The Millennium Development Goals: Prospects for Gender Equality in the Arab World

By Sika, Nadine | Journal of International Women's Studies, March 15, 2011 | Go to article overview
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The Millennium Development Goals: Prospects for Gender Equality in the Arab World


Sika, Nadine, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

This study is an assessment of the Millennium Development Goals in the Arab world with Egypt as a case study. The analysis focuses on access to primary education, gender equality, and women empowerment in the Arab world with special emphasis on Egypt. The study found that most Arab countries are on the right track toward achieving most of the MDGs by 2015. However, discriminatory social norms, laws, and practices are still at the heart of gender inequality in the Arab world, and therefore need to be further incorporated in the MDGs to advance a more egalitarian developmental approach.

Keywords: Arab World, Egypt, Gender Equality, Women Empowerment, Education, Equality, MDGs.

Introduction

The Declaration of the Right to Development in 1986 formally defined this fundamental human right. States have both the right and the duty to develop public policies to enhance the well being of their citizens. Nevertheless, by the beginning of the new millennium developing nations still faced serious impediments to development, and poverty was widespread. As a result, the United Nations enacted new measures to help alleviate world poverty and to ensure equality of opportunity to development of all individuals. The Millennium Declaration in the year 2000 was an evolutionary extension of the Right to Development, which was endorsed by the UN member states as Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved by the year 2015. To ensure sustainable development the MDGs set out eight measurable developmental goals, each with different targets. Goal 1: to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty; Goal 2: to achieve universal primary education; Goal 3: to promote gender equality and women's empowerment; Goal 4: to reduce child mortality rates; Goal 5: to improve maternal health; Goal 6: to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; Goal 7: to ensure environmental sustainability; and Goal 8: to implement a global partnership for development (Alston, 2005).

In spite of these precise targets, so far the MDGs have concentrated on certain measurable aspects of development but overlooked the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices against women. Gender equality is central to the MDGs; yet, neither the goals nor the targets hold any direct references to the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices against women (Aliston, 2005: 766). One might ask why discrimination in general and discrimination against women in particular limit development? What is the extent to which discrimination against women affects development? Does discrimination impede women's right to development and hinder the achievement of the MDGs? Does discrimination against women in the Arab world affect their development and empowerment potential? According to the World Bank (2004), discrimination directly obstructs good governance and works against the efficiency of social and legal institutions. It limits both the effectiveness of government and state by limiting competition, economic performance, and welfare (World Bank, 2004). Thus, this study will shed light on Arab countries' amendments to the Convention on the Elimination of Ali Forms of Discrimination against women; will analyze the personal status laws and the right to a nationality as precipitated in different Arab countries. This research argues that the MDGs cannot be fully achieved in the developing world, especially in the Arab world, without addressing and eliminating all types of discriminatory laws and practices against women. By concentrating on these two goals, this study argues that the failure to address discriminatory laws and practices against women in the Arab world limits and undermines the ultimate effectiveness of the MDGs.

Arab governments have been developing MDG monitoring reports for the past decade. Most reports have concentrated on the goals attained thus far and the challenges posed to achieve the MDGs. However, they largely ignore the extent to which the MDGs have helped Arab citizens, mainly women, to attain their full development potential in light of discriminatory policies and practices.

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