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Gender Equality: More Than Education
Although each of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is important, some include more specifics than others. MDG 3 is to "promote gender equality" -- quite a sweeping task-- but its specific targets and indicators focus mainly on gender parity in education (at all levels -- primary, secondary, and tertiary) and a related indicator, the ratio of literate women to men in the age group 15 to 24. It's clear that education for girls is critically important and leads to improvements both in women's own lives and those of their children. By itself, though, gender parity in education is not enough to achieve gender equality.
Yet gender equality is not only a core development objective, it is also smart economics. Empowered women and men can improve a society's productivity, offer their children greater opportunities, and make institutions more representative. It benefits everyone.
Bread for the World Institute's 2013 Hunger Report, Within Reach: Global Development Goals emphasizes both the intrinsic value and instrumental value of gender equality. Today, we know that removing barriers that prevent women from having the same access as men to education, economic opportunities, and productive inputs can generate broad based productivity gains -- gains all the more important in an increasingly competitive society. Additionally, leveling the playing field so that women and men have equal chances to actively engage socially and politically -- to make decisions and shape policies -- is likely to lead over time to more representative, and more inclusive institutions and policy responses.
Staggering evidence based on the upcoming 2012 Global Food Policy Report of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) reveals that almost 55 percent of the reduction in hunger from 1970 to 1995 can be attributed to improvements in women’s status in society. Additionally, it is estimated that global malnutrition could be reduced by 12 percent to 17 percent if gender barriers were eliminated and women farmers were able to match the yields of male farmers.
It is true that the lives of girls and women have changed dramatically over the past 50 years. While the pace of change has been astonishing in some areas, in other areas, progress toward gender equality has been limited — even in developed countries.
What is also becoming increasingly clear is that income growth by itself does not deliver greater gender equality on all fronts. In fact, where gender gaps have closed quickly, it is because of how institutions and markets — both formal and informal—have functioned and evolved, how growth has played out, and how all these factors have interacted through household decisions. For example, how has the global progress in girls' education come about? A combination of factors -- income growth (which loosens budget constraints), markets (which open new employment opportunities for women), and formal institutions (which expand school systems and lower costs) -- came together in a broad range of countries to influence household decisions in favor of educating girls and young women.
So is women's empowerment important? Yes -- in order to achieve the MDGs, we must redouble our commitment to support women and girls in achieving their full potential. We need to prioritize MDG 3 alongside the other seven goals.
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