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Global Development Institute

WP188/2013

MDGs and gender inequality

Vani S. Kulkarni,  Manoj Pandey, Raghav Gaiha

As the countdown to 2015 has begun, debates about the continuation of the MDGs and their reformulation have taken on greater urgency and significance. Our view is that there is a need to reformulate them to better reflect deprivations and inequities that are pervasive but not sufficiently emphasised in the present version. A case in point is gender inequality. While various dimensions of gender inequality are included in the MDGs, we argue that these reflect a somewhat narrow focus – especially because the deprivation that women face from the womb to the rest of their lives – is not fully captured. Following Amartya Sen and others, we focus on the phenomenon of ‘missing women’ that best captures the cumulative impact of multiple deprivations to which they are subjected. Our analysis reinforces the case for this measure, and broadens and updates recent estimates of missing girls and women. The key questions addressed are the reasons underlying the continuing increase in the number of missing women in China and India. We broaden this measure by including: (i) missing adult women; (ii) excess maternal mortality ratio; (iii) casualties resulting from violent conflicts and the forms these take; and (iv) domestic violence against women. Even though the magnitudes differ, these together are a brutal violation of women’s human rights that remains pervasive in a large part of the developing world – especially Asia and North Africa. The perspective on gender inequality offered here may seem daunting, but raises concerns that go much beyond the somewhat narrow focus that the MDGs embody. The policy implications are accordingly more formidable, but underline the centrality of women’s empowerment through education and employment opportunities, social networks that give women voice to express their concerns arising from life-long deprivations that often take brutal forms, expansion of health services to reduce infant and maternal mortality risks, and enforcement of laws that penalise violation of women’s human rights.