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Achieving gender equality at the heart of MDGs

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We also resolve . . . to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable.
—United Nations Millennium Declaration (2000)

Gender equality is a human right and at the heart of achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In recent years, education opportunities for girls have expanded. However, gender gaps still remain large in low-income countries, especially at the primary and secondary levels. Girls born in poor households and living in rural communities are least likely to be enrolled in school. Cultural attitudes and practices that promote early marriage, the seclusion of girls, and the education of boys over girls continue to present formidable barriers to gender parity. The third Millennium Development Goal (MDG) aims at promoting gender equality and empowering women.

Developing countries continue to make progress toward gender parity in primary and secondary education. Sixty-four countries, many of them in Europe and Central Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, have achieved gender parity in enrollment, and another twenty are on track to do so by 2015. But 22 countries are seriously off track, the majority of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Progress at the secondary level is similar to those at the primary level, with 73 countries achieving gender parity, and another 14 on track to do so. Latin America and the Caribbean and Europe and Central Asia have made the most progress. However, 29 countries, more than two-thirds of them in Sub-Saharan Africa, are seriously off track and are unlikely to achieve parity if current trends continue. In most regions, progress toward gender parity has been faster in secondary schools than in primary schools. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, four of five countries have reached the target at the secondary level, while only slightly more than half have reached the target or are on track to do so at the primary level. These patterns imply that boys are leaving secondary school in disproportionate numbers— not a good solution to achieving gender parity.

3B2 progress secondary ed

Most countries with data have made progress toward gender parity but data for tertiary education are not widely reported. However, data suggests that countries in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa lag behind.


Women’s share in paid employment in the nonagricultural sector has been rising in some regions but remains less than 20 percent in Middle East and North Africa and South Asia. There are more men than women in wage and salaried employment in all regions but Europe and Central Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. Women are also clearly segregated in sectors that are generally known to be lower paid. And in the sectors where women dominate, such as health care, women rarely hold upper-level management jobs.


The proportion of parliamentary seats held by women has been increasing steadily since the 1990s. Rwanda is farthest ahead, making history in 2008 when its elections led to women holding 56 percent of parliamentary seats. Worldwide, more women are entering positions of political leadership. In March 2009, 15 women were heads of state, up from 9 in 2000.In Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia, women’s representation in parliament rose 30–50 percent over 1990–2009. The Middle East and North Africa women made substantial gains, but still hold less than 10 percent of parliamentary seats, the lowest among all regions. Latin America and the Caribbean leads the way, with women holding 23 percent of the seats.


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