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Growing Inequality Mars 20 Years of Women’s Progress

Sex education is expelled from Egyptian schools. Credit: Victoria Hazou/IPS

Sex education is expelled from Egyptian schools. Credit: Victoria Hazou/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 14 2014 (IPS) - As the world moves closer to the 2015 end mark of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a new U.N. report illuminates how far global society has come, but also how far it still must travel to achieve its objectives.

The report tracks the last two decades of progress on issues such as universal access to family planning, sexual and reproductive health services and reproductive rights, and equal access to education for girls.

"This report gives us the leverage to take things to the next level, where women, girls and young people will be central to the next development agenda.” -- Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

“We must work with governments to address issues of inequality, which is I think the greatest determinate in terms of the MDGs,” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS.

“We expect that as we move into the post-2015 conversation, the evidence we have today will ensure that member states will see that if they are going to make progress…we must put people at the centre of development.”

Since 1994, the year of the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo when 179 governments committed to a 20-year Programme of Action to deliver human rights-based development, UNFPA has identified significant achievements with regard to women’s rights and effective family planning, but also a dramatic increase in inequality.

Maternal mortality has dropped by almost 50 percent and more women than ever before have access to both contraception and family planning mechanisms, supporting a decrease in child mortality. Furthermore, women are increasingly accessing education, participating in the work force and engaged in the political process.

Nevertheless, a gross disparity remains between the developed and developing worlds. In a press conference, Dr.  Osotimehin indicated that while the global average likelihood of a woman dying in childbirth is one in 1,300, this increases to one in 39 when evaluating developing nations specifically.

The report also notes that 53 percent of the world’s income gains have gone to the top one percent of the global population, and that none of these gains have gone to the bottom 10 percent.

It focuses on root factors of these problems and the central influences on women and girls’ ability to make choices about their lives. Child marriage and education are two main factors in this respect.

Source: UNFPA

Source: UNFPA

“It is important to underscore the fact that once girls don’t go to school, once they are married too early and once they have children as children, they cannot be equal to men, and they cannot have the same political and economic power as men,” explained Dr. Babatunde.

The effect of these factors is not limited to the success of the individual. They are also important for the development of nations as a whole.

“Education and access to health, if they are properly planned, allow people to live longer, and add value to the development of the country,” Dr. Osotimehin told IPS.

UNFPA does not work alone on these issues. Other organisations also collect information and cooperate to address problems associated with population and development.

“The report is very important for us because it both reflects what we have done and suggests a way forward that we like to think we have helped to inform,” Suzanne Petroni, senior director of gender, population and development at the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), an organisation which works to identify the contributions and barriers facing women across the world, told IPS.

In 2000, all U.N. member states at the time signed on to the MDGs, all of which are directly addressed in the second ICPD report. They are to be succeeded by the SDGs – the Sustainable Development Goals.

The 1994 Programme of Action was not limited to women’s rights. It also sought to address the individual, social and economic impact of urbanisation and migration, as well as support sustainable development and address environmental issues associated with population changes.

“Ensuring that we have a monitoring mechanism for the implementation of what governments have committed to…that is actually the most important thing going forward,” Dr. Osotimehin stressed to IPS. “We now need to make the commitments count on the ground.”

A key theme in the report is that in areas like South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of the world’s youth are located, there is a massive opportunity for societies to capitalise on their resources and accelerate their development.

But governments must invest in their populations through education, healthcare, access to entrepreneurial opportunities and political participation.

“Civil society, the media, young people and women’s groups can actually work to, in a very positive way, see what [governments] are doing right, and point out where things are not going well…we are seeing that happen around the world,” said Dr. Osotimehin.

“This report gives us the leverage to take things to the next level, where women, girls and young people will be central to the next development agenda.”

 
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