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Expert Wants Gender Equity in Millennium Development Goals


Deborah Balk, Ph.D., acting associate director of the Institute for Demographic Research at the City University of New York, discusses gender inequality at a Fordham seminar.
Photo by Chris Taggart

The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), sanctioned to help the world’s most impoverished groups, could improve its effectiveness by reframing policies to focus more sharply on women, a researcher told a women’s health seminar on “Gender Dimensions of Global Poverty.”

Deborah Balk, Ph.D., acting associate director of the Institute for Demographic Research at the City University of New York, said that women and men face different health risks which are not accounted for in policy making, and called for an “equity lens” for the MDGs to ensure that these worst-off groups benefit. She suggested that using simple statistics, such as access to skilled birth attendants during labor, educational levels, and sub-national data, could “go a long way in moderating some of the [MDG] goals” to help women.

“Equity focus is necessary to ensure that marginalized groups see benefits in aggregate gains in health,” said Balk. “It’s all about how to design policies to reach poor, marginal and underrepresented groups.”

Balk’s study, “Setting the State for Equity-Sensitive Monitoring of the Health Millennium Development Goals,” presented at the March 19 seminar at the Lincoln Center campus, looked at 20 different health indicators, mostly in African countries. The study determined that health gaps existed not just between rich and poor, but between groups separated by gender, ethnicity, educational level and geography.

In addition to Balk, two other speakers made presentations on global gender inequality. Kayode Oyegbite, Ph.D., senior programme coordinator for UNICEF in New York, said that, worldwide, there was more malnutrition in women. Elizabeth Lule, manager of the AIDS Campaign Team for Africa, the World Bank, said that the rise in HIV/Aids among African women is “the worst catastrophe for Africa.” Statistically, she said, among younger persons age 15 to 19, some African countries have a ratio of 6 girls to 1 boy in new HIV/Aids cases. Lule said there was no shortage of global laws to help arrive at gender parity, but that too many laws protecting girls and women were never implemented or enforced.

“Gender equity equals smart economics,” she said. “It would fuel economic growth and ensure that women today have a better life, and that future generations would have a fruitful life.”

The speakers were introduced by Nancy Busch, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS). The GSAS is sponsoring the seminar series in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme Bureau for Development Policy’s Poverty Group. Busch said that, as a young volunteer in a federal Headstart program, she came to understand the importance of “health and nutrition interventions” as the foundation for all other interventions into human development.

– Janet Sassi


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