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Meeting the goals?

“Overall, the world has done very poorly,” declared Geeta Rao Gupta of the International Center for Research on Women, referring to progress made toward meeting the third United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG), which aims to achieve gender equality in 175 countries by 2015. “By comparison, Latin America has done relatively well.”

Gupta, who is also a member of the UN’s task force on the third MDG, spoke at a presentation by the External Advisory Council on Women in Development, hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank at its Washington, DC headquarters in early September. 

At the presentation, entitled “Gender Implications of the Millennium Development Goals,” panelists from the International Center for Research on Women, the Inter-American Dialogue, the World Bank and the IDB discussed the gender dimensions of the Millennium Development Goals. They also debated the use of the MDGs as tools for achieving gender equality and for defining development and gender objectives for Latin America and the Caribbean.

At the United Nations’ Millennium Summit in September 2000, the international community reaffirmed its commitment to dealing with the world's main development challenges by agreeing to achieve eight goals by 2015 to combat poverty hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women.

Why gender equality matters

“We now know that if the gender gap in schooling in sub-Saharan Africa had been reduced by the same amount it has been reduced in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, economic growth would have increased by 80% during the 1960s to 1980s,” said Karen Mason, the World Bank’s Director for Gender and Development. “There’s no doubt that gender equality in capacity and access to resources accelerates economic growth.”

Mason also provided data showing that gender equality leads to reductions in child mortality rates. In a study of 25 developing countries, one to three years of maternal schooling reduced child mortality by 15 percent, versus 6 percent for paternal schooling.

Another World Bank study shows that mothers’ incomes have 20 times the marginal impact on a child’s survival as the fathers’ income. “Typically, men spend money on themselves when they have it, while women spend money on their children and on household welfare,” Mason stated. 
Measuring gender equality

Gender equality is defined by the task force as “women having the same opportunities in life as men in three domains: capabilities, access to resources and opportunities, and agency or the ability to influence and contribute to outcomes.”  Indicators to measure progress toward gender equality include the ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education, the ratio of literate females to males in the 15-25 age group, the share of wages earned by women in non-agricultural jobs, and the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments.

But Peter Hakim, President of the Inter-American Dialogue, questioned whether the indicators for measuring the gender equality goal in terms of the MDGs are appropriate or accurate.

“One problem is the lack of statistics to measure progress of almost any development goal. If there were just one thing I’d recommend , it’s that the first development goal should be to put more money into better statistics,” said Hakim. “If the IDB and the other multilaterals aren’t responsible for pushing for more data collection, then who is?”

One size doesn’t fit all

Hakim also suggested that the UN’s concept of one-size-fits-all development goals isn’t valid. “We need evolving goals, not fixed ones. Latin America may be too advanced for most of the MDGs,” he argued.

As a region, Latin America and the Caribbean ranked, on average, number 65 out of 175 countries on the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI). The index includes both developed and developing countries and measures three basic dimensions of human development—a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living.

But Hakim pointed out that “inequality in Latin America, measured as a ratio of the richest 10 percent to the poorest 10 percent, is off the charts compared to countries in other parts of the world.” Respective ratios for Paraguay and Brazil, for example, are 91 and 66, while countries like India, China and Thailand come in at 10, 13 and 13, respectively. “This suggests the importance of having disaggregate development goals,” Hakim reasoned.

The IDB’s Gabriela Vega agreed with Hakim about the need to disaggregate the indicators and to collect more data, taking ethnic and racial groups and other factors into consideration. “In Latin America and the Caribbean, national averages cover up huge disparities in the indicators among income levels, ethnic groups and geographical areas,” she said.

Vega reported that indigenous women receive significantly less education at every age after age 11, compared to non-indigenous women, or even indigenous men. Among women 25-60 years old, indigenous women in Peru, Guatemala and Bolivia earn 17, 37 and 41 percent less, respectively, than non-indigenous women, while afro-Brazilian women earn 25 percent less than white women in Brazil.

Vega said the IDB has recognized the need to disaggregate the indicators by gender, race, ethnicity, and geographical area. The Bank currently is financing a technical cooperation program, in collaboration with the UNDP, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the World Bank to help develop better indicators for many of the MDGs, including the gender equality goal, and to help strengthen national statistics institutes in the region. 

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