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Failure to Meet Millennium Goals for Women Will Have Lasting Echoes

Of all the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the UN, those pertaining to the reproductive health of women seem most likely to be unmet when the 2015 deadline hits. Whatever the other MDG successes, the failure to meet the reasonable objectives set for women should be remembered as a defining symbol of the UN’s ability to get things done in 2015. The issue of reproductive health in and of itself is insufficient to merit that reaction, but it does stand as a weather-vane to all kinds of gender-related issues; it points to a future of injustice.

The Millennium Development Goals in question were meant to achieve universal reproductive health and reduce maternal mortality rates by 75 percent of their 1990 levels. Currently, the rates remain double their intended 2015 targets. As Eva Joly, Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Development, observed, “It is a failure of the fight against poverty…but it is also linked to other questions.”

The “questions” which have stymied progress on the issue are mainly cultural in nature. Throughout the world, for many hundreds or even thousands of years, women have been viewed as an inferior sex, in some times and places ranking below valued animals such as horses. From the spatial organization of public and private spaces and places, the norms of social interaction, and the ratio of economic independence, to acceptable activities, clothing, and even mentality, women have long been the second sex.

In failing to keep its MDGs, the UN is not only harming today and tomorrow’s women biologically, it fails to make any headway in provoking a cultural revolution which will allow women to be recognized as equally valuable human beings.

Such sentiments may be senseless to men living in particularly sexist cultures. Indeed, there is a strong argument to make for abstaining from building a homogenous global culture which, conveniently enough, is predicated on modern, Western values, and sees all deviation from that standard as unhealthy, unjust, and immoral. Cultural diversity makes humanity strong, and those who pine for days of a culturally unified humanity may wish to second-guess some of their assumptions.

But the UN has made it clear that it does not intend to allow some cultures to continue to exist according to their traditional ways if those traditions conflict with what the UN perceives to be universal rights. And in that light, the UN has failed to convince these disparate cultures that the lives of their women are worth the cost to be saved from death or trauma in childbirth.

When 2015 comes around, the UN will doubtlessly celebrate their many achievements, as well they should. The effort to meet the Millennium Development Goals has been well spent, and many of the results from it are incontrovertibly good. But the UN should not forget that in this major arena, it has failed.

– Alex Pusateri

Sources: Euractiv, The Atlantic, AWID
Photo: The Gaurdian