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POVERTY AND GENDER INEQUALITY

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NEW YORK, Sep 9 2005 (IPS) - The 2005 World Summit confronts us with a challenge: world leaders must either find the will to work together to make the vision of the Millennium Declaration a reality for people everywhere, or millions of people will be left to live in deprivation and fear, writes Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). In this analysis, Heyzer writes that UNIFEM focuses a spotlight on the links between poverty and gender inequality and the role of employment in reducing or perpetuating both. In the developing world, with the exception of North Africa, women are not only concentrated in informal employment, but also in the more precarious forms of informal employment, where earnings are meagre and highly unreliable. Not achieving these goals is unthinkable. Widening gaps between rich and poor, and between women and men, can only contribute to greater insecurity and violence in the world. Above all else, economic priorities must be re-ordered to focus on employment rather than simply growth, looking at the needs of women as workers, not only as citizens or members of a vulnerable group.

The 2005 World Summit confronts us with a challenge: world leaders must either find the will to work together to make the vision of the Millennium Declaration a reality for people everywhere, or millions of people will be left to live in deprivation and fear.

At the same time, however, the Summit provides an opportunity to show that these problems can be successfully tackled and people’s lives changed. We know what needs to be done. Over the last five years, governments, scholars, and civil society have agreed on strategies and priorities to achieve the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They have recognised, along with the Millennium Declaration, that central to their success is achieving gender equality, which is a key pathway to reducing poverty and hunger and stimulating sustainable development. The critical need is for implementation and action.

This month, in line with the renewed commitment to poverty elimination, UNIFEM focuses a spotlight on the links between poverty and gender inequality and the role of employment in reducing or perpetuating both. Progress of the World’s Women 2005: Women, Work and Poverty, the third in a biennial series that tracks commitments to gender equality, looks in particular at the issue of informal employment, a widespread and persistent feature of today’s global economy, and argues that unless the precariousness of informal employment, particularly for women, is recognised and addressed, efforts to achieve gender equality and eliminate poverty will not succeed.

Informal employment includes wage employees who lack formal contracts, worker benefits, or social protection in formal and informal enterprises (temporary, contract, casual, or seasonal workers; industrial outworkers; paid domestic workers), own-account workers in informal enterprises and unpaid workers in family businesses. It accounts for 50-80 percent of all non-agricultural employment throughout the developing world. If agriculture were included, as it is in some countries, the figures would be even higher.

Rather than informal work becoming formalised as economies grow, work is moving from regulated to unregulated, with workers losing job security along with medical and other benefits.

For poor working women, the situation is especially critical. In the developing world, with the exception of North Africa, women are not only concentrated in informal employment, but also in the more precarious forms of informal employment, where earnings are meagre and highly unreliable. While in some instances their income can be important in helping families to move out of poverty, this is true only if the family has more than one earner.

Yet not achieving these goals is unthinkable. Widening gaps between rich and poor, and between women and men, can only contribute to greater insecurity and violence in the world. Work is a basic human right, one that we can make a reality for all working people. Above all else, economic priorities must be re-ordered to focus on employment rather than simply growth, looking at the needs of women as workers, not only as citizens or members of a vulnerable group.

Moreover, organisations of workers in the informal economy, especially women, must be strengthened and supported– in order to hold all players accountable to implementing their commitments to ending poverty and achieving gender equality.

Finally, however, the vision outlined in the Millennium Declaration can never become a reality for everyone so long as violence against women continues unchecked. Women in all countries face the fear of gender-based violence, in every income bracket and all population groups. While estimates vary from country to country, the Millennium Project Task Force on Education Gender Equality reports that between 10 and 69 percent of women worldwide report having experienced domestic violence. The UN Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence Against Women, managed by UNIFEM, has supported innovative solutions in over 100 countries since it was established in 1997. These solutions work because they address multiple levels and multiple sectors simultaneously, transforming power relationships and strengthening women’s organising to address the social and economic causes of gender violence. They focus on community ownership and they include men as partners. They must be up-scaled and invested in.

As the Millennium Project Task Force concludes, high-level support for ending violence against women represents a quick win for the UN system in realising the vision of the Millennium Declaration.

Women everywhere want to see that the MDGs are not just a set of targets and indicators, but rather a set of principles and commitments that put a priority on achieving a world free of poverty, inequality and violence. We must move forward now on implementation, accountability, and adequate resources to bring about a world in which all people can live free of want and free of fear. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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