UNFPA - United Nations Population Fund

State of World Population 2005



© Jacob Silberberg/Panos Pictures
Three girls watch as their teacher points to a chalk board in a school classroom in the village of Koutagba,
South Benin.

Strategic Investments:
The Equality Dividend

-A Poverty of Opportunity and Choices

-Critical Investments, Large Payoffs

-Reconciling Productive and Reproductive Roles

-Accountability for Gender Justice

"The Millennium Development Goals, particularly the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, cannot be achieved if questions of population and reproductive health care are not squarely addressed. And that means stronger efforts to promote women's rights and greater investment in education and health, including reproductive health and family planning." - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Bangkok

Just ten years remain to reduce extreme poverty by half and to meet the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs are closely interlinked-reaching them will depend on the combined, considered efforts of governments, civil society and the international community to mobilize around highly strategic approaches. The consensus and evidence are clear: Investing in gender equality offers invaluable opportunities and substantial returns for reducing poverty.

One of the eight MDGs is gender equality and women's empowerment, itself a pressing human rights concern. Reaching this goal underpins success towards all the others. It will also release a powerful force for development in other areas.

This chapter examines the wider social and economic rationale for promoting gender equality. It shows that when the dampers of gender discrimination on men and women are removed, families, communities and entire countries benefit. It considers the key policy recommendations from the UN Millennium Project(1) for promoting gender equality and attaining the MDGs. Improving education, reproductive health and economic opportunity for women and girls is particularly strategic in this regard. It will be equally important to eliminate violence against women, discussed later in Chapter 7. Increased political participation of women and greater accountability for gender equality will help ensure that these areas are given the attention they merit.

Many countries have made significant progress towards gender equality, especially in the area of policy and legislation, and in health and education. National development policies increasingly place gender equality at the forefront of poverty reduction efforts. But progress has been uneven, and the gap between policy and practice remains wide.(2) To unleash the equality dividend for development, stronger partnerships and the resolve of governments, civil society, the private sector, donors and the United Nations system are required.

A Poverty of Opportunity and Choices

As the World Bank reports, gender inequality is inefficient and undermines the effectiveness of development policies.(3) Inequality between women and men is often pervasive and deeply entrenched, though its scope and intensity varies among, and within, countries. It begins early, can last a lifetime and is often exacerbated by poverty. Poor families struggle with difficult spending choices to benefit all their children. But girls in various settings end up with less education, health care and skills than their brothers. This "gender gap" often widens later in life, limiting women's opportunities for safe work, fair pay and accumulation of economic assets. Although marriage and childbearing are life-altering decisions with important social and economic ramifications, women and adolescent girls in many parts of the world have limited say in them.

Families are major conduits of sociocultural and gender norms, and it is in the family that the roles and responsibilities of women and men, girls and boys, are largely defined. Families are also the basic economic units of consumption and production: Decisions about education, health, nutrition, childbearing and political and economic participation are made within the family. Even with the best intentions, these decisions can undermine the human rights and well-being of women and girls and limit their options and choices, thereby perpetuating poverty. Understanding how families and communities make decisions can offer valuable insights into effective policymaking.(4)

Promoting gender equality can expand opportunities for human development and remove costly obstacles to meeting the MDGs. This is because gender discrimination is based on predetermined and often rigid expectations of the appropriate roles of men and women in political, economic, social and family life, regardless of individual abilities or aspirations. Gender discrimination thus restricts the personal development of both men and women and holds back progress towards poverty reduction and development.

Critical Investments, Large Payoffs >>
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