The clock is ticking for the MDGs, and it is time to look beyond.
The deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015 is fast approaching, but global progress has been uneven. Although three of its goals have been met (eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education and combating HIV/AIDs), the same cannot be said of the rest of them.
Persisting inequalities detract whatever gains that have been made, given that achievements are unevenly distributed across and within regions and countries. Moreover, progress has slowed for some MDGs after the multiple crises of 2008- 2009.
Thus, the UN machinery is now in high gear to formulate a Post-2015 Development Agenda to carry on where the MDGs will leave off.
It was in this context that the Penang Women’s Development Corporation (PWDC), in collaboration with Penang Institute, held the symposium “The New Development Framework and the Penang Paradigm: Gender, Governance and Nation Building” on December 19, 2013. (The Penang Institute is the publisher of Penang Monthly.) The speakers included Judy Cheng-Hopkins (UN assistant secretary-general for Peace-building Support), Dr Wong Chin Huat (fellow and head of the Political and Social Analysis Section of Penang Institute) and Dr Maznah Mohamad (associate professor in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore).
The choice of gender as a focus of discussion derives from it being the mainstay of PWDC’s work and the sad reality of persisting gender inequality across the globe. Women continue to face discrimination in access to education, work and economic assets, and participation in government. These gender inequalities undermine efforts to achieve all the other millennium goals.
In 2003, a World Bank publication revealed that Goal 3 – Promotion of Gender Equality and The Empowerment of Women – had not been mainstreamed and incorporated into the other goals despite being pivotal to the success of the entire set of MDGs1. The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Beyond 2014 Global Review Report further stated that people on the ground – particularly the poor and, more so, poor women – have not truly felt the impact of certain successes2.
In a roundtable in 2011 led by Dr Lin Mui Kiang, the UN specialist for Malaysia, Goal 3 showed “(t)he underrepresentation of women in Parliament and state assemblies, as well as managerial and executive positions … even though women outnumber men in tertiary education”3. However, other goals pertaining to women have shown improvement, such as the rise in literacy rate to more than 95% for 15 to 24-yearolds of both genders.
Cheng-Hopkins reiterated similarly in her speech, “The World We Want: Security, Good Governance, Rule of Law and Gender Equality”; while the MDG targets have been met globally, these statistics hide many painful local realities in terms of marginalised groups and the lack of progress in fragile states. To remedy this and other forms of discrimination, she stressed on the need for constant focus on capacity building of human resources, institution building in terms of creating meritocracy-based institutions and nation-building through forging a national identity. It is through these efforts that certain targets and indicators will come to light.
Judy Cheng-Hopkins, Steven Sim, Dr Maznah Mohamad and Dr Wong Chin Huat.
Gender gap indices in Malaysia
According to Cheng-Hopkins, public opinion has shown that globally, people value an “honest and responsive government” after education and health. She further stressed that the fine-tuning of the MDGs in the New Development Framework in relation to Goal 3 can be tactfully made through indices.
According to the UN report of the MDGs in Malaysia for 2010, there are four indicators to the assessment of the country’s achievements of the MDGs4: The ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education; gender wage parity and the proportion of women at different levels of the occupational structure; the proportion of women in decision-making positions in both public and private sectors; and the unofficial indicator – reported incidences of violence against women as measured by two sub-indicators – domestic violence and rape.
There was an improvement in the gender inequality index from 0.34 in 1980 to 0.25 in 20095. The gender-based indices for education and health show very low inequality – 0.041 and 0.121 respectively. The index for economic participation indicates a moderate inequality of 0.246, but the index for empowerment of women shows a high inequality of 0.578. Furthermore, while the representation of women in political life has gradually increased over the years, from 3.4% in 1990 to eight per cent in 2008, women are still greatly underrepresented.
The UN report showed that in the overall gender inequality index, while Malaysia has seen some improvements at the national level, it has globally fallen behind. Dr Maznah Mohamad revealed that according to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Gender Gap Index, which takes into account economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment of a country, Malaysia’s overall rank is 102 out of 136 countries.
Maznah also noted that a high participation rate in the economy or politics does not necessarily translate to gender equality. Rather, she argued for greater and more meaningful uses of indices and indicators, and stressed that such tools have to be used within the larger framework of human rights, gender rights, equality and democracy.
Targets and indicators of gender development
From Cheng-Hopkins’s experience in development issues and now as head of the UN Peacebuilding in New York, she found the three dimensions of humanitarian, rights-based and development approaches to be inextricably linked.
She presented the UN Women’s list of proposed targets and indicators based on the following critical areas:
(1) Freedom from violence against women and girls;
(2) Gender equality in the distribution of capabilities; and
(3) Gender equality in decision-making in public and private institutions.
The following are some of the proposed targets and examples of its indicators:
• Ensure security, support services and justice for women and girls Example indicator: proportion of the population who feel safe walking alone at night in the area where they live, by sex.
• Promote decent work for women Example indicator: proportion employed in vulnerable employment, by sex.
• Promote participation in public institutions Example indicator: proportion of seats held by women in national parliament and local governments.
• Promote women’s leadership in the private sector Example indicator: proportion of media professionals who are women.
Such indicators are vital to an understanding of the bigger picture of gender equality and women empowerment. They serve as benchmarks for government policies while providing civil society with the right tools to engage with the state. However, Maznah cautioned that contextualising such targets and indicators is important – there is a need to contribute to local capabilities and experiences with support from other types of information gathered from qualitative methods.
Can Penang aim to reach beyond the MDGs and even beyond the Post-2015 Agenda? Civil society groups, along with policymakers, can utilise international frameworks such the MDGs and the New Development Framework to identify key areas of public policy as part of the state government’s strategy to attain gender equality.
Through the Penang Paradigm (2013- 2022), presented by Dr Wong Chin Huat, the proposed Social Inclusion and Equal Opportunities Commission (Saksama) could bring about a systematic change in its promotion of equal opportunities and gender equality through its policy formulations. As a policy document, Wong says that the Penang Paradigm aims to provide solutions to overcome Malaysia’s middle income trap rooted in authoritarian government.
PWDC also has a vital role to play in the state’s adoption of the Childcare Policy and Action Plan (2013-2016) and the Gender Policy and Action Plan (2014- 2018). Currently, PWDC is in the process of helping to institutionalise gender responsive budgeting in Penang’s two local councils, which has the potential to lead to wider commitment in gender mainstreaming the local government and, quite possibly, the state government further down the line.
The MDGs have been successful in raising global awareness by addressing core issues such as poverty and gender equality while mobilising international collaboration to act on them. However, challenges remain – attaining measurable indicators, overcoming the lack of accountability and leadership, differing expectations and the lack of resource commitment under the existing neoliberal structures are challenges that will persist if not addressed here and now. If Penang as a state aims to subscribe to the MDGs and beyond, it will need to overcome these hurdles.
1 World Bank (2003), “Gender Equality & The Millennium Development Goals” in Corner, Lorraine (2003), Making the MDGs Work for All: Gender-Responsive Rights-Based Approaches to the MDGs, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
2 ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Review Report, http://icpdbeyond2014.org/uploads/browser/ files/icpd_global_review_report.pdf
3 Witte, Inge (2011), “Malaysia’s performance on the MDGs: a differentiated picture”, Penang Monthly.
4 United Nations (2010), Malaysia: The Millennium Development Goals at 2010, www.undp.org.my/ files/editor_files/files/Malaysia%20MDGs%20report%20clean%200419.pdf
5 The Malaysian Gender Gap Index ranges from 0 to 1. 0 indicates no gender inequality and 1 indicates absolute gender inequality.
Kim Khaira is the Gender Policy and Advocacy (GPA) officer for PWDC. She holds a degree in Political Science, has an interest in Political Philosophy and Comparative Politics, and took English Literature as a minor subject.