The Millennium Development Goals are set to expire in 2015. The MDGs, adopted in 2000 as a strategy for halving extreme poverty, included a specific goal on women’s empowerment, which is recognised as a key driver of development. UN Women, the UN’s entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, has set out a stand-alone goal that will not only continue the progress made in the attainment of MDG 3, but also go one step further by seeking to transform gender relations. It aims to achieve gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment. UN Women notes that MDG 3 was not designed to do this:
“Progress on MDG3 was tracked through the target on gender parity in education, which was important yet insufficient to capture other important areas of progress on gender equality. These include overcoming gender-specific injustices such as violence against women and girls, gender-based wage discrimination, women’s disproportionate share of unpaid care work, women’s limited asset and property ownership, and unequal participation in public and private decision-making.”
Traditional approaches to promoting gender equality tend to attach specific measures onto existing programmes and institutional structures. While these efforts are well-intentioned, they often fail to result in better outcomes because they do not deal with the fundamental drivers of gender inequality. Remembering that gender is a social construct, norms come out on top as one of these drivers. Social norms are beliefs held by a group about how people should act in particular circumstances. These norms underpin a particular social order. When it comes to gender, norms about men and women (e.g. men are natural leaders, women are natural homemakers) usually underpin patriarchal social relations. These are often manifested in the various kinds of gender-based discrimination that we see around us. This is a simplified explanation, but it points to the need to transform these underlying beliefs and attitudes in order to achieve gender equality. This is what the new goal proposes to do, by addressing both proximate and ultimate forms of inequality and discrimination.
UN Women has has identified three target areas within the goal: freedom from violence, capabilities and resources, and decision-making and voice. Each of these target areas is accompanied by a set of strategies:
- Freedom from violence
- Prevent and respond to violence against women and girls
- Change perceptions, attitudes and behaviours that condone and justify violence against women
- Ensure security, support services and justice for women
- Capabilities and resources
- Eradicate women’ s poverty
- Promote decent work for women
- Build women’s access to, and control over, productive assets
- Reduce women’s time burdens
- Promote education and skills for women and girls
- Improve women’s and girls’ health
- Reduce maternal mortality and ensure women’s sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive
- Ensure women’s sustainable access to energy
- Ensure women’s sustainable access to water and sanitation
- Decision-making and voice
- Promote equal decision making in households
- Promote participation in public institutions
- Promote women’s leadership in the private sector
- Strengthen women’s collective action
Clearly many of these strategies are aimed at alleviating the disadvantage that women face, here and now, as well as at tackling social norms. In many ways, normative change and increased women’s rights and participation are mutually-reinforcing goals. Like many initiatives focussed on gender, the success of UN Women’s new strategy will be largely determined by the will of countries and other international organisations to provide resources for and implement the strategies.
The person responsible for rolling out this strategy will be the new head of UN Women, Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. She was the first woman to hold the position of Deputy President of South Africa and will be replacing Michele Bachelet, formerly President of Chile.
Click here for UN Women’s explanatory note on the new goal.