For U.N. members looking to affect real change in reforming the millennium development goals post-2015, one thing is clear: gender equality goals must be at the top of the agenda.

Many argue that a lack of attention to the pervasive inequalities that plague the developing world was the key limitation of the last round of millennium development goals (MDGs) that are set to expire in 2015. While the new set of MDGs now makes achieving greater equality a priority, some wonder if the goals will focus too much on income inequality while overshadowing issues of gender and other social inequalities.

Specifically, human rights advocates worry about the proposal to replace the current, specified gender equality goal with a less defined, overarching goal covering all “inequalities.” Female empowerment advocates disagree with the MDGs’ tendency to treat gender as merely one of the many inequalities that generate poverty. Rather, they say, gender is both the most pervasive form of inequality as well as the root problem that instigates other forms of inequality.

Despite its limitations, however, having the MDGs has proven useful both as a tool to hold governments accountable for their responsibilities to women, and as a line of defense against conservative forces in developing nations that threaten to reverse equality gains. U.N. leaders and stakeholders around the world should use this solid foundation to achieve further, more progressive reforms, like ensuring fairer access to employment opportunities and greater representation in decision-making positions in the public sector.

As it turns out, as rates of gender equality improve, so does a country’s overall well-being. Recent reviews have shown that countries with greater gender equality in employment and education were more likely to experience greater economic growth and human development rates. Thus, fixing the gender inequality problem can consequently help improve the socio-economic inequality problems without necessitating separate initiatives.

The same principle does not apply in the reverse, however. Economic growth does not necessarily contribute to gender inequality if the social structures needed to empower women are not put in place. Gender, then, seems to be the only standalone factor that intertwines itself with every other aspect of the complex issue of global poverty, and thus the issue that must be addressed and corrected before any other reforms can occur.

– Ally Bruschi

Source: The Guardian,Institute of Development Studies
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