
possible at the country level.
Adequate financial resources
fourth essential ingredient for large-scale reductions in gender
inequality is the allocation of adequate financial resources for direct
interventions by both governmental and nongovernmental organizations in
building capacity, collecting data, and evaluating outcomes. Too often,
insufficient funds are allocated
for these purposes. Even if all the other ingredients
described here are in place, they cannot be effective without adequate
In part, efforts to promote gender equality are underfunded
because isolating the costs of gender interventions from the overall
costs of a sectoral intervention is challenging. However, methodologies
for estimating such costs have been developed and can now be applied.
Another reason why gender equality efforts are typically underfunded is
that the costs associated with them are incorrectly perceived as
additional to the core investment yielding only a marginal return rather
than more accurately as an essential expenditure for maximizing the
return on the core investment. A third reason is that gender equality
is viewed as a cross-cutting issue, which typically receives lower
priority in budgetary allocations than sector-specific issues. Because
cross-cutting issues are supposed to be everyone’s business, they tend
to become no one’s responsibility.
The question is how to ensure that the required resources
will be available and committed. Changes are needed in the
international system, including debt cancellation for heavily indebted
poor countries, dramatically scaled up and better quality official
development assistance, and trade reform that levels the playing field
for developing countries, in order to increase the availability of
resources. Domestic resource mobilization is also important for
generating the resources to achieve gender equality.
Accountability and monitoring mechanisms
Accountability and monitoring systems need to be in place
within countries and international agencies to ensure that fundamental
change is broad-based and lasting. At the country level, the needed
systems include a strong legal framework along with the mechanisms to
enforce it within and outside government, and a strong women’s movement
along with the processes that enable women’s groups to inform and
influence government policies and resource allocations.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women provides a powerful legal mechanism
enabling stakeholders at the country level to hold their governments
accountable for meeting Goal 3. The reporting obligation established in
the convention, and the work of the Committee on the Elimination of
Discrimination against Women, provide a context in which discrimination
against women can be eliminated and in which women can de facto fully
enjoy their rights. Frequently, the reporting process has created
partnerships between government, NGOs, and United Nations entities that
work together to achieve the goals of the convention. The convention
has had a positive impact on legal and other developments in countries
throughout the world. It has led many countries to strengthen
provisions in their constitutions guaranteeing equality between women
and men and providing a constitutional basis for protecting women’s
NGOs such as women’s organizations and other civil society
organizations have taken the lead in holding governments and
international agencies accountable for implementing their commitments to
gender equality and women’s empowerment. Indeed, much of the progress
made to date has been due to the political efforts and the mobilization
of such organizations.
In its interaction with countries the international system
needs to support these components of a well functioning country-level
accountability and monitoring system. Simultaneously, the United
Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions must ensure that mechanisms
are in place to hold themselves accountable for implementing
international mandates and commitments to gender equality, and that
watchdog agencies external to the international UN and Bretton Woods
system, particularly international women’s organizations, have
sufficient input into policy formulation and implementation and resource
Country Case Studies
The efforts of Cambodia, Chile, Rwanda, and South Africa to
improve women’s status and reduce gender inequality illustrate the
complicated processes involved in promoting gender equality and women’s
empowerment. These countries are attempting significant institutional
reform, catalyzed by strong and dynamic advocacy by women’s
organizations and other actors (such as other civil society movements or
donors). Some of these countries also made progress on a majority of
the seven strategic priorities described above, although it is difficult
to attribute changes to specific government actions.
Each of the four countries has been affected in its recent
past by significant internal turmoil and conflict. In each case
powerful change agents in women’s organizations and government have
seized the opportunity to rectify societal inequalities. Although
periods of peace-building and postconflict by definition provide space
for societal restructuring of the status quo existing before the
conflict, such restructuring can also occur in nonconflict settings if
some combination of the five elements described above (change agents
with a vision, institutional structures and processes, technical
capacity, financial resources, and accountability mechanisms) are in
Cambodia, Rwanda, and
South Africa have all made significant progress in the last decade in
closing gender gaps in primary and secondary education and in improving
key aspects of women’s sexual and reproductive rights and health.
However, despite gains in lowering maternal mortality ratios and the
unmet need for contraception, women in Cambodia, Rwanda, and South
Africa have been hit hard by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Of the four case
study countries Chile stands alone in opposing women’s reproductive
rights. On women’s political participation, Rwanda and South Africa
have achieved high levels of representation of women at both the
national and local level. Chile and Rwanda have taken strong legal
measures to address violence against women, and Cambodia has added the
elimination of violence against women as one of its additional
Millennium Development Targets. No country has adequately addressed
women’s poverty and economic opportunity — either in terms of their
participation in labor markets or of asset ownership and control.
In each of the four countries the conditions have been
created for fostering large-scale societal transformation. Each country
has a critical mass of change agents, within government and civil
society, with a vision of gender equality and women’s empowerment. In
some instances, such as in Rwanda and South Africa, leaders in
governments have worked in alliance with leaders in civil society, while
in others, as in Chile, the pressure of an independent women’s movement
forced change within government. Institutional structures and processes
are all being transformed through constitutional change, legal reform,
and the formation of new government organizations. Cambodia, Rwanda,
and South Africa all made commitments to gender equality a key component
of their constitutions, and all three, as well as Chile, have
implemented major legal and legislative reforms to advance equality
between women and men. And, in each country a national women’s
machinery has been put in place, supported by political leaders, with
strong mandates for achieving gender equality.
It is difficult to establish whether adequate technical
resources exist in each of these countries for implementing the
country’s commitments to gender equality. However, the multilayered
responses (legislative, policy, and project) to gender inequality in
each country suggest that technical capacity is not lacking.
Moreover, based on the evidence available, it is not possible
to comment explicitly on whether the gender equality machinery in each
country has adequate financial resources to do its work. Yet, the
advent of gender budget initiatives, especially in Chile, Rwanda, and
South Africa, holds the promise of such information becoming available
and useful to gender equality advocates within and outside government.
Finally, each country has women’s movements that can hold
governments to their promises. Gender budget initiatives are an
important monitoring and accountability mechanism. Each country is also
a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women, but it is not clear whether the associated
monitoring mechanism truly serves to hold governments accountable for
bringing about the changes required to meet the convention’s provisions.
Gender Mainstreaming in Millennium
Development Goals-based Country Policy Processes
Poverty reduction strategies within low-income countries are
the mechanisms for influencing development policies and plans and
ensuring that actions to address the Millennium Development Goals are
implemented. Thus, a critical entry point for promoting gender equality
and women’s empowerment at the country level is the poverty reduction
A core recommendation of the UN Millennium Project is that
every developing country restructure its short-term poverty reduction
strategy in the context of a 10-year Millennium Development Goals
framework. This offers a new opportunity to apply the lessons from past
poverty reduction strategy processes so that the new Goals-based poverty
reduction strategies succeed in fully mainstreaming gender and
empowering women. The UN Millennium Project suggests a five-step
approach to designing an MDG-based poverty reduction strategy.
Gender considerations should be an integral component of each
step. First, the data that countries use to diagnose the nature and
dynamics of poverty must be sex-disaggregated. Second, in undertaking a
systematic needs assessment to evaluate policies, governance structures,
and public investments, countries should use the tools and methodologies
described throughout this report, including gender analysis, gender
training, and gender needs assessment, in a consultative process that
allows for the full participation of women’s organizations.
Third, in converting the needs assessment into a financing
strategy, both the plan for public spending and services and the
financing strategy should be based on a gender analysis of public
expenditure and revenue. A gender-aware public spending plan must
include sex-disaggregated, gender-sensitive measures for inputs,
outputs, and outcomes; must make gender equality an explicit indicator
of performance; and must incorporate into the budget framework
dimensions of costs and expenditures that are not typically included,
such as the unpaid care of children, the elderly, and sick, provided by
Finally, the public sector management strategy, with its
focus on transparency, accountability, and results-based management,
should include processes that allow stakeholders committed to gender
equality to participate in meaningful ways. For example, women’s
organizations and other civil society groups that promote gender
equality must be given full information and be able to participate in
formal feedback mechanisms through which accountability can be
Much of what is said in this report has been known for
several decades, but it has been difficult to translate that knowledge
into development policy and practice at the scale required to bring
about fundamental transformation in the distribution of power,
opportunity, and outcomes for both women and men. The next 10
years provide a new window of opportunity to take action on a global
scale to achieve gender equality and empower women, which are critical
for meeting all the Millennium Development Goals. Governments and
international organizations can provide an enabling environment to make
this possible. Women’s organizations need the space and resources
to bring about the societal transformations that remove the constraints,
fulfill the potential, and guarantee the rights of women in all
countries. The recommendations made in this report can pave the way
toward that future.
is a Senior Scholar and Co-Director of the Gender Equality and the
Economy Program at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College in
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. She is co-author of
and Alternative Visions. She recently served as a Lead Author of
Taking Action: Achieving Gender Equality and Empowering Women, a
report of the UN Millennium Project Task Force on Education and Gender
Equality. Geeta Rao Gupta is President of the International
Center for Research on Women in Washington, DC, and Co-Chair of the
United Nations Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Youth
Employment. She is Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of InterAction,
and a member of the Board of Directors of the Moriah Fund. She recently
served as a Coordinator of the UN Millennium Project Task Force on
Education and Gender Equality and as a Lead Author of Taking Action:
Achieving Gender Equality and Empowering Women. Aslihan Kes
is a Program Associate in Poverty Reduction and Economic Governance at
the International Center for Research on Women in Washington, DC. She
recently served as a Lead Author of Taking Action: Achieving Gender
Equality and Empowering Women. Their article is adapted from this
report, and is reprinted by permission of the UN Millennium Project.
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