The Millennium Development Goals
In 2000, global leaders gathered at the United Nations launched a plan of action intended to fight poverty in all its forms. To this end, they set eight goals known as “the Millennium Development Goals “(MDGs) to be achieved by 2015:
The MDGs were complemented by a series of 18 quantifiable targets measured by 60 statistical indicators in order to track progress and identify implementation gaps.
MDG 3 was specifically dedicated to gender equality, while MDG 2 and 5 included targets linked to women and girls.
The MDGs expired in 2015 and were replaced in September of that year by a new global framework for development: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which includes the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs “seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals and complete what they did not achieve” (UNGA, 2015).
Progress in achieving the MDGs
Quoted as “the most successful anti-poverty movement in history” by the UN Secretary General (UN, 2015), the MDGs have met a number of their targets:
- The target of halving the population whose income was less than one dollar a day between 1990 and 2015 has been reached and even exceeded. The number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015.
- The proportion of undernourished people in developing regions fell by almost half since 1990, from 23.3% in 1990-1992 to 12.9% in 2014-2016 – very close to the target set by MDG 1.
- According to UN estimates, developing regions have overall reached the target of eliminating gender disparities in primary, secondary and tertiary education. In South Asia for instance, only 74 girls attended primary school for every 100 boys in 1990. In 2015, 103 girls were enrolled for every 100 boys.
- New HIV infections have fallen by nearly 40% between 2000 and 2013 and the number of people receiving antiretroviral treatments has jumped from to 800,000 in 2003 to 13.6 million people in 2014. The target to halt the spread of HIV / AIDS and to reverse the trend by 2015 has thus been reached.
- The target to halve the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water has been reached: from 2.3 billion in 1990, the coverage in piped drinking water increased to 4.2 billion in 2015.
- One of the targets of Goal 8 was to increase public development assistance to countries demonstrating their commitment to the fight against poverty. The 2015 MDG report shows that developed countries increased their official development assistance by 66% in real terms between 2000 and 2014, reaching $135.2 billion (UN, 2015).
The 2015 UN report on the MDGs provides further information on the progress achieved under the different targets.
While significant progress was achieved in the realisation of the MDGs, a number of targets were falling behind at the end of 2015, for instance:
- The net enrolment rate in primary education in developing regions reached 91% in 2015, compared to 83% in 2000. The target of universal access to primary education set by MDG 2 has thus not been reached.
- Child mortality under age 5 has declined by more than half worldwide, from 90 to 43 deaths per 1,000 live births between 1990 and 2015. Yet the target set by the MDGs aimed to a two-third reduction.
- Since 1990, the maternal mortality rate has decreased by 45% worldwide. Those significant gains still fell short of the two-third reduction target set by the MDGs (UN, 2015).
Persistence of inequalities
The 2015 UN Report stressed that progress in achieving the MDGs has been uneven across regions and countries.
In particular, conflict areas have remained excluded from the development gains observed in the rest of the world: the share of out-of-school children in war-torn countries has increased from 30% in 1999 to 36% in 2012 (UN, 2015).
The reduction of extreme poverty was particularly sharp in Asia, but slower in sub-Saharan Africa. The number of people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at 347 million in 2015, compared to 284 million in 1990. This increase in absolute terms is linked to population growth, whereas the percentage of African population living in poverty declined in relative terms (World Bank, 2015).
Significant inequalities remain between the poorest and richest households. In the developing regions, children from the poorest 20 % of households are more than twice as likely to be stunted as those from the wealthiest 20%(UN, 2015).
Women and the realisation of the MDGs
Progress in achieving the MDGs was uneven between women and men, the UN reported (2015).
Women remained more vulnerable than men to poverty. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the proportion of women in poor households increased from 108 women per 100 men in 1997 to 117 women per 100 men in 2012, despite the overall decline in poverty rates across the region (UN, 2015).
The economic vulnerability of women is linked, among others, to their disadvantage on the labour market. In 2015, only half of women were in the labour force compared to three-quarters of men. And the women who worked earned on average 24% less than men (UN, 2015).
Girls were still more likely than boys to be out of school in primary and junior high school in 63 countries (UN Women, n.d., citing figures from 2013).
Regarding MDG 6, women were more vulnerable than men to HIV/AIDS. In 2013, girls and young women represented around 60% of all new HIV / AIDS infections among young people (UN Women, n.d., quoting UNAIDS data).
Women also remained under-represented in public and private decision-making processes. Only one in five parliamentarians worldwide was a woman in 2014 (UN, 2015).
Lessons learned for the implementation of the SDGs
The challenges encountered in the implementation of the MDGs can be insightful as the post-2015 agenda for sustainable development is just starting to unfold. Development agencies have drawn a number of lessons from the MDG experience, in particular the following:
- Towards a more comprehensive approach to gender equality taking into account social norms: in a report on the challenges and achievements of MDGs implementation for women and girls (2013), the UN Secretary-General noted that the MDG targets did not reflect the full set of rights of women and girls. Among other omissions: unpaid care work, violence against women and girls, sexual and reproductive health, women’s access to resources and assets, and the equal participation of women at all decision-making levels. These targets were explicitly integrated into the SDGs adopted in 2015. In addition, discriminatory structures such as laws, norms, practices and stereotypes were not included in the MDGs and jeopardised their implementation, according to the same report. The SDGs now explicitly refer to social institutions such as early marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).
- The need for a ‘data revolution’ to track progress: “The MDG monitoring experience has clearly demonstrated that effective use of data can help to galvanise development efforts, implement successful targeted interventions, track performance and improve accountability. Thus sustainable development demands a data revolution to improve the availability, quality, timeliness and disaggregation of data to support the implementation of the new development agenda at all levels”, the UN Report on the MDGs concluded (2015). Investments in gender-disaggregated data will be of particular importance for the SDGs to fully benefit women and girls (UN, 2013).
- The need for appropriate means of implementation: according to a study on the realisation of the MDGs in Africa, a lack of credible means of implementations weakened the MDGs outcomes on the continent. Dependence on official development assistance linked the implementation of development goals to the good fortune of donor countries, compromising sustainability. Strengthening national capacities to mobilise domestic resources should thus be a priority for the implementation of the SDGs (UNECA, 2015).
- Strengthening investments in women and girls: “Accelerating progress on the goals for women and girls will require an increased commitment to financing for gender equality with a focus on both social and economic sectors”, the UN Secretary General said in its 2013 report. The OECD-DAC has made similar recommendations, pointing to an under-investment in gender equality at 5% of official development assistance in 2012-2013 (OECD / DAC, 2015).
- Importance of participatory approaches involving women’s organisations: The MDG implementation has highlighted the importance of women’s participation at all levels (UN, 2013). This participatory approach has inspired the process leading up the new sustainable development agenda, which was elaborated in consultation with civil society. It will be important to pursue such participatory initiatives during the implementation phase, particularly at national level.
- Need for qualitative approaches: according to several UN agencies, the MDGs have suffered from a gap between the focus on targets from a quantitative point of view, and the lack of interest in the policies and conditions to achieve them (UN, 2013). The Ebola crisis seems to have highlighted how efforts undertaken in the context of MDG 6 on HIV / AIDS and malaria have failed to strengthen health systems as a whole (UNECA, 2015).
UN General Assembly (2015), “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, Resolution A/RES/70/1, 25 September 2015, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/70/1&Lang=E
UN Economic Commission for Africa (2015), MDG Report 2015: Assessing Progress in Africa toward the Millennium Development Goals, Addis Abeba, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/MDG%20Report%202015_ENG.pdf
United Nations (2015), Millenium Development Goals – 2015 Report, New York, http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/2015_MDG_Report/pdf/MDG%202015%20rev%20(July%201).pdf
United Nations (2013), Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls, E/CN.6/2014/3, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=E/CN.6/2014/3
United Nations (n.d.), Millenium Development Goals and Beyond 2015, website consulted on 23 February 2016, http://www.un.org/en/millenniumgoals/
UN Women (n.d.), Progress towards meeting the MDGs for women and girls, website consulted on 23 February 2016, http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/mdg-momentum#sthash.Uztxq6Yl.dpuf
World Bank (2015), “Africa Gains in Health, Education, but Numbers of Poor Grow”, Press Release, 16 October 2015, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2015/10/16/africa-gains-in-health-education-but-numbers-of-poor-grow
UN Economic Commission for Europe (2015), The Millenium Development Goals in Europe and Central Asia – Lessons on Monitoring and Implementation of the MDGs for the Post-2015 Development Agenda, Geneva, http://www.unece.org/index.php?id=38786
Kabeer, N. (2015), Gender equality, the MDGs and the SDGs: Achievements, lessons and concerns, International Growth Center, webpage consulted on 23 February 2016, http://www.theigc.org/blog/gender-equality-the-mdgs-and-the-sdgs-achievements-lessons-and-concerns/
Sarwar, M.B (2015), National MDG Implementation: Lessons for the SDG Era, Overseas Development Institute, London, http://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/10003.pdf