Post-MDG 3: Achieve gender equality to tackle the root causes of poverty

Millennium Development Goals: 2015 Progress Chart
Published articles to date: Introduction | MDG 1 | MDG 2 | MDG 3 | MDG 4

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The United Nations recently issued The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015, the latest assessment of progress towards the eight MDGs. In short, they have had mixed results. This article is part of a blog series reflecting on the MDGs and the U.N. report. These are produced in partnership with our colleagues at RESULTS (our parent organization).

MDG 3 is focused on gender equality and empowering women. Many MFIs are actively working to address gender inequality and to empower women in their own corner of the world. A dozen organizations have so far made a Campaign Commitment specifically targeting women. For example, Grama Vidiyal launched a Commitment will help 500,000 clients in India with their Health Service and Development Program that provides sanitary napkins for women. Crecer (Bolivia) committed to continue to prioritize services for female clients. CRECER has 152,000 clients and will grow 3 percent per year to reach 166,000 clients by the end of 2017 while maintaining a rate of 80 percent women clients.


>>Kristin Smith, former intern for the 100 Million Project

MDG 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

From The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015

From The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015

As the deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) rapidly approaches, we are called to evaluate the significant and substantial progress made across the board in addressing the root causes of global poverty. The final MDG report, recently released by the United Nations (U.N.), documents the global 15-year effort to achieve the aspirational goals set out in the Millennium Declaration, highlighting the vast successes while acknowledging the substantial gaps that remain.

The number of people living in extreme poverty, the proportion of undernourished people in developing regions, and the global under-five mortality rate have all decreased by more than half; however, despite these remarkable statistics, millions are still being left behind due to their sex, age, disability, ethnicity, or geographic location.

As we aim to continue substantial advances in reducing global poverty through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, or “Global Goals”), we must renew our efforts to focus on the most vulnerable populations.

Target 3.A: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015

The importance of achieving gender equality arguably extends into every facet of society. MDG 3 aimed to address parity in education, political participation, and economic empowerment and emphasized the crucial role of women in achieving the other seven MDGs as well.

At the Council on Foreign Relations in 2004, economist Gene Sperling noted that “girls’ education is an integral part to virtually every aspect of development, and what is just striking is the amount of hard, rigorous academic data that is not only about what girls’ education does in terms of returns for income and for growth, but in terms of health, AIDS prevention, the empowerment of women, and prevention of violence against women.”

Women are proven to be key contributors to large development payoffs such as increased economic productivity and reduced maternal and infant mortality. This final report reiterates that “the education of women and girls has a positive multiplier effect on progress across all development areas.”

MDG-infographic-3

Indicator 3.1 Ratios of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education

In reviewing key statistics highlighted in the report, progress towards MDG 3 seems promising, yet further analysis paints a rather dreary picture. While the developing regions as a whole have eliminated gender disparity in primary, secondary, and tertiary education, this comes only as a result of averaging progress with the few prosperous regions. In South Asia, for example, female primary school enrollment has surpassed boys’: from 74 girls for every 100 boys in 1990 to 103 girls for every 100 boys today.

However, looking at the Gender Parity Index (GPI), defined as the ratio of the female gross enrollment ratio to the male gross enrollment ratio for each level of education, certain regions have backtracked on progress since 2000. GPI has decreased at the primary level in East Asia, at the secondary level in Oceania, and at the tertiary level in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Indicator 3.2 Share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector

Women still face discrimination in access to work and economic assets, and they lack sufficient representation in public and private decision-making roles. The most prevalent barriers to women’s employment, as noted in the report, are household responsibilities and cultural constraints.

Distribution of working-age women and men (aged 15 and above) by labour force participation and employed women and men by status in employment, 2015 (percentage)

From The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015

Indicator 3.3 Proportion of seats held by women in national parliament

Since the launch of the MDGs, women have gained significant ground in political representation. The average proportion of women in parliament has nearly doubled over the past 20 years; however, there remains significant work to be done with only one in five members being women. Organizations like UN Women help focus future development efforts on including women as a key demographic in global development, as poverty remains a heavily feminized condition.

Distribution of countries* in the developing regions by status of gender parity target achievement in primary, secondary and tertiary education, 2000 and 2012 (percentage)

From The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015

Onward with the Global Goals for Sustainable Development

Despite uneven progress and persistent inequalities, the MDGs helped to lay an ambitious framework for the long-term effort of tackling the root causes of global poverty.

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development, or SDGs, are intended to build on the successes of the MDGs and tackling problems where they fell short. While some people complain that there are too many goals, they have been designed with an eye toward promoting concise and reasonable actions. Perhaps that requires 17 goals and 169 indicators. In analyzing the draft language of the successor Global Goals, it is important to note the widespread presence of important phrasings such as “inclusive” and “for all.”

UN Women advocated for a stand-alone goal to achieve gender equality, similar to the MDGs. SDG 5 is “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls;” this means tackling violence against women as well as ensuring equal economic and leadership opportunities, property rights, equal policies, social protection, and more. This singularly focused goal is crucial to creating a ripple effect for the integration of gender equality throughout the other goals.

Reaching full equality and empowerment for women and girls remains a crucial requirement to achieving full and sustainable development.


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The Puzzle of Poverty: Embera Puru Edition

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>>Authored by Kristin Smith, Program Intern for the 100 Million Project

jjjjJust a few weeks before joining the Microcredit Summit Campaign team, I traveled with Global Brigades to teach financial literacy workshops and provide microenterprise consulting to small business owners in an indigenous community in Panama.

The program, founded in 2003, sends university students from the United States and select European countries on a series of brigades to Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Ghana to “strengthen the health and economic development of communities” by meeting a certain aspect of their “holistic model.” Learn more.

Their holistic model attempts to assess and address the most dire needs of developing communities in an intentionally sequenced process to help them achieve a state of sustainable self-sufficiency.

Panama holistic model

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Under the holistic model developed specifically for Panama, the process begins with Global Brigades employees researching the region and evaluating the community through a process of “integrated community development” to understand its most pressing needs.

Initially, the program sends medical and dental brigades — passionate volunteers working to mobilize positive social change — to the communities to provide mobile medical and dental clinics. Community banks are then established by a group of community members with guidance from Global Brigades staff to encourage saving for health needs and emergencies. Once established, the community banks begin distributing loans to community members for environmental projects and new business developments.

My brigade, composed of my colleagues from the University of California-Berkeley and others from Arizona State University, was excited to complete the Global Brigades puzzle (that is, the holistic model). Our role was to teach financial literacy and perform business consultations in the community of Embera Puru.

Embera Puru is an indigenous community of some 250 individuals in the Darien Province. Located in Eastern Panama near the Colombian border. Embera Puru is an Embera community, one of the largest indigenous groups in Panama and Colombia. The community members’ main source of income is agriculture, producing crops such as plantains, yucca, rice, and otoe (a local root vegetable), and creating artisan handicrafts.

With guidance from Global Brigades, the community established a caja rural (community bank) to encourage savings and loan making within the community. Embera Peru’s caja now has 21 members with 21 active savings accounts, but there are still many among the 266 inhabitants without this means to save.

Comparable to a savings group, a caja rural is a group of men and women who pool their funds to create a solid financial base, providing savings and loan services for themselves and for the entire community. Despite the initial contributions of Global Brigades, the caja is entirely owned and operated by members of the community.

Because the indigenous communities of Panama are predominantly closed economies, community groups eschew money from the outside and make weekly savings deposits into the community bank to begin their work. Group members manage the fund themselves, make decisions about who can receive loans and under what terms, and hold each other accountable for loan repayment.

As part of our business consultation work, we met with representatives from the community’s “Environmental Committee,” a group of farmers producing beyond self-sufficiency for distribution within the community, to ask simple questions to best understand the level of business assistance they needed.

The president of this group, a man by the name of Marcelino, also happens to be the treasurer of the caja rural, as well as a community teacher. Through conversation with Marcelino, we learned that his bookkeeping records won their bank a prize for “Caja with the best bookkeeping management” at a board of directors microfinance workshop in Panama City.

Analyzing the business’s books and records, we found a very thorough system and were stumped on how else to proceed with our consultation. (Aside from our recommendation that they include an inventory management system in preparation for increased production.) Not long into our conversation with these experienced committee leaders about potential business obstacles, we found ourselves confronted with an irritated committee leader and community elder who expressed his frustration with the focus of our questions and our work.

He argued that the group’s record-keeping strategies were highly insignificant in comparison to the group’s utter lack of inventory. It turns out that there was a community water shortage resulting from a collapsed well and a series of unfinished agricultural projects throughout the farm.

“Money,” he said. “We need your help on the farm, we need more crops, and we need money.” My observation was that the present infrastructure severely lacked sufficient capital to support a self-interacting and self-sustaining community.

As I sit now at my desk here in Washington, D.C., far removed from this man and his community, I face the internal debate of whether our work and efforts in microfinance are indeed meeting the direst needs of these people. My short time in Panama reinforced my understanding that development is a puzzle that we do not always equip ourselves to solve. Regardless of the practicality of the services we were working to provide, if other pieces of the complex puzzle are not fully in place, the outcomes in general are undermined.

Increased financial access serves as the window of opportunity for many entrepreneurs throughout the developing world, but without the proper environment and sufficient infrastructure, access to money is rather trivial.

Prioritizing the views, aspirations, and goals of clients or other program beneficiaries is critical as well. As economist William Easterly often argues, no matter how well-intentioned our efforts, without proper feedback from those receiving the assistance, how are we to measure the effectiveness and progress of our efforts? Under my interpretation, Global Brigades was not responsive to the needs and aspirations of its clients.

While the Embera Puru puzzle remains unsolved because the other pieces were never correctly and fully placed, I am glad to know that the industry and many of its institutions are making great strides towards increased attention to feedback from clients and beneficiaries as well as accountability of institutions to deliver on their objectives. Despite the puzzle’s sheer complexity, we have all the pieces and the ability to work with the poor to solve it.

I encourage Global Brigades to join the Microcredit Summit Campaign in making a specific, measurable, and time-bound Commitment on their efforts to end extreme poverty.

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