Addressing violence against women and achieving the Millennium Development Goals
The role of gender equality in the MDGs
Sex, gender and inequality
Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.
Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, whereas aspects of gender may vary greatly.
Gender inequality results from unequal power relationships between women and men, based on the roles outlined above, and is one of the root causes of violence against women 3.
The Millennium Declaration explicitly recognizes that the equal rights and opportunities of women and men must be assured (2) and MDG 3 specifically addresses the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment. In addition, gender equality is recognized as key in achieving all eight Goals. As an interim report by the Millennium Project on progress towards Goal 3 points out:
Development policies that fail to take gender inequality into account or that fail to enable women to be actors in those policies and actions will have limited effectiveness and serious costs to societies. The reverse is also true: the achievement of Goal 3 depends on the extent to which each of the other goals addresses gender-based constraints and issues. (4)
Although gender equality is visible in the Goals, the continued existence of violence against women is inconsistent with these commitments and with Goal 3 itself (1). The relationship between sustainable development and violence against women is not explicit in the Declaration and Goals and, at first glance, none of the indicators relate directly to violence against women. Closer examination reveals, however, that violence against women – both as an extreme manifestation of gender inequality and a means of perpetuating it – is highly relevant to all of the Goals. Furthermore, the Goals provide powerful arguments and entry points for a variety of approaches to eradicating violence against women.
In the following sections of this document, each MDG is examined separately for its relevance to addressing violence against women and for the strategic opportunities it offers to prevent and eliminate such violence.
How the MDGs connect with prevention of violence against women
While the linkages are not always explicit, the MDGs and their targets afford many options for addressing violence against women.
MDG 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Provides an opportunity to ally violence against women with poverty reduction efforts aimed at protecting the poorest and most vulnerable women.
MDG 2: Achieve universal primary education
Can be used to highlight how the drive towards universal primary education can be hindered by gender-based factors – including violence and lack of security – that prevent girls and young women from entering and completing school. Conversely, better education for girls and boys may contribute to the reduction of violence against women.
MDG 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
Provides a solid basis for promoting equality and women's empowerment as a sustainable development strategy, which at the same time is a key strategy for reducing and eliminating violence against women.
MDG 4: Reduce child mortality and MDG 5: Improve maternal health
Provide opportunities to raise the profile of violence against women as a serious obstacle to improving maternal and child health, and as a threat to the health and well-being of all women.
MDG 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Establishes the value of anti-violence efforts in HIV prevention, highlighting the evidence that violence against women undermines HIV prevention and care efforts, and conversely that preventing this violence contributes to the prevention of HIV.
MDG 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
Opens useful avenues for designing interventions which, in addition to preserving the environment, can empower and protect women in both rural and urban settings.
MDG 8: Develop a global partnership for development
Supports arguments for the participation of women and their representative organizations in policy and programme design, thereby allowing such efforts to include issues important to women, such as violence.
3 See WHO glossary in Gender Policy: http://www.who.int/gender/documents/engpolicy.pdf