Sunday, March 8, 2009

International Women’s Day: The Status of Women’s Health and Rights

Of the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Goal 3 explicitly calls for empowering women and promoting gender equality, specifically setting targets to eliminate gender disparity in all levels of education by 2015, with additional indicators on employment of women and the proportion of women in parliaments. However, gender equality is an essential cross-cutting component for meeting all the targets. According to Kofi Annan, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, "In our work to reach those objectives, as the Millennium Declaration made clear, gender equality is not only a goal in its own right; it is critical to our ability to reach all the others . . . Study after study has shown that there is no effective development strategy in which women do not play a central role".

Gender gaps in access to and control of resources, in economic opportunities and in power and political voices are widespread. To date, only four countries (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway) have achieved a combination of approximate gender equality in secondary school enrolment, at least a 30 per cent share for women of seats in parliaments or legislatures, and an approximate 50 per cent share of paid employment in non-agricultural activities for women. In most countries, women continue to have less access to social services and productive resources than men. While the last two decades have seen some progress in many parts of the world in gender inequalities in schooling (as of 2006, the world was on track to meet the primary target of MDG 3: Gender Parity in School). Yet, women remain vastly under-represented in national and local assemblies, on average accounting for only 14 per cent of the seats in national parliaments.

And of particular concern to women’s health and rights is maternal mortality, MDG target 5. Pregnancy should be full of hope and joy--yet for so many women in Africa, pregnancy come with unnecessary danger. As a result, women in sub-Saharan Africa have a 1 in 16 chance of dying from complications of pregnancy or childbirth during their lives; comparatively, the lifetime risk to women in developed countries is 1 in 3,800.

Unfortunately, despite global progress on many of the MDGs illustrated in the Figure: Progress Against Targets to Meet the MDGs, less than 1/10th of the distance to be covered to meet the MDG 5 of reducing maternal mortality has been made. The chart shows how far behind the world is on MDG 5. The MDG target for maternal mortality will unlikely be met globally, and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, without concerted efforts. The Maputo Plan of Action (PoA) for the Operationalisation of the Continental Policy Framework for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights 2007- 2010 states that that “African countries are not likely to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) without significant improvements in the sexual and reproductive health of the people of Africa.”

On International Women’s Day, PPD encourages its member and collaborating countries to support implementation of MDG 5 by advocating for improved reproductive health services. Universal access to reproductive health (as called for by the ICPD PoA) is essential to achieve gender equality, combat HIV/AIDS, and reduce maternal and child mortality.

Find out more information (including what you can do) by reading PPD ARO’s policy brief on RH in the MDGs:
In English:
In French:

More information on the MDGs is online at:
MDG Indicators: