August 23, 2012

Press Release

Agenda feminist journal celebrates its 25th year in Women’s Month in August 2012 and is launching issue No 91  “Meeting the challenges of the Millennium Development Goals” guest edited by Liepollo Lebogang Pheko. The launch will be held on Monday, August 27, 2012 at Love Books in Mellville, Johannesburg at 6pm.

This special issue focuses on the global commitment made by United Nations (UN) signatories to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 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 MDG’s 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 related 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 environment 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 and 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 practice as a consequence of women’s reproductive and caring gender roles and responsibilities.

As Agenda has argued in previous issues of the journal, 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 interpretation 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 ofAfrica, and of course not least, within communities neighbourhoods.

The direct relevance of the MDGs for women in southern Africa and Africa is a question that writers in this issue interrogate and seek to theorise, suggesting that in spite of their inherent flaws, there is much that could be done to ensure that the Goals are gendered and interpreted more fully and implemented by governments.

The contributions in this issue, while by no means an exhaustive survey of progress made with the MDGS and gender equality, contribute to the gender debates, gender analysis and research on the subject of the MDGs. Not detracting from the global consensus implicit in the MDGs, they unsettle the idea that the MDGs are beyond gender critique, or that the MDGs, as a tool to measure development progress, should be the only set of data and targets to guide national and global development consensus. In a trajectory where a southern-based agenda requires that we recognise the global poverty gap, we may have to re-interpret selectively what is of value in order to chart the development path which prioritises the interests of the poor and marginalised, not least of all women and children. The research and writing presented here allows us to arrive at several ways of reading the MDGs in the context of feminist analysis.

Liepollo Pheko, the guest editor of this volume of Agenda, has brought a critical insight to the issue and its embedded complexities that has helped to extend feminist analysis in a terrain which is as much about contesting what the appropriate development priorities are for feminists, as it is about engaging with the terms and the challenges of meeting the MDGs to improve the quality of life of the world’s women, particularly in Africa.

As the deadline for the achievement of the MDGs approaches in 2015, the Millennium Declaration’s commitment, ‘‘to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want’’ remains an important global endeavour.

Guest editor Liepollo Lebogang Pheko writes in the issue:

 Women’s movements that have been engaged with the United Nations at all levels around the United Nations (UN) Conferences of the 1990s, working on both gender equality and social and economic justice, approach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with mixed feelings. On the one hand, these goals recognise the centrality of gender equality in the development agenda, and set measurable, time-bound goals on ‘commitments’ with the support of the international community. On the other hand, there is great concern that they sideline key gains made in Beijing, Cairo and other UN conferences, set a minimalist agenda and fail to integrate gender perspectives into all eight goals. The MDGs have been central to debates on development, political and economic discourses since 2000 and commit global governments to reduce poverty by 2015 by liberating humanity from hunger, lack of education, exclusion from political representation, sickness, environmental degradation and to promote women’s empowerment.

This edition of Agenda presents us a plethora of contributions on issues that are not always tangible within MDG and feminist debates, including: a gendered debate on human security, access to land and food security, famine as both a social construct and a livelihood crisis, the location of masculinity within feminist debates, feminisation of energy poverty, domestic worker’s rights within development approaches, limitations of indicators to measure the extent of gender based violence (GBV) and violence against women (VAW), cultural and religious complexities that may constrict women’s advancement, South Africa’s uneven progress on gender equality using the MDG indices and the experiences of women farmers in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

For more information contact:

Lou Haysom (031) 304 7001/2

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