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Making the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Work for All
Gender-Responsive Rights-Based Approaches to the MDGs
July 2008
United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)


Making the MDGs Work for All: Gender-Responsive Rights-Based Approaches to the MDGs is a resource on how to implement the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from a gender equality and women's empowerment perspective. It is especially designed to assist development policy makers, planners and practitioners from government and civil society to develop, implement and monitor strategies to achieve each goal for all women and men, girls and boys in ways that adapt global goals and indicators to national and local contexts and draw links between the different MDGs.

Promoting gender equality and empowering women is clearly embedded in the Millennium Declaration, and is one of the eight MDGs, set at the heart of the development agenda. The MDGs are a fresh promise for progress on gender equality and women's empowerment. Conversely gender equality and women's empowerment are critical to achieving the MDGs most obviously Goal 2 on universal primary education, Goal 4 on reducing child mortality, Goal 5 on improving maternal health, and Goal 6 on combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Gender equality and women's empowerment also contribute to Goal 1 on poverty reduction and to economic growth directly through women's increased labour force participation, productivity and earnings, as well as indirectly through beneficial effects on children's well-being and the quality of the next generation's human resources. Women are also key players in the achievement of Goal 7, ensuring environmental sustainability.

However gender equality perspectives are poorly reflected across all the MDGs in their current formulation. Most either have inadequate or no gender sensitive targets and indicators, making them difficult to achieve. Second, the target for Goal 3 on gender equality and its indicators are limited. They represent a possible means to equality and do not necessarily reveal the quality of rights women enjoy or women's real empowerment. Third, the MDGs appear as standalone goals, blurring the multi-sectoral links between all goals, targets and indicators, including the cross-cutting gender link. For instance, preoccupation with maternal health and gender disparities in education, without addressing their relationship to feminized poverty, gender biases in the economy, gendered violence and ideologies, could thwart gender equality, women's empowerment and thus the achievement of all the goals.

UNDP reviews of 13 and 78 MDG reports for 2003 and 2005 respectively establish that gender equality is not adequately mainstreamed into national reports; traditional gender role and trait stereotyping persists; an instrumentalist rather than a right-based focus frames approaches to gender equality; sex-disaggregated quantitative data is not supplemented by qualitative data or adequate gender analysis; the nature of reporting makes invisible the cross linkages between targets and indicators across goals; and involvement of gender equality advocates in the preparation of MDG reports across all the goals is lacking.

Global statistical data for 2005 reveals that girls constituted 57 per cent of the 72 million children of primary school age not enrolled in school. Globally, women were 48 per cent of those living with HIV/AIDS. More than half a million women died each year of treatable and preventable complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Preventing unplanned pregnancies alone could avert one quarter of these deaths, yet 137 million women have an unmet need for family planning and an additional 64 million were using traditional methods with high failure rates. Women formed only 39 per cent of non-agricultural wage labour, but more than 60 per cent of unpaid family workers. Thus the majority of women lacked access to cash incomes, job security and social protection. Quite obviously a poor gender equality and women's empowerment score card spells poor performance in MDG achievement.

Against this background, this UNIFEM publication that presents a gender-responsive rights-based approach to MDG implementation is a useful and relevant resource with strong East, Southeast, South Asian, and national resonance. It is gender-responsive and rights-based in that it takes account of (a) the different and unequal situation of women and men, girls and boys in most contexts and (b) the different and discriminatory impact of policies and institutions that mirror these socio-economic and political inequities between women and men, girls and boys. It calls attention to ensuring that policy, institutional and social environments structure, process and content guarantee that men and women, boys and girls have equal access to opportunities and benefits; that the State as duty bearer is obligated to protect, respect and fulfil the rights of all and to ensure that others do so too; that the capacities and capabilities especially of the most vulnerable are built to claim their rights and entitlements. The publication argues for the comprehensive and indispensable use of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) frameworks - endorsed, owned and committed to by all 10 ASEAN Member States to ensure MDG implementation.

Part One of the publication sets the framework for a gender-sensitive rights-based framework to achieving the MDGs. It begins by mapping out the elements of a gender sensitive rights-based approach to development. It provides an overview of the MDGs, specifically highlighting (a) the inadequate integration of gender into MDG implementation and reporting; (b) the need to adapt the MDGs, including its gender dimensions to regional and national contexts; (c) the need to forge links between all the MDGs, including the gender links. This section then maps out the causes for slow MDG implementation in several countries, especially in the South and Southeast Asian region, in part due to inadequate attention to gender equality and women's empowerment. It then suggests measures to achieve gender sensitive rights-based MDG implementation and reporting for the future, emphasizing the use of CEDAW, BPFA and MDG principles and processes as mutually reinforcing mechanisms. This involves the following: that institutional mechanisms engage CEDAW and BPFA advocates at all stages of MDG implementation; that we draw on the rich data and analysis generated in the CEDAW and BPFA review processes to inform gender equality and women's priorities in relation to all MDGs; draw on CEDAW and BPFA to frame MDG targets and indicators across all goals; upscale tried and tested strategies under CEDAW and BPFA to inform National Development Policies, Plans and Programmes to achieve the MDGs; draw on the CEDAW and BPFA monitoring and review processes to draw attention to MDG-related progress and challenges in delivering on gender equality and women's empowerment; ensure that MDG resources are adequately allocated and spent on gender equality and women's empowerment concerns.

Part Two of the publication emphasizes application how to engender MDG implementation. It analyzes each goal with its current targets and indicators from a gender equality and women's empowerment perspective; provides specific information and analysis on gender equality and women's empowerment concerns across each of the MDGs; suggests gender-sensitive targets and indicators for each goal that are relevant at national and sub-national levels; shows how to mainstream a gender-sensitive rights-based perspective into MDG implementation, highlighting the principles, processes and strategies involved in the same from the good practice of countries in the region and beyond. In doing so, this publication complements the 2005 UNIFEM publication Pathway to Gender Equality1, which draws the conceptual link between CEDAW, BPFA and the MDGs as mutually reinforcing processes and provides an overview of the specific actions recommended by CEDAW and BPFA to achieve each goal.

UNIFEM invites development practitioners within government and civil society to draw on the rich data, analysis, targets and indicators in the publication to engender the implementation of all MDGs.

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