In 2000, the United Nation’s Member States agreed to eight goals, the Millennium Development Goals, that were expected to be achieved by 2015. August 18, 2014 marked the 500 day countdown until the Millennium Development Goals’ deadlines and soon Member States will be coming together again to come up with the “Post-2015 Development Agenda.” As we round out into the final stretch, there will be success and there will be failure, and there are many people out there who will be saying, “If we haven’t achieved it in the last 14 and a half years, how can you expect to achieve it in the last 500 days?”
The reality is that lives hang in the balance. There are people who will die because we didn’t achieve these goals. Worse, many of those people who are marginalized are the most affected. Women and girls are particularly affected. According to Oxfam America, some estimates suggest that women represent 70 percent of the world’s poor. In 2012, UNICEF reported that 18,000 children still died each day. According to a World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts survey, more than half of those who participated in the survey felt it was sometimes or often challenging to be a girl where they lived, and 45% believed it was more difficult for girls than for boys to reach their full potential.
Looking specifically at how the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) affect some of the most vulnerable and marginalized people– women and girls– let’s take a look at how far we’ve come and how much further we still need to go (statistics from the UN Millennium Development Goals website):
Millennium Development Goal 1: Hunger & Poverty
While the goal to halve the extreme poverty rate (based on rates from 1990) and to halve the hunger rate have been met or are nearly met, more than 99 million children under age five are still undernourished and underweight. Also, investing in women will be key to ending poverty : the gender gap in employment persists, with a 24.8 percentage point difference between men and women in the employment-to-population ratio in 2012.
MDG Goal 2: Education
Great news: 90% of children are in primary school, up from 82% in 1999. Not so great news: 781 million adults and 126 million youth (aged 15 to 24) worldwide lack basic reading and writing skills, and more than 60 per cent of them are women. Also, the world has achieved equality in primary education between girls and boys, but few countries have achieved that target at all levels of education. Poverty is a major barrier to secondary education, especially among older girls.
MDG Goal 3: Gender Equality
The good news is women are gaining some footing in the political arena: in January 2014, in 46 countries more than 30% of members of parliament in at least one chamber were women. Unfortunately though, in every developing region, women tend to hold less secure jobs than men, with fewer social benefits.
MDG Goal 4: Child Mortality
Some really amazing news on this front: despite population growth, the number of deaths in children under five worldwide declined from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012, which translates into about 17,000 fewer children dying each day. However, four out of every five deaths of children under age five occur in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, showing that these regions still need a significant amount of change.
MDG Goal 5: Maternal Health
A topic that is particularly taboo in the US is that women die in childbirth (usually from preventable causes) and family planning and birth control can help to save girls’ and women’s lives. The goal by 2015 was to reduce maternal mortality rate (that’s the rate at which pregnant women, women giving birth, and women who have just given birth, die) by 75%. In 2013 we were at about the 45% mark, which is still good progress but way more needs to be done. Even in the US, maternal mortality rates need to be addressed. The US is the only developed country with a rising mortality rate (read more about it here) and according to the CIA has a higher mortality rate than Bahrain, Turkey, Kuwait, the UAE, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Malta, and many other countries.
The other aspect of maternal health, which is family planning and reproductive health care, is one of the least funded aspects of the MDGs and as a result progress has stagnated. 83% of women are getting antenatal (after-birth) care, which is great, but only half of women in developing regions receive the recommended amount of health care they need. Also, fewer teens are giving birth, which is good news, but the progress has slowed– and, to be real, “teen moms” isn’t just some phrase from a MTV show about trashy young girls who can’t get their act together, it’s actually the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 in developing countries (according to the World Health Organization in 2012). This (along with child marriage) needs to be seriously addressed and funded. Just because we’re afraid of talking about sex and childbirth in polite company doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be addressing this head-on and fully funding the initiative. It is directly and unnecessarily killing women and girls.
MDG Goal 6: Disease
Preventable diseases are still the main causes of deaths for children under the age of 5. Fortunately, there is some really happy news: Between 2000 and 2012, an estimated 3.3 million deaths from malaria were averted due to the substantial expansion of malaria interventions, and about 90% of those averted deaths—3 million—were children under the age of five living in sub-Saharan Africa. For HIV/AIDS, over 900,000 pregnant women living with HIV globally were receiving antiretroviral prophylaxis or treatment by December 2012, reducing the number of babies born with HIV. Unfortunately, young women are still the most vulnerable to this lethal disease– every hour, 50 young women are newly infected with HIV.
MDG Goal 7: Environment
This one is not quite what you’ll think. Yes, this does call for reduction in deforestation and pollution, but it also calls for improved sanitary conditions, access to clean drinking water, and shelter– the human environment, so to speak. Rates of deforestation and CO2 emissions are pretty abysmal and alarming, which is very bad for women when you consider that, according to Oxfam America, women are the most vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters. Likewise, according to UN Water in 2013, 90% of the work to collect wood and water was done by women and it could take up to 6 hours per day to collect water, preventing women and girls from accessing education, work, and more — making it extremely important for women that, between 1990 and 2012, 2.3 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources (goal met!). However, in 2012, 748 million people remained without access to an improved source of drinking water.
MDG Goal 8: Partnerships
According to UN Women, despite an overall reduction in aid from developed countries, aid investment in gender equality is rising. In 2010–2011, out of a total of $91.9 billion of sector-allocable aid, $20.5 billion focused on the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
So we’ve had some great successes and some not-quite-yet-successes– we need these 500 days to get people pumped up, get the money flowing, and get people investing their time. Yes, some goals will not be met, but either way, whether all of the Millennium Development Goals are met or not, these 8 areas will need to continue to be focused on. Too many women and girls are suffering from injustice in so many ways. Even in the developed world, violence and assault against women and girls, maternal health, and gender equality are serious concerns. These goals were not set with the intention that in 2015 they would be achieved and we would move on and cut off aid– this is a long-term process and, even in the areas where goals are met, we need to continue to focus on them to ensure that nothing, such as a natural or man-made disaster, reverts us back to 2000 standards.
Whenever you set goals– whether it’s for school or for work, or it’s that 5-year plan your dad has been bugging you about– you set a deadline for yourself. Without a deadline, you’ll keep pushing it off. You can re-evaluate the goals, change them as needed, and draw conclusions from them, but without a deadline you’ll probably just never get it started. In 500 days a lot can change– focusing on these goals and drawing attention to them is important. And it’s not just the responsibility of our UN representative– we need to take action and do something in our community to show that we care about these goals being achieved, otherwise our representatives will think that we don’t care at all. So now maybe you should set a goal for yourself, a goal to help raise awareness about the importance that your community and nation support the achievement of the MDGs. There are loads of ways to get engaged, and here are a few ways on how to do so:
Fill out the My World 2015 Survey
The UN is looking to the civilian world to fill out this survey so that we can get a bigger picture about what are some of the goals the people of the world have (the results will be used for the next round of goals, the Sustainable Development Goals). This will literally take you 1 minute to fill out. Get people in your community to fill out the survey at an upcoming farmer’s market, craft fair, festival, etc.– be prepared to answer people’s questions and don’t be afraid to say, “You know, I’m not sure. Let me get your email and I’ll get back to you on that.” (See below for informational resources.) You can also check out the current results from the 3.5+ million votes here.
Organize an event in your community
This actually can be pretty easy, especially if you want to organize something with kids or young people. The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) has a ton of resources on MDG-specific activities. The “Together we can change our world” badge has activities on all of the MDGs; each World Thinking Day for the last 7 years has had an MDG as its theme, so that there are 8 activity guides with activities for each goal– so you can focus on one goal at your event if you so choose; and the Be the Change community action programme is geared specifically for girls and young women interested in hosting an event in their community around the MDGs. The UN also has a Youth Action Guide on the MDGs. When you do these events, share your stories with WAGGGS via social media & email to get the word out (more info about this here).
Do some fundraising
If you want to make a donation or throw a fundraiser, the UN recommends these organizations.
Write a letter to your representative
More info on this from the Columbia Earth Institute.
Get the word out on social media:
Follow the hashtag #MDGMomentum to keep up with news and information and to share with the public what you’ve learned.
Check out the MDG 500 website for more information on the MDGs and read the UN’s 2014 Millennium Development Goals Report. Also check out the UN’s Millennium Development Goal’s website, which runs through key facts for each goal, and under the press tab they have lots of great documents, videos, and infographics you can check out and download.