gender equality and the mdgs in asia and the pacific

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  • 7/31/2019 Gender equality and the MDGs in Asia and the Pacific



    The e-Newsletter of the Gender Network August 2012 | Vol. 6, No. 2

    Gender equality and the MDGs in Asia and the Pacificby Shiladitya Chatterjee

    Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge ofreducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.

    The author of this quote, Kofi Annan is one of the main champions of the MillenniumDevelopment Goals (MDGs) which were adopted through the historic Millennium Declarationof the UN General Assembly in September 2000, under his watch as the UN SecretaryGeneral.

    The MDGs were agreed by leaders of all countries at the beginning of this century tosubstantially end poverty and deprivation in the world by 2015. They gave hope to millions ofthe worlds poor and deprived including deprived women of a better life. The Goals spelt out in eight major development areas - were to be achieved through concerted nationaland global efforts. Given the importance of gender equality in overall development, it wasincluded as one of the major goals, but as recognized by Kofi Annan, it influences allaspects of development. Indeed, the overall achievement of the MDGs in their entiretydepends on them too.

    However, the Asia and Pacific region, despite its rapid progress in terms of economicgrowth, has lagged behind in major aspects of human and social development, includingprogress in providing equal opportunities to its women. This is shown in Figure 1 below,

    which shows progress since 1990 against targets on measures directly related to gender(gender parity in primary, secondary and tertiary education; share of women in non-agricultural wage employment and maternal mortality) as well as measures that are closelyaffected by womens development (such as underweight children, child mortality rate) andmeasures that affect the well-being of women significantly (such as access to clean waterand basic sanitation).

    Figure 1: Progress on major MDG indicators in the Asia-Pacific Region1

    Source: Strategy and Policy Department staff estimates using data from UNESCAP, Statistics Division.1Figure shows the percentage progress achieved by selected MDG indicators since 1990 relative to progress required to meet

    the 2015 targets.

  • 7/31/2019 Gender equality and the MDGs in Asia and the Pacific



    Not that there has been no progress. As far as educating children is concerned, majorstrides have been made. There are as many girls as boys enrolled in primary and secondaryschools throughout the region even in its rural and remote areas. Although in our universitiesand institutions of higher education women are still outnumbered by men, by 2015 genderbalance is likely to be achieved. However, this general progress towards gender equality ineducation has failed to translate into gender equality in other aspects of womensdevelopment.

    Formal jobs outside agriculture are still mainly the preserve of men women in the Asia-Pacific region occupy only a third of such jobs at present and this indicator has shown littlemovement since 1990. Similarly, women still are grossly under-represented in parliamentand in higher echelons of the public and private sectors. A part of the explanation for this isthe continuation of social taboos or prejudices in vast swathes of the region, preventingwomen from taking active roles outside the home or traditional family farms.

    The worst form of social prejudice against women female feticide and infanticide is still

    common in many parts of Asia and is reflected in the unbalanced male to female sex ratiosin several Asian countries. Less virulent forms of oppression in terms of discrimination inaccess to nutrition and health interventions are also evident in the skewed female to maleratios in underweight children and infant and child mortality in several countries also. Lack ofsufficient attention to womens health is a cause for very slow progress in improving healthoutcomes for women. Despite advances in science and medicine, far too many mothers stilldie needlessly at childbirth in this region (140,000 by latest count). The incidence of womenliving with AIDS has also risen from 1.3 million in 2001 to 1.7 million in 2009 while theirproportion in total AIDS sufferers has also increased from 34.6% to 35.9% in the sameperiod.

    Stifling womens development not only limits half the population of this region from living a

    full and decent life but also affects the sustainable development of the economy and societyas stressed by Kofi Annan. Barriers to womens participation in the labor force, for example,deprive the labor market from exploiting the best talent available and reduce overallproductivity and growth. Lack of womens development is likely to harm the welfare of thefamily, especially children.

    A recent ADB study,2 for example, found a strong relationship between the GenderDevelopment Index (GDI) and child (under 5) mortality, shown in Figure 2 for Asiancountries. Countries with high GDI scores had lower child mortality rates than those with lowGDI. This is to be expected as higher child mortality is likely to result from lack of awarenessof good nutrition and sanitation practices by women who are the primary care givers in thefamily. Education of women is likely to result also in better birth spacing and breast-feeding

    practices. Better nutrition, smaller families and improved sanitary mores are likely to result inimprovements in the health of the family as a whole.

    2ESCAP ADB and UNDP. (2012). Accelerating Equitable Achievement of the MDGs: Closing Gaps in Healthand Nutrition Outcomes. Bangkok.

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    Figure 2: Cross-country variation in child mortality explained by differences in gender development

    Source: United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report (Various issues) for Genderrelated Development Index and UN MDG Database for child mortality.

    Gender inequality imposes many costs. It results in higher population growth owing to lack ofinformation with women of reproductive practices; lower school performance of girls due tounder-nutrition; less efficient allocation of household resources due to discrimination againstwomen. Several studies have shown that community resources are better used and prone toless corruption if women are more actively involved in decision-making about them. All thesefactors resulting from gender inequality ultimately impact in terms of lower economic growth.

    So if these are well known what must be done? Leaders and policy makers all over theregion must realize that investments in gender equality will bring immense benefit to societyas a whole. More actions than just in the field of education are needed. All aspects ofwomens development need to be looked into, including more attention to womens health;skills development for women; ensuring their security within and outside the home andworkplaces; encouraging their participation in productive jobs and so on. As we near 2015,the terminal year for the MDGs, the opportunity for taking a fresh view at global developmentpriorities has arisen. While the MDGs did much to further the cause of women, more can be

    done as part of the post 2015 development agenda.


    Shiladitya Chatterjee is a former ADB staff and currently serves as Regional advisor consultant

    on the Millennium Development Goals in ADBs Strategy and Policy Departmentas a consultant.

    The views expressed in this paper are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect theviews or policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), or its Board of Governors, or thegovernments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in thispaper and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. The countries listed in thispaper do not imply any view on ADB's part as to sovereignty or independent status or necessarily

    conform to ADB's terminology.