DEVELOPMENT: Women Make a Seven-Year Pitch
By Haider Rizvi
NATIONS, Oct 23 (IPS) - Calls for a renewed commitment to women's human
rights are on the rise as the world's top policymakers gather here this
week to discuss international funding for development.
can be no sustainable development without women's empowerment," said
June Zeitlin, executive director of the Women's Environment and
Development Organisation (WEDO) on the eve of the high-level talks.
Zeitlin and other civil society leaders who work closely with
the U.N. in setting the direction of its global agenda on development
say they are increasingly disappointed with the implementation of the
"There is a lot rhetoric on development, but no money to address the
question of gender inequality," Zeitlin told reporters in urging that
the U.N.-sponsored dialogue on financing for development must reflect
women's concerns about poverty, disease and illiteracy.
The two-day meeting is being convened by the 192-member U.N. General
Assembly as part of the ongoing international efforts to generate
financial resources required to meet the Millennium Development Goals
(MDGs) in the next seven years.
The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in extreme poverty and
hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by
two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; the
promotion of gender equality; and the reversal of the spread of
HIV/AIDS, malaria and other deadly diseases.
Studies suggest that most governments have failed to take initiatives
on gender seriously despite committing to do so in the Monterrey
Consensus, the agreement adopted at the 2002 international conference
on financing for development.
Civil society groups contend that the progress on the MDGs demands a
human rights-centred policy framework, not the market-driven approach,
which is failing to produce meaningful results.
"The development approach based on the neo-liberal economic
model is creating a huge gap in policy and implementation," said Norea
Craviotto of Women in Development Europe (WIDE), a continental lobbying
group. "This approach leads to growth, but not fair distribution of
U.N. researchers agree that, worldwide, women are suffering
from poverty, illiteracy and deadly diseases more than men because they
face discrimination in obtaining jobs, education and healthcare.
When world leaders attended a summit in New York in September
2000, they agreed that the MDGs must be achieved by 2015. That
commitment included policy initiatives to reduce maternal mortality by
Many experts believe that in the past seven years, nothing
much has changed for the millions of poor women with regard to their
economic well-being and access to health care.
As reported by the British medical journal the Lancet this
week, at the current pace, there is almost no hope that the world will
be able to achieve the 75 percent target.
Annually, about 20 million women are forced to undergo unsafe
abortions, which, according to the journal, are a major factor in
maternal deaths and illness. In some parts of Africa, more than one in
every 15 women dies of pregnancy-related causes.
Public health activists say that governments must take drastic steps to
reverse the situation if they are serious about meeting the MDGs on
reducing maternal mortality rates in the next seven years.
"We still have the situation we had 20 years ago," said Ann
Starrs of the independent group Family Care International in a
statement. "Half a million women die every year from the complications
A recent study by Harvard University found that between 1990 and 2005,
maternal deaths did fall, but by less than one percent a year. It
estimates that at least 10 to 20 million women suffer injuries from the
complications of childbirth every year.
This kind of suffering could be easily avoided if international donors
contributed just 6.1 billion dollars over the next seven years,
according to experts who see many of the wealthiest nations continuing
to shy away from fulfilling their commitments.
Women's groups, such as WEDO and WIDE, note that even when the promised
money is delivered, it doesn't get spent on development projects to
address gender inequality.
Craviotto and Zeitlin said development policies must reflect a "firm"
commitment on economic and social rights and demanded "a formal
process" for civil society's participation to prepare the Monterrey
"Financing for development must include substantial funding," Zeitlin
said. "The MDGs cannot be achieved without gender equality. We have the
commitment. We have the rhetoric. Now we need the money."
According to Zeitlin, currently only 0.1 percent of the total official development assistance is being spent on gender equality.
Activists said they want the U.N. Economic and Social Council
to ensure the effectiveness of the development process and reiterated
calls for the creation of a high-level U.N. entity to assess policy
implementations on gender equality.
In addition to individual governments, women leaders also criticised
the world body for its failure to demonstrate gender equality in its
own rank and file and continued lack of gender balance
"Look at UNIFEM," said Zeitlin, referring to the U.N. women's agency.
"Last year, its funding was only 57 million dollars. By contrast, the
U.N. Fund for Population received about 565 million dollars."
Amid calls for continued involvement of all relevant
stakeholders, on Monday, U.N. General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim
convened a series of informal "interactive hearings" with the
representatives of civil society groups on financing for development.
"It is imperative that the views of civil society be fully understood
and duly taken into account," said Kerim in his opening remarks, hoping
that their participation in discussions would provide useful input to
the high-level dialogue.
The two-day U.N. talks are aimed at shaping the agenda of the next U.N.
conference on funding for development due to be held in Doha, Qatar in
the second half of 2008. The conference will asses the implementation
of decisions made at Monterrey.
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