"Empowered women can be some of the most effective drivers of development." - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, In Larger Freedom
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) can only be achieved by putting gender equality and reproductive health at the forefront of political and budgetary agendas. Power imbalances and inequities-between rich and poor, men and women, young and old, mainstream society and marginalized groups-squander human capital and limit opportunities to overcome poverty. Women and young people represent a tremendous reservoir of human potential, but they lack power and they lack voice.
Freeing impoverished families and countries from the grip of gender inequality and poor reproductive health is not only an end in itself, but also an ethical imperative. Equality unleashes the full potential of all human beings. This was the vision of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing).
This chapter offers a reminder of strategic opportunities available to countries and the international community as the MDG deadline approaches. Taken together, they can move the global community forward towards the broader agenda of "development, security and human rights for all", as called for in the 2005 UN Secretary-General's report, In Larger Freedom.
Women's Empowerment: Lifting Families and Nations Out of Poverty
There is ample evidence of the multiplier effects of investing in gender equality and women's empowerment. More than 1.7 billion women worldwide are in their productive and reproductive years, between the ages of 15 and 49.(1) They already contribute enormously to their families, communities and countries. In most families, women are either primary or contributory breadwinners. They are the guardians of their countries' precious human capital- their children. Targeted investments-in the education, reproductive health, economic and political rights of women-can catalyse progress on poverty reduction, sustainable development and lasting peace.
Gender equality benefits families, communities and countries as well as women themselves. Stronger partnerships between women and men, and shared rights and responsibilities, hold the answer to many of the challenges that thwart human development. Some of the projects documented in this report prove that it is possible to transform harmful gender stereotypes and behaviours. But implementing such projects on the scale needed to achieve the MDGs will require concerted political and community leadership at all levels and resources to promote gender equality through policies and budgets.