Millennium Development Goals Report 2011: Keeping women in their place

Gender equality. Gender sensitive policy, programs, and policies. Gender-sensitive budgeting. Gender-disaggregated data and analysis. Rhetoric about the centrality of gender is all around us. But what do I see in the Millennium Development Goals Report 2011?

Not gender equality. Not centrality of gender issues. I see gender segregation.

The MDG goals themselves are not to blame. Each one of them could easily be addressed in a gender-specific way. Instead, gender (as in “women and girls”) is largely relegated to Goals 3 and 5.

Picture of girls excited to be in school from page 4 of MDG Report 2011

Here is a snapshot gender analysis of the MDG Report, goal by goal:

Goal 1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger (pp. 6 -15): No gender-specific information other than one sentence at the end of a discussion of efforts to combat child malnutrition: “Little difference was found in underweight prevalence between girls and boys” (p. 14). Such an important and often gendered issue is dismissed, with one brief sentence. Worse yet, the Report offers no reference to back up the wildly vague statement. I wouldn’t let an undergraduate student get away with this kind of writing in their term paper.

Goal 2 Achieve universal primary education (pp. 16-19): Nothing gender-specific.

Goal 3 Promote gender equality and empower women (pp. 20-23): The four pages in this section perforce provide gender-specific information. Three bar graphs display girls’ school enrollments, women as non-agricultural employees, and the proportion of women in parliament in various countries. Is this all the authors could find to include? This section should be much longer and richer.

Goal 4 Reduce child mortality (pp. 24-27): Only one of the six bar graphs is gender-specific (p.26). It is about how a mother’s education affects child survival; it receives one paragraph of discussion. This section is skimpy and should address unwanted daughters and the growing bias in sex ratios at birth in much of Asia.

Goal 5 Improve maternal health (pp. 28-35): This eight-page section is all about women: maternal mortality and women’s access to reproductive health care. A gender-integrated approach would include discussion of addressing men’s roles in improved maternal health.

Goal 6 Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases (pp. 36-47): Twelve pages long, this is the longest section in the report. But none of the ten figures/graphs provides gender-specific data. Brief notes on women appear in four places (p. 37, 39, 41, and 42). Nothing on LGBT populations.

Goal 7 Ensure environmental sustainability (pp. 48-57): Nothing gender-specific.

Goal 8 Develop a global partnership for development (pp. 58-64): Nothing gender-specific.

If you need further convincing that the MDG Report is not gender-integrated, read on.

Main picture for Goal 5 in MDG Report 2011

Take a look at the patterns of gender content of the graphs/tables (which present data) and the photographs (which do not present data):

• Graphs/tables: about 1:5 present information on women/girls compared to gender-generic figures.
• Photographs: about 5:1 depict women and girls as those that depict men or boys.

Of the photos of women, many show them with babies. None of the photos of men show them with babies. So, to paraphrase anthropologist Mary Douglas, women and girls and babies are “good to see” but not “good to analyze.”

This point returns us to the longest section of the report that is focused on women: the section that addresses Goal 5 on improving maternal health. It appears that, in spite of gender sensitive intentions and rhetoric, women are still relegated to reproduction — at least in this MDG Report’s text, data, and photographs. This failure means that women and girls are likely to be left out of policies, programs, and projects that affect many important areas of life — environment/climate issues, for one. Furthermore, by treating most of the MDGs in a gender-generic fashion, problems and potentials that are specific to boys and men and LGBT people are also rendered invisible.

Gender-generic analysis is not good for anyone.

It’s not that difficult to disaggregate the data by gender. Just try it, please.

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