The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Over the past 50 years most developing countries achieved advances in health and education that took nearly 200 years in rich countries. But a dozen or so developing countries made especially fast progress, achieving social indicators comparable to those in rich countries. These high performers offer policy lessons for other countries in reaching the millennium development goals. If there is any doubt that the goals can be achieved in less than a generation, consider the following gains. Sri Lanka added 12 years to life expectancy at birth in just seven years (1945-52). In nine years (1953-62), China added 13 years...

Unless women’s capabilities are improved and gender equality increased, the other millennium development goals will not be achieved. Strengthening women’s agency and voice is essential to enhancing their capabilities and strengthening their capabilities is essential to enhancing their agency and voice. Though education is the only official target (“Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education by 2015”) used to assess progress towards the gender equality goal, several other indicators have been established to monitor performance:

The ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education; the ratio of literate female to male 15- to 24- year-olds; the share of women engaged in wage employment outside agriculture; the share of women in national parliaments.

Gender equality in education helps women secure employment outside the home and acquire political power, contributing to their agency in the public sphere. But gender equality must also extend to the private domain.

Today gender inequality undermines women’s capabilities in education and health. Still, some progress is being made. For example, between 1990 and 2001 the ratio of literate female to male 15- to 24-year-olds in countries with low human development increased from 70 to 81 women per 100 men, though in countries with medium human development it increased only from 91 to 93. The gender ratio in primary education also made limited progress, rising from 86 to 92 girls per 100 boys in developing countries between 1990 and 1999-2000. At current rates gender equality in education will not be achieved until 2025...

Without action to increase women’s capabilities in health and education, they will have limited prospects for working outside the home and earning independent incomes...

Many challenges undermine gender equality in employment and community and political participation. In developing countries most poor female workers outside of agriculture are engaged in informal employment and receive low, irregular pay. And around the world, women account for more than 3o per cent of parliamentarians in just seven countries. More equal political representation often has to be jumpstarted by quotas.

Gender relations are largely determined by social and cultural contexts. Patriarchal values instilled from childhood influence the attitudes and outlooks of both women and men throughout their lives. These values are often enshrined in laws prejudicial to women’s rights and claims — especially those related to marriage, divorce, rape, violence and inheritance. Movements for women’s rights often focus on reforming such laws. Although employment and education are considered basic strategies for strengthening women’s agency and voice, stronger agency also requires not just:

Recognizing the importance of education, but also improving its content, provision and returns; creating more jobs for women, but also improving their nature and terms — including sustainable livelihoods; increasing the number of women in parliaments, but also raising women’s visibility in positions of authority and decision-making-from the local to the national levels.

Thus empowering women requires policies that address both practical needs (supporting the basic capabilities required to function, such as by improving living conditions and increasing employment, health care and safe water supplies) and strategic needs (strengthening women’s voice and agency to renegotiate their roles at home and in society, such as through legal rights to assets and laws ensuring equal wages, reproductive rights and freedom from violence). Moreover, these policies must be backed by laws guaranteeing equal rights — for both women and men in the private and public sectors.

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