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DEVELOPMENT: Women Matter – In All of the Millennium Goals

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Aug 21 2006 (IPS) - In order to advance towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), gender equality cannot merely be limited to a number of specific objectives, but must be the lens through which all the targets are viewed, say experts and representatives of women’s movements in Argentina.

“In Latin America we are only going to overcome the growing social inequality if we incorporate the gender perspective into all eight goals, not just one,” Nieves Rico, representing the Women and Development Unit of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told IPS.

The eight MDGs were adopted by the United Nations member countries in 2000 as a platform for fighting inequality and poverty around the world. Most of the goals are to be met by 2015.

“The Millennium Goals and Gender Equality”, an Aug. 16 seminar convened by U.N. agencies in Argentina, was attended by representatives of women’s groups and by women officials, who discussed proposals for an approach to the MDGs that would incorporate the gender perspective in all of the targets.

The MDGs include halving the proportion of the population suffering from hunger and extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education, drastically cutting infant and maternal mortality rates, and fighting AIDS and other diseases.

One of the goals is to “promote gender equality and empower women.” But activists and women’s organisations in nearly every country believe that this goal, while valid in itself, should be included at the design stage of public policy strategies for every one of the other goals, too.

For example, to eradicate extreme poverty, it is not enough merely to count the number of people affected, but also to analyse the greater vulnerability of women within that population group, as well as their differential access to basic services such as housing, health or education.

With regard to jobs, it is not enough only to take into account the impact of unemployment on men and women, but also the root causes that explain the inequalities in their job opportunities, such as the greater burden of domestic responsibilities or the glass ceilings that prevent women from being promoted to higher and better-paid positions.

With these concepts in mind, ECLAC and the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) proposed looking at what Latin American countries have done so far in the direction of fulfilling the MDGs, through a gender perspective lens.

In Argentina, the gender perspective was presented through the work of two experts, who made recommendations and underscored how much has yet to be done.

One of the studies, by Claudia Giacometti – “The Millennium Goals and Gender Equality. The Case of Argentina” – pointed to the lack of adequate indicators that would reveal gender inequality, many aspects of which remain hidden.

There is a lack of systematic information in sensitive areas for monitoring gender problems and their correlation with poverty, Giacometti said.

The expert pointed to the wide disparities between the living conditions of women in the cities -where the Permanent Household Survey of the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses draws its data – and those who live in rural areas.

She also noted the lack of surveys measuring the use of time, to analyse how much of the responsibility for domestic work falls on women; the lack of systematic data on sexual and reproductive health; and the lack of statistics broken down by gender to show what proportion of decision-making positions in the public and private spheres are held by women.

However, it is not enough to disaggregate data by sex. New indicators need to be designed, and all social development problems should be discussed with a gender equality focus, said participants at the seminar. “This does not imply that women are seen as vulnerable, but that they must be seen as subjects with rights,” said Rico.

Over the last three years, Argentina has curbed its alarming indices of poverty and extreme poverty, and improved its health services. The goal of universal primary education is also close to being met, as it is in a large part of Latin America. Participation by women in productive employment has also increased, but this is not true for all sectors.

The president of the National Women’s Council, María Colombo, told IPS that the government is making progress towards fulfilling the MDGs, and that it plans to include recommendations from women’s groups in its second national report. “We know that we have to go beyond what is stated in the goals, but they are a start,” she acknowledged.

“The MDGs are like a navigation chart, an opportunity to make progress. But we must emphasise that social inequalities are exacerbated when they overlap with gender inequalities, and that this presents major challenges,” Ana Falú, director of UNIFEM for Brazil and the Southern Cone region, remarked to IPS.

“Women continue to face difficulties in getting into the labour market, and not only the poorest women but also the most highly educated, which means that universal education alone will not guarantee the same return for years invested in studying for boys as for girls,” Falú said.

To highlight the burden that the care of children imposes on women, and its correlation with poverty, Giacometti noted that 65 percent of households with no children under five were not classified as poor. However, only seven percent of households with three or more children under five were not poor.

Here Giacometti called to mind the fact that coverage in Buenos Aires of services for children under five is good, but that it is less satisfactory in areas where it would be more needed (rural zones) in order to empower women and boost their access to employment, education or health services.

Another expert, Eleonor Faur, presented her work on the need to make explicit the linkage between human rights and the MDGs, the inter-relationship between all the MDGs, and the importance of having civil society monitor the programmes that the State adopts to meet its obligations.

According to Faur, women’s growing participation in the labour force in Argentina is happening at a time when the labour market is becoming ever more precarious, and it must be made clear whether the jobs women occupy meet the principles of decent work.

Faur also insisted that problems like AIDS or maternal and child mortality cannot be tackled successfully other than from a gender perspective.

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