Progress of the World's Women 2008/2009
"Progress of the World’s Women 2008/2009: Who Answers to Women? Gender and Accountability" is a report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). It shows that realising women’s rights and achieving the Millennium Development Goals depends on strengthening accountability for commitments to women and gender equality. In order for women’s rights to translate into substantive improvements in their lives, and for gender equality to be realized in practice, women must be able to fully participate in public decision-making at all levels and hold those responsible to account when their rights are infringed or their needs ignored. Published at the halfway point to the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs, the report presents clear evidence that women’s empowerment and gender equality are drivers for reducing poverty, building food security, reducing maternal mortality, and enhancing the effectiveness of aid.
To date, women are outnumbered 4 to 1 in legislatures around the world; the majority (over 60 per cent) of all unpaid family workers globally are women; women earn 17 per cent less than men; in sub-Saharan Africa, three women are infected with HIV for every two men; and in some parts of the world, 1 in 10 women dies from pregnancy-related causes even though the means for preventing maternal mortality are cost-effective and well-known.
Discrimination on this scale after decades of national and international commitments is symptomatic of an accountability crisis. Five key areas can be identified where accountabilkity needs to be strengthened: politics and governance, access to public services, economic opportunities, justice, and finally the distribution of international assistance for development and security.
There are more women in government than ever before
The percentage of parliamentarians at national level who are women has increased by 8 per cent to the current global average of 18.4 per cent in the decade from 1998 to 2008. Yet even if we sustain the present rate of increase, women’s political representation in developing countries will not reach the ‘parity zone’ of between 40 and 60 per cent until 2045. Quotas or temporary special measures are a proven way of ensuring progress: women hold an average of 19.3 per cent of parliamentary seats in countries that applied some form of electoral quota, as compared to 14.7 per cent in countries with no quotas.
Service delivery responds insufficiently to women’s needs
In sub-Saharan Africa alone women spend 40 billion hours each year collecting water – the equivalent of a year’s worth of labour by the entire workforce of France – because many households lack access to water in or near the premises. Globally, maternal mortality is going down at a rate of just 0.4 per cent a year – compared to the 5.5 per cent needed to meet MDG 5. Women continue to face significant access barriers to health, education and agricultural support services. Health clinics and schools are often too distant and too costly to access, agricultural services are geared towards male farmers, and government services are sometimes based on the assumption that the applicant is an employed, literate or propertied man.
Women experience corruption differently from men
Women and girls are subject to different – often unnoticed and unchecked – forms of corruption than men. Sexual extortion for instance is an unrecognised ‘bribe’ women are asked to pay. Women around the world also tend to perceive higher levels of corruption than men in public institutions. In developed countries, for example, 30 per cent more women than men perceive high levels of corruption in the education system.
Women are especially vulnerable to shifting patterns in global markets
The recent food crisis, for example, has had a severe effect on women, who not only assume primary responsibility for feeding their families but also contribute as much as 60 to 80 per cent of agricultural labour in sub-Saharan Africa and 50 per cent in Asia. Women’s employment is also shaped by global trends. For instance, the average rate of emigration among women with tertiary education is higher that men’s across all regions, except North America. This ‘brain drain’ is likely to have a negative impact on women’s social and economic leadership in developing countries.
Improving women’s access to justice requires gender-based reforms
Evidence from Liberia suggests that the presence of an all-female police contingent sent by the government of India as part of the peacekeeping force is encouraging women to engage with the police, both by registering their complaints and joining the Liberia police service. Similar examples can be found in other post-confl ict countries, such as Timor-Leste and Kosovo. With respect to informal justice systems, progress has been extremely slow, as most such systems are often exempt from the application of human rights and gender equality standards.
Multilateral aid and security institutions need to improve gender equality
To date, no agreed system-wide tracking mechanism exists within multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations and the International Financial Institutions, to assess the amount of aid allocated to gender equality or women’s empowerment. Within the OECD there is a Gender Equality Marker (GEM) to track allocations, but less than half of the funds eligible for ‘screening’ use this marker. Since the introduction of the GEM, amounts marked for gender have almost tripled in absolute terms – from US$2.5 billion in 2002 to US$7.2 billion in 2006 – but remain small as a percentage of the total
The report can be dowloaded free of charge from the UNIFEM website. Related materials are listed below:
- UNIFEM (2008): Progress of the World’s Women 2008/2009: Who Answers to Women? Gender and Accountability, New York: UNIFEM.
- Norway (2008): Gender Equality 2009? Objectives, strategy and measures for ensuring gender equality, Oslo: Norwegian Ministry of Children and Equality.
- Progress of the World's Women 2008/2009
UNIFEM (2008): Progress of the World’s Women 2008/2009: Who Answers to Women? Gender and Accountability. Executive Summary: http://www.unifem.org/progress/2008/media/English-PoWW-ExecutiveSummary.pdf