Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gender Justice Key to MDG Progress

Inés Alberdi. Credit: UNIFEM
With five years remaining to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the 2010 MDG Summit challenges world leaders everywhere to commit to actions to accelerate progress. A UNIFEM briefing, excerpted from its forthcoming report on women’s access to justice, points to key areas where such actions are critical.
It shows that despite promising progress on many of the MDG targets, national averages mask large disparities in terms of gender, income and location, with large numbers of women and girls being left behind, especially in rural areas.
Gender justice entails ending the inequalities between women and men in the family, the community, the market and the state. It also requires that mainstream institutions – from justice to economic policymaking – are accountable for tackling the injustice and discrimination.
The briefing identifies four critical areas where action is essential: expanding women-friendly public services; increasing women’s leadership, voice and influence in society; strengthening women’s access to employment and livelihood opportunities; and ending violence against women and girls.
Ensuring universal access to services is vital to efforts to eliminate hunger, expand education, reduce maternal and child mortality, improve reproductive health and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Inequalities in access to services impede progress on the MDGs. People living in rural areas are at a marked disadvantage, because poverty rates are higher and access to services and markets are lower.  Removing user fees, providing educational stipends and ensuring safe and reliable transport have been shown to increase access to education and health care and reduce infant mortality. Employing more female service providers has been shown to increase women’s use of services and offer positive role models for girls.
Women’s participation is essential to gender-responsive governance. Where women’s voices are heard, policies better reflects their lives; where under-representation persists, their interests are repeatedly ignored.
Globally, women’s share of parliamentary seats averages 19 percent and women occupy 16 percent of ministerial posts, primarily in the social sectors. Stronger action is needed to increase women’s leadership not only in elected office, but in economic policy-making, agricultural and rural development, peace negotiations and many other fields. The most effective way to do this is through special temporary measures, including quotas; of the 29 countries that have reached or exceeded the 30 percent benchmark for women in parliament, at least 24 have used quotas.
Increasing economic opportunities for women underpins gender justice and propels progress towards the MDGs; increasing women’s employment and earnings is associated with reduced poverty and faster growth, better education and health outcomes for families and children and less rapid spread of HIV/AIDS.
Yet gender discrimination persists. In every sector women have fewer opportunities, less job security and lower pay than men. In rural areas, the vast majority of women earn their livelihoods in small scale agriculture, lacking secure land access, agricultural services or credit.

The MDG Summit draft outcome document emphasizes that investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect on productivity and sustained economic growth. It includes commitments to increase women’s access to decent work, close wage gaps, and other investments, especially for rural women.
Violence against women and girls is widespread and persistent in all countries, retarding progress on all the MDGs.  Cost estimates of such violence to public budgets and lost productivity also run into billions of dollars each year.
The draft outcome document commits to strengthening comprehensive laws, policies and programmes to combat violence against women and girls. . These provide a solid basis on which to move forward, in line with the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE Campaign to End Violence Against Women, particularly at country level.  A key goal of the UNiTE campaign is to increase resources for the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which supports actions to combat violence against women and girls to $100 million annually by 2015.
The creation of UN Women, a strengthened and consolidated UN entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment, by the General Assembly this year is an indication that the political will is there. Strong political and financial support for UN Women by countries around the world will send a strong message that the world is ready to match commitment with investment.
*Executive Director, UNIFEM (part of UN Women)

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Violence against women is a worldwide yet still hidden problem. Freedom from the threat of harassment, battering, and sexual assault is a concept that most of us have a hard time imagining because violence is such a deep part of our cultures and lives.