Girls, women and the Millennium Development Goals

In September 2000, world leaders came together at United Nations Headquarters in New York, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets, with a deadline of 2015. In 2001, the effort was refined to eight broad Millennium Development Goals.

The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015. They form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all of the world’s leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.

Girls and Women are key to achieving the MDGs, and not just around goal five on maternal health and goal three on gender equality. Women's empowerment is critical in order to attain all the other goals:

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger: Smaller families and wider intervals between babies, owing to reproductive healthcare including contraceptive use - allows parents to invest more in each child’s nutrition and health. When a woman is too ill, anaemic or hungry to work, her household economic situation deteriorates and poverty increases. This means her children are less likely to attend school. Meanwhile, a woman with fewer children is more likely to enter the workforce.

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education: Each year of education for girls and women improves their family's health and economic output. Families with fewer children can afford to invest more in education, making it more likely that girls will be sent to and stay in school.

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women: Women who can plan the timing and number of their births will have greater opportunities for work, education and civil involvement. Violence and discrimination against girls and women in law and custom not only abuses their human rights, but also robs society of critical energy, economic production and creative talent.

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality: Care for the health of mothers is inseparable from the health of newborns. Newborns whose mothers die are far more likely to die within two years than those whose mothers survive. Young girls married off at puberty bear children at risk: babies born to girls under 15 are five times as likely to die as those born to women in their 20s.

Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health: This is often called the heart of the MDGs, because if it fails, the others will too. One target is to reduce by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio. The second, added in October 2006, is to achieve universal access to reproductive health. To do these things will require investment in education, basic health care systems and emergency care facilities.

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases: Comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare includes preventing and treating HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. At the same time, programs to fight HIV infection work best when they incorporate comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Antenatal and post-natal care facilities can bring mothers and their families into the health care system, encouraging diagnosis and treatment of many other illnesses for many more people.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability: Helping women avoid unintended pregnancies and to stay healthy and economically productive through pregnancy and motherhood helps stabilize rural areas, slows urban migration and crowding, and balances natural resource use with the needs of the population. As women are responsible for most household resource use, educating them leads to more efficiency and less waste and environmental degradation.

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development: Healthy and economically productive women can be half of every country’s engine for growth and development. Affordable prices for drugs, global economic stability and a secure supply of commodities would greatly advance reproductive health programmes, which are especially needed in developing countries.

The Millennium Development Goals will not be achieved without ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and without an effective global response to HIV/AIDS. A gender-responsive and rights-based approach is required to implement and monitor progress of the goals.

Ishdeep Kohli-CNS