Ten years after global leaders vowed to work toward eradicating extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality, and more, the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)--particularly those relating to women--remain a distant hope. Though women were a focus of much discussion this week at the MDG summit in New York, the forward movement so far has been discouraging on the two MDGs directly relating to women: "promoting gender equality and empowering women" and "reducing by three-quarters the maternal mortality ratio."
An MDG report released in June noted that when it comes to women, "progress has been sluggish on all fronts--from education to access to political decision-making."
While progress has been made on girls' primary school enrollment, only three of ten regions are on track regarding women's share of paid employment. The figure is even bleaker concerning women's equal representation in national parliaments.
Data is still being collected, but early figures show the maternal mortality ratio reduction rate is "well short" of the 5.5 percent annual decline required to slash global maternal mortality by the MDGs' stated 75 percent. Data from 1990 shows 430 maternal deaths per one hundred thousand live births. As of 2008, that figure had dropped only slightly to four hundred deaths per one hundred thousand live births, nowhere near the goal of below 150.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon highlighted this lack of progress at the launch of a new $40 billion initiative designed to promote women's health before urging world leaders to focus on women as part of their commitment to the MDGs. The effort aims to drive resources toward the issue by 2015.
Aid organizations say this $40 billion is simply old dollars packaged in new promises, and argue that half of this money has been "pledged elsewhere." The language may be positive, but the lack of new, hard pledges from donor countries means the dollars must be seen to be believed.
Women have become a hot topic among the development crowd, and women's health and economic issues have received a great deal of attention recently, but attention does not change women's lives. Investment does.
Some progress has been made in getting antenatal care to pregnant women, particularly in North Africa, which recorded a 70 percent increase in the past two decades. Southern and Western Asia also recorded gains of nearly 50 percent.
Other areas, like reproductive health, have received decidedly less attention and investment. Family planning funding as a percentage of total health aid plummeted from 8.2 percent in 2000 to 3.2 percent in 2008. As the UN reported, "external funding for family planning in constant 2008 U.S. dollars actually declined during the first few years of this decade and has not yet returned to its 2000 level." In 1990, 13.2 percent of the women reported an unmet family planning need; in 2007, that figure was barely improved at 11.2 percent.
The world has five years to meet the eight admirable goals its leaders outlined in 2000. Ensuring that half the world's population can access healthcare, education, and economic opportunity is part of creating a safer, more stable, and prosperous world.