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UN: Progress of the world’s women

NewsNotes, January-February 2009

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) recently released “Who answers to women? Gender and accountability: Progress of the world’s women 2008/9,” which notes that much stronger accountability mechanisms for tracking progress on gender equality are needed in order to meet national and international commitments to women’s rights. Accountability to women begins with increasing the number of women in decision-making positions, but it cannot stop there.

Implementation still has a long way to go in translating commitments to women’s rights into changes in their lives. To date, women are outnumbered four to one in legislatures around the world; over 60 percent of all unpaid family workers globally are women; women still earn on average 17 percent less than men, and about one-third of women suffer gender-based violence during their life span; one in 10 women dies from pregnancy-related causes, even though the means for preventing maternal mortality are cost-effective and well known.

The progress report provides clearly an assessment of each of the Millennium Development Goals from a gender perspective and focuses on five key areas where urgent action is required to strengthen accountability to women: politics and governance, access to public services, economic opportunities, justice, and the distribution of international assistance for development and security. In each of these areas the report details means of building state capacity – or good governance – from a women’s rights perspective.

Key findings and recommendations:

  • Multilateral aid and security institutions can do much more to meet their own commitments and standards on gender equality. To date, no agreed system-wide tracking mechanism exists within the UN and the international financial institutions, to assess the amount of aid allocated to gender equality or women’s empowerment.

  • Women continue to face barriers to health, education and agricultural support services.

  • One form of accountability failure is corruption, and women’s experiences are different from those of men. In developed countries, 30 percent more women than men perceive high levels of corruption in the education system, and a gendered difference in perceptions of corruption are seen in most other parts of the world as well.

  • Women are extremely vulnerable to shifting patterns in global markets in the absence of measures that protect them; for instance, in the recent food crisis, they not only assume responsibility for feeding their families, but also contribute as much as 50-80 percent of agricultural labor in Asia and Africa.

  • Women’s employment and migration are shaped by global trends; the “brain drain” from South to North of people with tertiary education has become feminized. This has implications for women’s economic leadership in impoverished countries.


This report carries with it many challenges to be met by multinational institutions, government leaders and individuals so that equality for women in particular, on all levels, can be realized within our life time. Read the entire document here.

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