Progress on Millennium Development Goal #3: Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women

Sr. Nancy Bramlage, SC[1]
How is our global society doing in the three targeted areas for this goal: Education, Employment, and Political Power for women?

Eliminate gender disparity in education
Quick fact: For girls in some regions, education remains elusive.

The developing regions as a whole are approaching gender parity in educational enrollment. In 2008, there were 96 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in primary school, and 95 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in secondary school. Compare this to 1999 data when the ratios were 91:100 and 88:100 for the two levels of education, respectively. But gender parity in primary and secondary schools is still out of reach for many developing regions. The greatest challenges seem to be in Oceana, sub-Saharan Africa, and Western and South Asia.

Many more girls than boys are enrolled in higher education in Latin America, the Caribbean, North Africa, South-East Asia and East Asia. But in most other regions, the number of boys heavily outweighs that of girls in universities. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, for example, only 67 and 76 girls per 100 boys, respectively, are enrolled in higher education.

Poverty is a major barrier to education, especially among older girls.  In the poorest families, about twice as many girls of secondary school age are out of school compared to their wealthier peers.

Increase the number of women in paid employment
Quick fact: In almost every developing region, men outnumber women in paid employment and women are relegated to more vulnerable forms of employment.

Globally, the share of women in paid employment outside the agricultural sector has continued to increase slowly and reached 41% in 2008. But women in some regions are seriously lagging behind. In South Asia, North Africa and Western Asia, only 20% of those employed outside agriculture are women. In sub-Saharan Africa, only one in three paid jobs outside of agriculture are occupied by women. Top-level jobs still go to men – to an overwhelming degree. Globally, only one in four senior managers are women. In South Asia and North Africa, less than 10% of top-level positions are held by women. Women who work in the agricultural sector have no or little financial security or social benefits.

Increase the number of women in political leadership positions.
Quick fact: The global share of women in political positions continues to rise slowly and reached 19% in 2010 – far short of gender parity.

58 countries still have 10% or fewer members of parliament. In 2010, just nine of 151 elected heads of state and 11 of 192 heads of government were women. Affirmative action continues to be the key driver of progress for women. Some countries include a gender quota in their political policies. The UN has partnered with NGO’s in some countries to train women in political campaigning and governing.

Some success stories

  • In Vietnam, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) works with the Vietnam Women’s Union on a microfinance initiative that helps women get credit and training.
  • The UNDP (UN Development Fund) installed hundreds of diesel-run generators in rural areas in West Africa. The scheme freed up a daily average of two to four hours for women in Burkina Faso and contributed to increasing the owner’s annual income by an average of US$55 in 2009.
  • In Rwanda’s elections were held for the Presidency and a referendum on a new constitution that guarantees a minimum of 30% of parliamentary seats and other leadership positions to women. Today, Rwanda’s Cabinet is 34% women and about 35% women in the Senate.
  • In 2006 in Kuwait, the UNDP partnered with NGO’s to help prepare women running as candidates and to disseminate information about voting so that all women who wanted to vote could do so. In the end, no women candidates won seats in the new Parliament, but 35% of eligible women voted, a participation rate higher than in some long-established democracies.

Information for this report came from MDG Report 2010 and

[1] Sr. Nancy Bramlage, SC is the Executive Councilor for the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. She has served as the Assistant NGO Representative for the Elizabeth Seton Federation at the United Nations, Director of the Center for Social Concern and Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at the University of Dayton, and Personnel Director and Foreign Mission Coordinator for her community.

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