Developing strategies to end hunger
 

211 posts categorized "Millennium Development Goals"

What Should Post-Millennium Development Goals Look Like?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), endorsed by 189 countries in 2000, are an unprecedented global effort to achieve development goals that are identified collectively, achievable, and measurable. Globally, substantial progress has been made toward many MDG targets. The targets for MDG 1, the first of the eight goals, are to cut in half the proportion of people living with hunger and poverty by December 2015. The poverty target has been met. The hunger target has not, but it is still within reach if all countries are willing to do their part. According to the latest State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) report, 842 million people, or roughly one in eight people in the world, suffered from chronic hunger in the period 2011-2013. This is down from the figures for 2010-2012 (868 million) and for 2009 (1.02 billion).

This is a historic time. As the December 2015 MDG deadline approaches, global efforts to establish an agreed post-2015 development agenda are intensifying. The world’s attention and resources will be focused on this new set of goals for the next 15 years. Unlike the MDGs, which were crafted by a team of experts who came mainly from the United Nations, the process of setting a post-2015 development agenda is largely participatory. The U.N. is working with governments, civil society, the private sector and other partners to identify public priorities through the My World Survey.

Informed by the experience of the MDGs, Bread for the World Institute's briefing paper A Global Development Agenda: Toward 2015 and Beyond emphasizes that formulating a universal post-2015 development agenda is critical to promote equity and equitable growth worldwide. It is also an opening to recognize that key areas are clearly interwoven: food security and good nutrition for all; agricultural development; women’s economic empowerment; and good governance and effective institutions. The new goals should be conceptualized and worded in ways that capture the great potential of coordinated approaches, which have proven to be highly effective in responding to complex development challenges with many “moving parts.”

Dao_farmers_harvestingPhoto credit: IRF2015

In May 2013, the High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda—a group tasked with advising the United Nations Secretary General—released its report A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development. The report advocates five “global shifts”:

  • Leave no one behind;
  • Put sustainable development at the core;
  • Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth;
  • Build peace and effective, open, and accountable institutions for all; and
  • Forge a new global partnership.

Another group helping to conceptualize and frame the post-2015 development agenda was formed as a result of the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (usually called “Rio+20”), which took place in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The conference’s outcome document, The Future We Want, called for the creation of an intergovernmental Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals. The OWG was tasked with developing a proposal that both built on the progress made under the MDGs, and created a single post-2015 framework that placed poverty reduction and sustainable development at its core.

This week, June 14-20, the 12th Session of the Open Working Group met at U.N. headquarters in New York.  The OWG's Working Document outlines 17 Focus Areas that are likely to succeed the current MDGs. They include sustainable agriculture, food security and nutrition; gender equality and women's empowerment; and promoting equality among nations.

While the My World Survey, High Level Panel recommendations, and Open Working Group document are all important to the creation of truly global post-2015 development goals, the most critical task is still ahead: to establish effective implementation mechanisms of the goals and their targets so that the world’s poor and marginalized people- wherever they may be- are not left behind. This should apply to all countries.

Faustine_Typepad

Poverty Holds Back Africa's Rise

Photo for Mozambique IMF conferenceRecently (May 29-30), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the government of Mozambique hosted Africa Rising: Building to the Future, a gathering of African finance ministers, central bank governors, and other leaders to look at key challenges and next steps for African economies.

“The gains of the last decade, during which many countries in sub-Saharan Africa saw sustained high rates of economic growth and an impressive reduction in poverty, have been nothing short of remarkable,” said IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde.

“However, there is still a long way ahead to meet the aspirations of the continent," she continued. "Extreme poverty is still too prevalent ... Now is the time to look at the policies that will take the region to the next phase of its economic development.”

We know that the link between economic growth and lower poverty rates is not automatic or guaranteed. In fact, Mozambique, the host country, vividly illustrates the idea that growth, while necessary, is not sufficient.

In 2013, researchers reported that although Mozambique has enjoyed economic growth of 7 percent to 8 percent for two decades, more than half of the nation's population lives below the poverty line. Stunting among children under 5 fell only slightly in the decade 2003-2013, from 48 percent to 43 percent.

Carlos Castel Branco, an economist at the Institute for Social and Economic Studies (IESE) in Maputo, pointed out that over the same decade, 2003-2013, food production per capita in Mozambique did not increase. In fact, it has declined slightly, while food prices have increased. Castel Branco said that less than 1 percent of all private investment went to basic food production for the domestic market.

Edna Possolo, head of the nutrition department at Mozambique's Ministry of Health, said it is encouraging that Mozambique is part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement. The government has prepared a multi-sectoral plan to fight malnutrition; Possolo said that the greatest difficulties are in implementing the plan. Many people believe that malnutrition is purely a health problem, and thus, only the Ministry of Health needs to be involved. Donors often prefer to fund programs to cope with the symptoms of malnutrition, rather than structural approaches that take longer to achieve tangible results.

But more donors are involved than five years ago, Possolo said. And Mozambique's civil society is receiving support from the SUN Multi-Partner Trust to help ensure that the full plan is implemented.

The priority measures that Mozambique has identified and begun to carry out include: a large-scale vitamin A supplementation and deworming program for children ages 6 months to 5 years; iron and folic acid supplementation for pregnant and postpartum women; treatment of acute malnutrition; optimization of infant and young child feeding practices; and large-scale fortification of wheat flour and edible oils.                     .

These two areas of focus -- supplementation for vulnerable people and fortification to supply the nutrients everyone needs -- are in line with the emphasis on ordinary low-income people that the Africa Rising meeting participants agreed is needed to fight poverty in Africa. A deeper structural transformation is needed so that ordinary citizens can benefit from the boom, participants declared. As the joint declaration approved at the meeting points out: "Policies need to be designed in such a way to ensure that a surge in growth can also spur structural transformation."

Photo: Gustavo, 2, with his mother Constantia in Cobue, Mozambique. Gustavo has recovered from severe malnutrition -- the result of a bout of malaria at a year old. Photo by Rebecca Vander Meulen.

Michele Learner

“Nutrition for Growth” At One Year: Tracking Global Pledges

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Nutrition and education link in Guatemala school feeding. (Joe Molieri/Bread for the World)

We recently marked the first anniversary of the historic global nutrition event “Nutrition for Growth: Beating Hunger Through Business and Science” (N4G), held in London in conjunction with the 2013 G-8 Summit. Co-hosted by the governments of the U.K. and Brazil and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), the event brought together leaders from business, government, science, academia, and civil society. They made ambitious financial and political commitments to provide better nutrition to women and children in the 1,000 Days “window of opportunity” from pregnancy to age 2; reduce the numbers of stunted children; and help put an end to deaths from severe acute malnutrition. More specifically, they agreed to prevent at least 20 million children from being stunted and to save at least 1.7 million lives by 2020.

How pervasive a problem is malnutrition? The number of people suffering from chronic hunger declined from 868 million in 2012 to 842 million in 2013. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the number of undernourished children has been reduced by 17 percent in 20 years. Yet undernutrition is still the cause of nearly half of the deaths of children under age 5.

Globally, nearly one in four children younger than 5 is stunted due to chronic micronutrient deficiencies. Stunting is a condition linked to increased susceptibility to common illnesses, lower levels of academic achievement, and lower lifetime earnings, said UNICEF in its recent report, "Improving Child Nutrition: The Achievable Imperative for Global Progress".

Severe acute malnutrition is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate attention. According to the World Health Organization, there is a 30 percent to 50 percent mortality rate for children younger than 5 who develop severe acute malnutrition.

How ambitious were the N4G commitments? Altogether, leaders pledged an historic $4.15 billion to tackle malnutrition via investments in multiple sectors: agriculture; health; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); education; and social protection programs. They did so in the realization that nutrition is intertwined with all these sectors -- and that a person who is malnourished in early childhood can never reach her or his full potential.Commitments were made to new partnerships and scaled-up research. An annual Global Report on Nutrition was announced (the “first annual” report will be released in November 2014 at the Second International Conference on Nutrition). An annual global nutrition meeting alongside the UN General Assembly was initiated.  A Global Nutrition for Growth Compact puts nutrition at the center of the world’s development agenda. A group of businesses has pledged to improve the nutrition (and hence the productivity and health) of 927,000 employees in 80 countries. See a complete list of commitments.

A year after N4G, what progress has the United States made? The U.S. government has made nutrition a higher priority in meeting our global development assistance commitments. In a time of almost universal budget cuts, Congress reached a bipartisan agreement to boost funding for nutrition in the FY 2014 federal budget. USAID recently announced a new global multisectoral nutrition strategy. The agency credits the “strong advocacy and dedication” of civil society organizations such as Bread for the World Institute for the release of the strategy, which will “align our important global nutrition commitments.” The USAID strategy will be used to develop a U.S. Government Global Nutrition Coordination Plan, to include USAID, four cabinet-level departments (Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Treasury, State), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Peace Corps, and the White House. The plan is designed to accelerate “progress toward relevant WHA targets and other U.S. government commitments by maximizing the impact of government actions.” 

Civil society organizations, including those in the nutrition stakeholder community such as the Institute, are clearly a driving force in getting this high level of U.S. government commitment to nutrition. Legislative and non-legislative advocates are working seamlessly to increase funding for nutrition activities and to shape an effective policy and program operations agenda. USAID operational partners are designing nutrition projects that encompass several sectors of development assistance.

Of course, commitments and action by the governments of countries with high burdens of malnutrition are essential to success. To date, 51 such countries have come together in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement in order to work -- governments and civil societies together – to expand successful nutrition programs. 

Working together, civil society will monitor the pledges made at N4G to ensure that they are honored. We will help ensure that diverse government nutrition policies and programs come together in the most effective way possible. Malnutrition is a major component of global hunger, so tackling it more effectively will bring us much closer to our very feasible goal, ending global hunger by the year 2030.

In a recent blog post, David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World and Rick Leach, CEO of WFP-US said: “From climate change to civil liberties, the world is at a critical point right now with many issues. Global nutrition is no different, and, as such, deserves adequate attention as its reach is vast and implications deep. Future generations depend on decisions we--governments, NGOs, faith leaders, community leaders, investors, scientists, educators, and others--are making and actions we are taking right now to ensure that they can reach their full potential. Not only can we reduce undernutrition--we must if our children's children are to thrive.”

Scott Bleggi

Feed the Future: The Untold Success Story

What is the U.S. government doing to reduce global hunger? Many people would answer – correctly, of course -- that our country provides food aid to save lives during emergencies. And, in fact, the United States has been the leading provider of emergency food aid for decades.

But it is not the whole story, particularly for the past few years. From May 19-21, I attended the first-ever Feed the Future Forum -- deepening my knowledge of an effective and influential program that most Americans have never heard of.

Feed the Future, the U.S. global hunger initiative, was launched in 2009. When G-8 leaders gathered in L’Aquila, Italy, in July of that year to respond to the global food price crisis, the Obama administration’s proposal to invest significantly more effort and resources in agriculture won support from other donor countries, who committed to providing $22 billion in financing for agriculture over three years. This became known as the L'Aquila Food Security Initiative (AFSI), and Feed the Future is the primary U.S. contribution to it.

As a whole-of-U.S.-government initiative, Feed the Future is laying a foundation for lasting progress against global hunger by focusing its investments within agriculture on three areas: improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, strengthening maternal/child nutrition, and building the capacity of governments and civil society to promote long-term growth.

Bread for the World members have played a vital role in supporting Feed the Future and advocating for improvements to enable it to reach more of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Bread President David Beckmann was invited to give a keynote speech at Feed the Future’s first Global Forum, which brought together stakeholders from around the world to highlight progress, address challenges, and chart a way toward more progress against hunger and poverty.

 

In his address, Beckmann called on participants to be active in sharing Feed the Future's good-news story.  He stressed that while many Americans know about the U.S. leadership in addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic through PEPFAR, very few people know about the role that the United States has played over the last few years to reduce world hunger.

Four Years later-- What Has Feed the Future Achieved?

At the Forum, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah announced that in 2013 alone, Feed the Future reached nearly 7 million smallholder farmers and helped to save 12.5 million children from hunger, poverty, and malnutrition.

For example:

  • In Bangladesh, Feed the Future reached 3.3 million smallholder farmers with improved seed, fertilizer, and farm management practices, helping farmers increase rice yields by up to 20 percent and creating additional rice sales of $25 million.
  • In Senegal, the initiative helped farmers produce enough additional rice to meet the consumption needs of more than 400,000 Senegalese for a year.
  • In Honduras, the initiative helped more than 4,300 families move well above the $1.25-per-day global poverty line, in part by enabling them to increase their horticulture sales by 125 percent.
  • With Feed the Future assistance, Ethiopian company Guts Agro Industry developed a ready-to-use supplementary food made with specialty chickpeas sourced from 10,000 smallholder farmers, with plans to expand to 52,000 smallholder suppliers.

Read more in the 2014 Feed the Future Progress Report, which outlines how Feed the Future is working to scale up proven technologies and activities, expand nutrition interventions and programs, and conduct research to create the next generation of innovations that can change the lives of food producers and their families.

UN Report Reveals Gaping Holes in Women’s Empowerment Data

Women's empowerment, Guatemala

Photo Credit: Joe Molieri/Bread for the World

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) taught us that clear goals and coordinated, committed leadership can go a long way in driving human progress. They also solidified the notion of interconnectedness—that human issues should not be considered or addressed in isolation from one another. We’ve rediscovered that truth in the cross-cutting benefits of women’s empowerment in the developing world. When women are more empowered, economies improve, education levels rise -- and hunger, undernutrition, and poverty decline.

But women’s empowerment isn’t as easy to capture as specific statistics such as how many children attend primary school or how many households have access to clean water. How will we know which “empowerment” strategies are succeeding so that we can scale them up? In an effort to capture holistically how women fare from one country to another, women’s empowerment indices—composed of dozens of indicators—have been devised by the UN Development Programme and the World Economic Forum. The United Nations Statistical Division recently released a minimum set of indicators needed to get an accurate picture of starting points and progress. This “minimum” list has 52 indicators in five categories.

The U.N. “statistics people” also took the next step: considering how much data is available on a sampling of these indicators. The findings show that we still have a long way to go toward reliable, consistent data on women’s empowerment.  

Missing Data on Women's Empowerment, 500 pix

Take a look at the graphic above, which shows the average number of years for which we have data on some key women’s empowerment indicators. In 1990, these indicators had already been identified – we’ve known for a generation that this information is important. Yet over a period of 22 years, some indicators have an average of only three data points (that’s three single pieces of information) per country.

Policymakers need rock solid, consistently collected data in order to pinpoint problems and envision solutions. Many in the global community, inspired by the growth of new technologies and the emergence of “big data,” are calling for a data revolution, and there’s no doubt that these are important developments. But we do not need a revolution to solve the most glaring problem with data —failure to collect information that we know is important. Simply building nations’ capacity to produce regular, reliable data on women’s empowerment and other indicators would be a great place to start. 

 Derek Schwabe

USAID Launches a New Nutrition Strategy

Today at the Chicago Council’s Global Food Security 2014 event in Washington, DC, Senior White House Advisor Ambassador Susan Rice announced the release of the USAID Nutrition Strategy.

This is a landmark step toward ensuring that nutrition concerns remain at the heart of the U.S. development assistance agenda.

Bread for the World Institute has been an active participant in the development of the nutrition strategy, along with other members of the nutrition stakeholder community (both advocacy and operational partners of USAID). The draft strategy was first released for public comment in December 2013.

The nutrition strategy recognizes the essential role of nutrition in human development (especially in the “1,000 Days” period from pregnancy to age 2). Moreover, the strategy acknowledges that high rates of chronic malnutrition can cause significant losses in a nation’s GDP and carries other economic costs. The USAID strategy also lays the foundation for the development of a comprehensive “whole-of-U.S.-government” nutrition strategy later this year.

Improving maternal and child nutrition has been a major part of the Institute’s non-legislative advocacy efforts for the past three years. The USAID nutrition strategy comes after our successful efforts to clarify exactly where nutrition programs are funded within the federal budget, to persuade the administration to identify a high-level spokesperson for nutrition in the U.S. government (Administrator Shah was named), and to help win needed reforms in U.S. food aid policies and programs.  The Agricultural Act of 2014 (the “farm bill”) authorized changes that will increase the efficiency of food aid programs and delivery, allow greater flexibility to purchase food for distribution closer to where it is needed, and provide additional options for using new specialized food products that have been fortified with vitamins and minerals.

The strategy recognizes that nutrition is “multi-sectoral”-- meaning that effective nutrition interventions can be done not only in health programming, but also in agriculture, education, and water, sanitation and health (WASH) projects. Direct nutrition interventions can be complemented by indirect nutrition actions for maximum impact. Key direct actions include 11 “essential nutrition actions” articulated by the World Health Organization and identified as particularly effective in fighting malnutrition in the research published in the Lancet Maternal and Child Nutrition series. Indirect nutrition actions are nutrition-sensitive activities that target the underlying causes of undernutrition. Combining direct and indirect actions by “bundling” projects that include both has been found to be the most effective development investment a country can make.

USAID is committed to the World Health Assembly 2025 Nutrition Targets (see box), and is developing additional nutrition targets it will use to track and evaluate its development assistance. Included in these is a target in Feed the Future programs of reducing stunting in the regions where Feed the Future works by 20 percent in five years.

WHA Targets

The Nutrition Strategy will ensure flexibility (as new evidence of successful interventions becomes available) by including a robust learning agenda that supports research to fill knowledge gaps, a rigorous program of monitoring and evaluation, and a means of quickly disseminating and apply lessons learned to ongoing programs. USAID will immediately begin issuing guidance for its overseas missions on how to implement the strategy. A framework document for the wider whole-of-U.S. government nutrition strategy, called the Global Nutrition Coordination Plan, has been completed, and additional information on this plan and a request for public comment have now been released

Scott Bleggi

Constructive Approaches to Achieving Shared Development Goals

Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-OH) speech earlier this month at the American Enterprise Institute advocated constructive conservatism, which he described as an approach to ending poverty that relies on data-driven, evidence-based solutions. Media in his home state of Ohio called the talk Portman’s “anti-poverty coming out speech.”

US Capitol Building seen through a field of red and purple tulips
Architect of the Capitol

The speech offered plenty of room for debate. While there is support across the political spectrum for responding to the country’s drug addiction problem with treatment rather than incarceration, a key part of the senator’s speech, Portman also opposes raising the federal minimum wage, in contrast to Bread’s position.

But looking at the bigger picture, the idea of “constructive conservatism” deserves attention from hunger advocates. Collecting data and evaluating evidence of the effectiveness of various anti-poverty programs—and then scaling up the best-performing programs to achieve national targets for reducing poverty—may seem like no more than common sense. But many of Sen. Portman’s colleagues in Congress oppose this approach, as AEI president Arthur Brooks noted after the speech. Since they do not agree that the federal government should fund a safety net at all, they consistently vote to cut spending on anti-poverty programs. So far, we have not heard much from these decision makers about the impact in the future of reducing national anti-poverty efforts now. 

“Constructive conservatism” could be an alternative that does indeed foster progress against poverty. In the hunger policy community, we know that setting and striving toward goals on reducing poverty works. Back in 2000, when the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted by nearly 200 countries, many leaders and experts thought that the targets were strikingly ambitious, if not outright unreachable. Cut hunger in half within 15 years? Ensure universal access to primary education? But today, the evidence shows that the world is on track to meet nearly all of the MDGs by their deadline, December 2015.

In fact, the MDG effort has been so successful that the world is now setting new, post-2015 development goals. As Bread for the World participates in the global process of determining just what those goals should be, we are hopeful that the goals will apply universally – to all countries.

Such universality would support the United States in establishing hunger and poverty as priority problems and in tracking our progress. It could also help bring together Americans from across the political spectrum who support constructive efforts to reduce poverty -- to put effective solutions in place. 

Stacy Cloyd

A Global Day of Action for Nutrition

2013 was an historic year for nutrition advocacy. As part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, civil society organizations (CSOs) around the world committed to supporting and holding their governments accountable on plans of action to improve nutrition. SUN focuses on pregnant women and children in the “1,000 Days” from pregnancy to age 2, since this is the most critical period for human nutrition. CSOs can range from small groups working in community settings to nationwide alliances that advance common interests. The SUN Civil Society Network (SUN-CSN) was formed to establish and support SUN Civil Society Alliances (SUN-CSA), as well as to facilitate, communicate, and coordinate across the network.

In the lead-up to the 2013 G-8 summit in London and its Nutrition for Growth event, nutrition CSOs coordinated actions as part of a “Global Day of Action”. Their goal was to show global support for decisive actions at the G-8 to tackle food insecurity and malnutrition. CSOs from Bangladesh, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia led events in their countries to increase awareness of the need for governments to make greater investments in programs and policies to overcome malnutrition.

This year marks an alignment of several key moments in global nutrition. The 67th meeting of the World Health Assembly takes place the week of May 19-23 in Geneva. This is an opportunity for countries to report on progress in achieving global nutrition targets that were set in 2012. The African Union Summit in June will focus on agriculture, food security, and nutrition. The Second International Conference on Nutrition will be held at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in November.

During the week of May 4-11, 2014,  a second “Global Day of Action” was held in many of the SUN-CSA countries. The goal was to influence both national nutrition policies and regional development agendas while also highlighting SUN-CSN as a “global, impactful, and agenda-setting network.”

The Global Day of Action’s objectives were:

  • Advance multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral efforts to address nutrition as a priority and to scale-up nutrition intervention efforts;
  • Add to continued, growing public pressure on national leaders to continue their focus on nutrition, increase progress toward the 2013 WHA global targets, deliver on commitments to SUN and commitments made at the Nutrition for Growth event;
  • Increase the public and political profile of nutrition in member countries;
  • Highlight SUN-CSN as an effective international campaigning network; and
  • Show an inclusive, global constituency in support of nutrition.

We’ve already seen effective social media and press coverage of Global Day of Action events by SUN-CSAs using the Twitter hashtag of #ActingTogether4Nutrition in Zambia (@wchilufya), Bangladesh (@SUNCSABD), Ghana (@ghaccssun), Malawi (@CSO_Nut.Alliance), and Uganda (@UCCOSUN).

Zambia for blog
Village heads in Zambia participate in the Global Day of Action for nutrition. Photo credit: William Chilufya

 Altogether, 19 country-level CSOs committed to displaying strong public support for nutrition issues.

At the inaugural meeting of SUN-CSN, in June 2013 in Washington, DC, I witnessed a real commitment from advocates from all over the world to share ideas and build a Community of Practice on efforts to scale up nutrition. SUN countries are those with the world’s highest burdens of malnutrition. They are working together with very limited resources in ways that are most impressive. I hope political leaders will take note of their advocacy and live up to their governments’ commitments to meet global nutrition targets by 2015.

Scott Bleggi

What the Nigerian girls can teach us about women's empowerment

Nigerian Girls 012

Bring Back Our Girls is big news. In Washington DC, where I work, the media was out last Friday to report on a vigil for more than 200 Nigerian school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

Earlier that morning, I attended a briefing at the Capitol by the nongovernmental organization PCI on the difficulties of trying to measure women’s empowerment. The room was packed with representatives of other NGOs, but I didn’t notice any media. The briefing was titled Measuring the Hard to Measure, which says a lot about why development programs struggle to provide effective help in reducing gender inequality, and maybe about why the media isn't interested yet.

The two events occurred on the same day purely by coincidence, but it seems fitting that they were happening together. On the one hand, we’ve got the backlash represented by Boko Haram, men who feel threatened by the thought of women being less than submissive to their demands. On the other, empowerment programs have mostly been about increasing the rate of girls attending school -- relatively easy stuff. Looking ahead we have to face up to the challenge that there is much harder work to do in reducing gender inequalities, and a lot more backlash inevitably. The guys in Boko Haram have a lot more to fear than girls going to school and they know it.  

Increasing women’s participation rates in public office has proven much more difficult than increasing school attendance. Globally, women hold an average of just 22 percent of seats in national parliaments. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) call for reaching 30 percent by the end of 2015. 

It is interesting to observe how income does little to reduce the gender gap in political representation. Developed countries have done only slightly better than developing ones, and neither group will meet the MDG target. Both started out alike in 1990 - the MDG baseline year - with an average of 13 percent. Presently developed countries have reached 25 percent and developing countries 21 percent.

Progress has been slow because of discriminatory laws, underinvestment in woman’s human capital, norms that cast doubt on their decision making capacity, and unpaid care work that takes up a disproportionate share of women’s time compared to men’s…among other things. But those are some important ones for starters. The confluence of so many inequalities makes it hard to disentangle them to address individually. That was the take away from the PCI briefing. Gender inequality is a multidimensional problem demanding multidimensional solutions. 

Gender inequalities will persist as long as the political will to address them is lacking, or I suspect until women’s participation in politics reaches a tipping point.  Todd

New Data: Social Norms Pose Unchecked Threat to Women’s Empowerment

The World Bank recently released the 2014 World Development Indicators—the most current and accurate collection of global and country-level development data available. Each year, the World Bank works to expand and improve the body of data available to more consistently gauge progress on an ever-growing number of development variables.

Women’s empowerment is an area where data has been notoriously inconsistent and incomplete. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted in 2000, included a goal to “promote gender equality and empower women” as MDG 3. But meeting a goal depends greatly on its indicators of success. The MDGs defined progress on women’s empowerment almost exclusively by whether girls have equal access to primary education and by whether more women are serving in national parliaments. By those measures, the world has indeed made great strides since 2000. Today the global gender gap in access to both primary and secondary education is nearly closed, and about one in five parliamentarians in the developing world is now female (Rwanda's parliament is majority female). Yet, there are significant limitations to what the current MDG indicators can tell us about how empowered women are throughout the world.

Percent of Women who believe a husband is justified in beating his wife when she argues with him

One of the more revealing new datasets released by the World Bank this year shows that in many countries, a large number of people – both women and men – do not support women’s equal participation in household decisions. One of the starkest demonstrations of this is shown in the graphic above, which lists the 10 countries with the highest proportion of women who agree that a husband is justified in beating his wife when she argues with him.  

There may not be many areas of consensus in the development community, but the belief that women are the key to ending hunger and extreme poverty is one of them. Women’s dual roles as producers and caregivers make them essential actors in every family. When women share decision-making power equally with men in the household and in society, their families are healthier and more prosperous. The next generation is better off because women, more than men, spend their additional income on feeding and educating their children. And generally, two capable adults working in partnership can accomplish far more than one can alone.

Legal rights are necessary but not sufficient. As the global community reaches consensus on the set of global goals that will replace the MDGs in 2016, it will need to diversify its toolbox of indicators for measuring women’s empowerment, adding indicators that capture the influence of less tangible factors like cultural norms and stigmas. Countries will need to explore ways to help men and women examine and question these staunch norms that undermine women’s agency. Women who see themselves as equals who are entitled to express their opinions without fear of violence will be better equipped to provide for their own families and contribute to a healthier society and economy.

  Derek Schwabe

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