A Look through a Gender Lens

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A Look through a Gender Lens


By: United Nations

Date: 2003

Source: Bureau for Development Policy, United Nations Development Programme, "Millenium Development Goals: National Reports—A Look Through a Gender Lens," 2003.

About the Author: The United Nations (UN) was founded in 1945 when fifty nations met to draft the organization's charter. Initially established to prevent war, the UN has evolved into a 191-member organization working for human rights around the world.


The twentieth century saw much progress toward women's equality. The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment gave American women the right to vote, and the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s forced social notions about gender and sexuality to change. Women began to demand equal pay, benefits, and access to higher education.

Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, and Griswold v. Connecticut, which held that no state could intrude on a person's right to privacy, gave women additional choices in their reproductive decisions. But these did not eradicate gender bias. Instead, it continued to exist, and as society progressed so did its forms.

In the 1990s, the Glass Ceiling Commission encouraged businesses to place women in positions of power, and public figures like Hilary Rodham Clinton urged United Nations member states to elevate the status of women worldwide. As the issue of gender equality continued to dominate political discussions, the United Nations set forth its own directive for the new millennium.

The May 2003, Millennium Development Goals (MDG) report, signed by 191 countries, called for the eradication of poverty; universal primary education (through high school); gender equality and empowerment of women; reduction of child mortality; better maternal health; increasing the fight against malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other deadly diseases; environmental reforms; and the development of a global partnership for development. Although only some of the MDG goals concern gender equality, the issue took center stage in discussions about the international agenda for human rights. The report set a 2015 deadline to meet its goals, and it encouraged each country to develop programs to work toward that end.


1.2 Gender and the MDGs

Goal 3—"Promote gender equality and empowerment of women"—is the culmination of years of determined advocacy and action by the international women's movement. The high priority accorded to Goal 3 represents a global affirmation of women's rights and gender equality as core values of development.

This hard-won recognition that "development, if not engendered, is endangered" was also an outcome of debates and discussions at the UN Conferences of the 1990s, including the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna 1993), the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994), the World Summit on Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995) and the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995). Growing recognition of the gender dimensions of development paradigms and policies during the 1990s created the momentum for a consensus on gender mainstreaming—the incorporation of gender perspectives into all aspects of development theory and practice—as a key strategy to achieve gender equality.

There is a clear correspondence between the MDGs and other global instruments related to gender equality, such as the Beijing Platform for Action and CEDAW. However, unlike the other goals, Goal 3 is not specific to any particular sector or issue, since gender equality and women's rights underpin all the other goals. It has been pointed out that attempting to achieve the MDGs without promoting gender equality will both raise the costs and decrease the likelihood of achieving the other goals. (1) The reverse is equally true—achievement of Goal 3 depends on progress made on each of the other goals. The implication is clear—while accurate reporting against Goal 3 is critical, tracking gender gaps and inequalities against each of the other MDG targets and indicators is no less important.

At the national level, MDGRs [Millenium Development Goals Reports] and the process of MDG reporting represent a new opportunity for gender advocates to enlarge the space for dialogue and build a broad national commitment to women's rights and gender equality. Apart from their role in monitoring and tracking key indicators of women's empowerment, national MDGRs are also aimed at facilitating systematic policy dialogue on critical development challenges and building a supportive environment for translating commitments into actual results on the ground. Ideally, MDGRs are expected to reach out to a range of national actors including communities, civil society groups, and the media, initiating wider debate and dialogue around key development choices and enabling citizens to demand accountability from their governments….

Given the above, it is important for women's organizations and gender equality advocates to use the opportunity created by the MDGRs and the MDG reporting process to ensure greater public visibility and awareness of gender inequality, and demand a stronger policy commitment for gender equality.


The goals set forth by the MDG are intended to bring a larger social awareness, concern, and action for basic human rights. They are not necessarily the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that are considered integral to American culture. Rather, the basic human (and gender) rights discussed in the MDG concern the right to be treated equally and fairly, the guarantee of an education, and access to modern medical treatment.

Critics debate whether the MDGs can be achieved at any point, but the global agenda is clear and certain—a united community can help alleviate some of the world's injustices. More importantly, the document proclaims the underlying belief that trying to improve the status of women can lead to a stronger global community.



Jain, Devaki. Women, Development, and the UN: A Sixty-Year Quest For Equality And Justice. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.

Weiss, Thomas G., David P. Forsythe, and Roger A. Coate. United Nations and Changing World Politics. Boulder, CO, and San Francisco: Westview Press, 2004.

Web sites

Schwentker, Lee. "The Millennium Goals and Gender Equality." American Association of Colleges and Universities: On Campus with Women〈http://www.aacu.org/ocww/volume33_3/global.cfm〉 (accessed April 14, 2006).

United Nations Development Programme. "Gender Equality" 〈http://www.undp.org/gender〉 (accessed April 14, 2006).

United Nations Millennium Campaign. "Voices against Poverty" 〈http://www.millenniumcampaign.org/site/〉 (accessed April 14, 2006).