Gender equality key to Millennium Development Goals

WHO/Ursula Truebswasser

With less than five years to the deadline set to achieve the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), inequalities hinder progress. Advances have been made in reducing childhood mortality and improving maternal health (MDGs 4 and 5); nevertheless, in the countries in the WHO European Region with the highest rates, infant mortality and maternal mortality rates are 25 and 30–40 times, respectively, greater than those in the countries with the lowest rates.

Progress towards MDG 3 – promoting gender equality and empowerment of women – has a positive effect on achieving all the other MDGs, particularly MDGs 4 and 5. The European Region spans the spectrum of gender equality: some countries rank highest globally (based on education, gainful employment, decision-making power and life expectancy) and in others most women cannot even visit health care facilities without permission from their husbands.

Interventions for gender equality protect and promote girls’ and women’s rights through education (including sexuality education), access to fertility control and safe abortion, better nutrition and protection against violence, as well as by removing discrimination in work and in access to and control over household resources. These not only improve the likelihood of wanted, healthy pregnancies and normal births but also help to promote child survival and development.

WHO/Europe work towards MDGs 3–5

WHO/Europe is leading the way in coordinating efforts and working to accelerate progress towards achieving MDGs 3–5 by:

  • helping countries deliver integrated programmes for reproductive and child health guided by comprehensive, gender-responsive and equity-based polices;
  • strengthening health systems by providing training and capacity-building materials and technical guidance to improve the quality of care;
  • applying a human-rights-based framework to advance sexual and reproductive health through legislation and policy formulation; and
  • strengthening stewardship through improved health information systems, data collection and accountability.

Checklist for policies and programmes’ gender responsiveness

WHO/Europe has developed and pilot-tested a checklist to assess the gender responsiveness of health policies and programmes, particularly for sexual and reproductive health. It is based on the following principles.

  • Policies should acknowledge that gender is a social determinant of health and address it on that basis.
  • Policies should promote and be based on evidence: qualitative and quantitative data disaggregated by sex, age and social status.
  • Those involved in designing and implementing policies should understand gender issues and the links between gender and the other social determinants of health.
  • Programmes should hold those involved accountable for the achievement of gender-equity/equality goals throughout implementation, and require strong leadership and staff with gender expertise.
  • Gender-responsive programmes should support the right to adequate health care and the right to reproductive self-determination.

The checklist was adapted to and pilot-tested in the Republic of Moldova and Tajikistan in 2009 and 2010. The results indicate that, despite some positive developments, even when policies express a clear commitment to gender equality and equity, further work is needed to ensure that this commitment is maintained in implementation. The checklist is being revised using these results, and will be available soon.

“Entre Nous” – Are we on track?

The latest issue of “Entre Nous”, the European magazine for sexual and reproductive health, brings together a series of articles charting the challenges and successes of attempts to achieve the targets set for MDGs 3–5.