The commitment made by the United Nations (UN) signatories to meet the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) in 2000 was undertaken globally, with important gender implications and consequences for country populations. The responsibility that civil society and women’s organisations carry in meeting the diverse challenges presented by the MDGs is not to be underestimated, perhaps precisely because they require that we make sense of country reports as activists and decipher the meanings of the MDG Monitor’s data. The call to make the world a more just, prosperous and peaceful place for the world’s citizens is very compelling and even urgent, particularly as hunger, poverty and disease are not only widely prevalent, but also deeply gendered and intertwined with gender inequality.

Whether the eight MDGs and their 18 targets and 48 recent indicators can be seen to offer a clear, credible and understandable picture of progress or failure to advance the goals, by regions and countries, is not an irrelevant question and is present at the heart of the issue. The eight MDGs decided upon by the UN are:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. A global partnership for development

One of the main omissions pointed out by feminists and therefore presenting a challenge for gender activists regarding the MDGs, is the inclusion of women in gender equality in only one goal, Goal 3, which leaves their direct involvement in all other seven MDGs an open-ended question for countries to decide. A second challenge that has been raised, including by UN agencies, is the exclusion of a critical area of importance, violence against women, completely from the MDGs.

As with any other development framework with projected outcomes, women’s agency at the centre of the development is needed for their equality to be achieved and for the Millennium Declaration’s commitment to make globalisation a positive experience for the world’s people meaningful. Women’s participation in poverty alleviation should be at the centre of programmes to overcome hunger, disease and sustainable development practise as a consequence of women’s reproductive and caring gender roles and responsibilities. As Agenda has argued in previous issues, women’s position in the gendered division of labour has required recognition of their responsibility in the decisions and policies that are made on health, household food security, energy and water. One of the main concerns is, therefore, the interpretations of the MDGs by women, needed to give the goals local validity, meaning and specific relevance to improving the quality of life in the context of national policies, the regional interests in Africa, and of course not least, within communities and neighbourhoods.