Where Are We Now? The Millennium Development Goals — Part Two

In 2000, the United Nations (UN) adopted the Millennium Declaration. Eight ambitious goals sprang from this declaration as UN member states agreed to work toward the alleviation of extreme poverty.

The third and fourth goals on the list relate to gender equality and the reduction of child mortality rates. Both issues are long-standing objectives of the UN: The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1979, and UNICEF was formed in 1946 to protect the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) have a deadline of December 31, 2015. As the deadline to reduce child mortality and gender inequality approaches, how close are UN member states to achieving these goals?

Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women

The target of the third MDG is the elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015. Unlike many MDGs, which are prevalent only in developing countries, gender inequality is a worldwide problem. In fact, according to the 2008 Gender Equity Index, several developing countries have higher rates of gender equality than most European countries.

The world achieved gender parity at the level of primary education. However, according to current UN statistics, only two countries (of 130 with verified statistics) have gender equality at all levels of education: Azerbaijan and Switzerland. Most regions have shown an improvement in secondary and higher education, with the exception of Sub-Saharan Africa where the gap in enrollment has grown from 66 girls per 100 boys in 2000 to 61 girls per 100 boys enrolled in 2011.

According to a 2010 UN Development Group thematic paper, one of the most significant reasons equality has not been achieved is the absence of a focus on gender issues within other MDGs. Also, indicators such as female participation in parliaments and non-agricultural employment are not accurate measurements of this goal. It is believed that greater focus on eliminating violence against women could help achieve this MDG better than existing measures.

Reducing Child Mortality

The UN adopted one target for this MDG, which was to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.

Worldwide, the childhood mortality rate has declined by 2.5 percent annually. In 1990, the under-five mortality rate was 87 deaths per 1,000 live births. 2011 figures report the number at 51 deaths, demonstrating a 41 percent decrease in mortality with the rate of decline escalating. Sub-Saharan Africa, which reports extremely high child mortality prevalence, has doubled its rate of decline, from 1.5 percent annually from 1990–2000 to 3.1 percent in 2010–2011. The infant mortality rate has had a slower rate of decrease, at 1.8 percent; newborns now account for 44 percent of under-five mortalities.

Worldwide, the childhood mortality rate has declined by 2.5 percent annually.

Still, this is not close enough to the reduction expected. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) cites education as one of the primary factors standing in the way of full achievement of the fourth MDG. Its research shows that children of mothers with even basic primary schooling are more likely to survive than those without any education. Clearly, this demonstrates a strong need for simultaneous fulfillment of the third goal.

What Needs To Be Done

The causes and symptoms of poverty go hand in hand. A lack of sustainable development in one area can easily trigger a decline in another.

Some issues transcend geographic boundaries altogether, whether they are prevalent everywhere (gender inequality) or exacerbated only in certain regions (child mortality). Solving both of these interconnected challenges will require coordinated and simultaneous efforts at the international, state, and local levels.

Where Are We Now? The Millennium Development Goals — Part One
Where Are We Now? The Millennium Development Goals — Part Three
Where Are We Now? The Millennium Development Goals — Part Four