From MDGs to SDGs- The Journey Towards Gender Equality

By Anahita Hossein-Pour, Staff Writer

15 years on and the clock is now ticking for the next set of ambitious targets to take over from the Millennium Development Goals. The countdown on shows the precise number of days, to the hours, to the minutes before the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals. The UN is spreading the word to join the excitement for their new and improved project, which kick starts with its Global Citizen’s Festival and Social Good Summit in New York this September coming.

But before embarking down the road of praise for the new era, shouldn’t we take a moment to review what the last 15 years has really achieved for gender equality? The 8 main goals saw a mix of progress, with successes in gender parity in education as one of the best overall results, but others such as maternal mortality being amongst the worst rankings. The compilation of World Bank data below reveals maternal mortality as the second most underachieved goal behind infant mortality, 61% of countries being ‘seriously off target.’ Education gender parity stands at 46% of countries having met the target, paralleled with improved water.


Source: World Bank Data: Comparing MDGs across Groups- Percentage of Countries

Some food for thought to take from this snapshot- can we really call less than half, success? To some degree, yes. The gender landscape has noticeably changed since 2000, and the efforts involved to do this cannot be shrugged off. To name a few achievements, North Africa’s 3% proportion of seats held by women in national parliament in 2000, has increased an impressive 8x reaching 24% in 2014. UN figures also show how in Southern Asia in 1990, 74 girls enrolled in primary school compared to every 100 boys. Now, this ratio is at equal enrolment levels. Afghanistan has also managed to enrol 2.7 million girls in schools by 2012, up from 191,000 in 2002.

The recognition and efforts towards the vitality of gender equality is also deepening. Last year, the solidarity movement for gender equality – the HeForShe campaign commenced inviting men and women to unify efforts in supporting half of humanity for the ‘benefit of all.’ Men can make the HeForShe commitment, to believe in women’s rights and take action against gender discrimination. Sharing and tweeting this commitment is encouraged to spread the word for others to join the movement. Just last month, Sweden initiated the first national HeForShe movement with Prime Minister Löfven asserting they will take a global lead in the campaign. “I lead the world's first feminist government. It means that gender equality permeates the entire government policy. And women's rights permeate our international work.” With Sweden taking the first step, it is time for others to follow.

Pre-existing institutions such as the World Bank has also upped its game. Understanding gender equality as ‘smart economics’ as well as the right thing to do, the Bank has increased its gender informed lending, rising from 54% in 2010, to 95% in 2014. This includes follow up actions for all clients and sectors to address gender inequities. UN Women have also found evidence of women’s rights progress in national legislation. Progress of the World’s Women 2015-16 contains the table below which speaks for itself, having a majority across the board, of countries implementing laws to ensure women’s rights.

UN Women legislation figure

Source: UN Women: Progress of the World’s Women 2015-16

This collection of success stories unfortunately does not make up the whole picture. This diagram may show a positive majority of countries, but we are not able to say we have reached 100%. Even then, law is only one dimension to women’s real experiences in society and culture. Women are still largely involved in more vulnerable forms of unemployment and giving a bleak twist to the success in primary school enrolment, only 2 out of 130 countries have actually achieved gender equality at all levels of education. UN Women have also crucially pointed out that physical and sexual violence is still likely to impact 1 in 3 women at some point during their lifetime. Violence against women breaches a most fundamental human right and has long lasting impacts on the women and their communities. Much more is needed to be done.

So now it’s time for the SDGs to step in, and they have got some promising, new goals to offer. Unlike the MDG, the SDGs gender equality goal reaches out to aspects of women’s lives beyond education, employment and Parliamentary seat levels. This time round, the global goals are delving deep to address inequalities outside of formal institutions and regardless of the argument for cultural practices. From eliminating violence against women and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation, to valuing unpaid care work through public services and social policies; the SDG gender equality goal’s wide spectrum makes for a much more inclusive, wide-reaching plan for reaching equality and empowerment.

UN Women have asserted their position of endorsing the upcoming development agenda:

‘A real opportunity to drive lasting change for women’s rights and equality, and to bring transformative change in women’s and men’s lives. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity.’

 We live in a different world from 15 years ago, and whilst the MDGs have built a foundation for progress, the road to 2030 is now paved to  reveal an array of challenges. Like its predecessor, the post-2015 development agenda has an optimistic time frame to eliminate gender equality as a goal, and turn it into an achievement. Let’s hope after the mixed success concluded over the Millennium targets, the latest model can rise to the challenge and create serious headway for gender equality, improving the lives of women and girls for years to come.