In less than 4 years, the deadline for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be upon us, a time when world leaders assess themselves and each other on how well they worked to realize targets they set to improve the lives of people and make the world a better place. This year’s annual report says that broad progress has been made on several of the goals. Really, however, “broad progress” is not the most inspiring description one could hear with less than 4 years to go and after more than 10 years have passed since the goals were set.
It was in the year 2000 that 189 world leaders pledged to eradicate extreme poverty in the world but recognized that they needed to do several other things in order to make this possible. In the end they arrived at 8 targets, which were succinctly named the Millennium Development Goals, which if achieved would see the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; the achievement of universal primary education; gender equality and the empowerment of women; a reduction in child mortality; an improvement in maternal health; serious efforts made to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; environmental sustainability and a global partnership for development ensured.
After a few years of sloth, some targets were redefined and there was a concerted effort on the part of the UN, under whose auspices the MDGs were agreed, to have nations succeed at reaching their targets. This year’s annual report has seen some important targets achieved ahead of the deadline, despite the ongoing economic downturn in the world. It has been highlighted that extreme poverty and poverty rates have been falling in the developing world, the proportion of people without access to improved sources of drinking water has reduced, the number of urban residents in developing countries living in slums is lower; there is parity in primary education and an increase in the number of people in the developing world having access to HIV treatment.
The report noted that these milestones were achieved with the UN family, governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector working in tandem. And if such gains could be made in years when as we say in local parlance “things brown” much more could be done when things are green.
However, though the UN is celebrating the strides made, it has noted two things: that any letting up on the momentum could prove disastrous, and that unless the ignoble treatment of our womenfolk is curbed the achievements made thus far would become null and void. This refers to the pandemic of violence against women in their homes, in the streets, in war zones and includes sexual violence (rape). The ignobility also involves the persistence in gender inequality, where in many countries women with similar qualifications doing the same jobs as men, earn far less. There is also the fact that women’s representation in government, parliaments and other decision-making fora, on boards of companies and corporations reeks of tokenism or is non-existent; and that male applicants are immediately preferred for academic scholarships in addition to other discriminatory practices in access to education. Then there is, too, the reality that women’s health issues take a backseat; maternal mortality remains extremely high although the means by which to drive it down exists.
As long as these ills remain, the MDGs as set out will not be achieved by the targeted date. Women and girls, it must be reiterated, make up half of the world’s population – if not more. It stands to reason then that if they are continually disadvantaged then only half the population will be served. Poverty and hunger will increase if the needs of the most vulnerable members of the world’s population – women and children – are not met and “broad progress” won’t cut it at all.
Four of the 8 MDGs speak specifically to women’s issues: gender equality and the empowerment of women, parity in education, child mortality and maternal health, and they are inextricably tied to the other four. Therefore, unless moves are made now to address the flaws underlined here, the world is setting itself up to fail come December 2015.