The gender dimension of the Millennium Development Goals Report 2013


Goal 1 | Goal 2 | Goal 3 | Goal 4 | Goal 5 | Goal 6 | Goal 7 | Goal 8
UN Women position paper for a stand-alone gender goal

Since their adoption more than 13 years ago, significant and substantial progress has been made in meeting many of the eight Millennium Development Goals, including visible improvements in all health areas as well as primary education, and halving the number of people living in extreme poverty. However, progress is uneven, particularly for women and girls, and in many areas far from sufficient.

MDGs Report 2013 
Cover photo: UNDP Picture This/Mohammad Rakibul Hasan

According to the Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, launched on 1 July by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, too many women around the world are still dying in childbirth when we have the means to save them; only 53 per cent of births in rural areas are attended by skilled health personnel. In developing regions, women are more likely than men to work as contributing family workers on farms or other family businesses, with little or no financial security or social benefits.

The report also acknowledges that persisting gender-based inequalities in decision-making continue to deny women a say in the decisions that affect their lives.

Find out more about how women and girls are faring in progress towards each of these goals, and UN Women efforts towards meeting the MDGs by the end of 2015.

MDG 1 – Targets include:

  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day
  • Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people
  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger

Where are we?

According to the Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, the world has reached the poverty reduction target five years ahead of schedule. In developing regions, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell from 47 per cent in 1990 to 22 per cent in 2010. Extreme poverty is also falling in every region.

MDG1 chart on education

Source: The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013 p. 8

Nevertheless, 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.

UN Women’s efforts:

UN Women works to support women’s fundamental role in food security, as the cornerstones of food production and utilization. With more equitable distribution of assets, such as credit, improved seeds and fertilizer, and information and technology, women can achieve significantly higher agricultural productivity.

UN Women also works to eliminate legal restrictions to women’s economic empowerment (such as land and inheritance rights, rights to access credit, ensuring safer migration, etc.) in order to address feminized poverty.

Efforts focus on guaranteeing equal social protection and employment rights for all, whether in the formal or informal economy. UN Women also helps expand paid work opportunities for women, which often ushers shifts in gender relations, greater sense of self-worth and societal respect, a say in critical life choices such as postponing the age of marriage, a greater role in household decision-making and ability to speak out against abuse.

On the ground:

Timorese farmer: ‘Working like a slave, eating like a king’


For women like Veronica Casimira in Timor-Leste, UN Women-supported self-help groups and agricultural workshops are bearing fruit. She is able to feed her family, earn an income and lead by example as a female breadwinner. Read more»

Women farmers yielding profits and better futures in rural Rwanda


In Rwanda’s Kirehe district, efforts in 15 cooperatives are increasing women’s participation in agriculture and decision-making in their families and communities, along with crop yields. Women farmers are trained in budgeting skills and male farmers and district officials are being encouraged to better include and provide for women. More couples are sharing financial and agricultural decisions, and productivity has increased. Read more»



Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

Where are we?

Enrolment in primary education in developing regions reached 90 per cent in 2011, up from 82 per cent in 1999, which means more children than ever are attending primary school. But even as countries with the toughest challenges have advanced, progress on primary school enrolment has slowed since 2004, dimming hopes for achieving universal primary education by 2015.

Chart on MDG2 - factors keeping kids out of school
Source: The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013 p. 15

Across 63 developing countries, girls were more likely to be out of school than boys among both primary and lower secondary age groups. The gender gap in school attendance widens in lower secondary education, even for girls living in better-off households.

UN Women’s efforts:

UN Women focuses action on girls’ school completion rates and improving school conditions for girls, i.e. the environment that makes it conducive for girls to attend schools. From making roads and public transport safer through the Safe Cities Initiative, to addressing the lack of female teachers as role models, to the lack of separate sanitation facilities, and school fees continuing to be deciding factors for whether a girl goes to school, UN Women works to focus on these issues.

Reports show mothers with at least a few years of formal education are considerably more likely to send their children to school. UN Women works to advance women’s empowerment through education and economic opportunities, which facilitate greater decision-making by women in their household, including the decision to send children to school. UN Women also works on campaigns that address attitudes and behaviours, including concerns about female modesty, safety, and the lack of economic returns to girls’ education, factors which often hamper girls’ school attendance.

On the ground:

Giving young children access to school and moms a chance to find jobs in rural Moldova


The Hincauti community in northern Moldova, where poor infrastructure has left many children without access to education, is one of several examples of where UNDP and UN Women have teamed up to expand a school and improve its heating system, creating jobs and enabling dozens of preschoolers to go to kindergarten. Read more»

Escaping the scourge of female genital mutilation in Tanzania: a Maasai girls’ school provides scholarships for those at risk


At a school near the town of Arusha, 86 girls –many of whom would otherwise have been married or subjected to FGM– have been given scholarships with full board to ensure they complete a minimum level of education. Read more»


This the overarching gender equality goal, which encompasses parity in education, political participation, and economic empowerment

Target: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015

Indicators: These include the share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector and the proportion of seats held by women in national parliament.

Women in parliaments chart - MDG3
Source: The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013 p. 22

Where are we?

Gender parity in schooling worldwide is closest to being achieved at the primary level; however, only 2 out of 130 countries have achieved that target at all levels of education.

Globally, 40 out of 100 wage-earning jobs in the non-agricultural sector are held by women. But women still enter the labour market on an unequal basis to men, even after accounting for educational background and skills.

As of 31 January 2013, the average share of women members in parliaments worldwide was just over 20 per cent. At the pace witnessed during the last 15 years, it will take nearly 40 years to reach the parity zone in parliaments.

UN Women’s efforts:

UN Women works with partners to promote the education of girls and women and overcome barriers to schooling for girls.

Advancing women’s political participation and leadership and economic empowerment are two of the central goals of UN Women. This ranges from initiatives to get more women on the ballot as well as getting more women to the ballot. Boosting proportional representation to increasing the number of women in politics, to more transparent political party selection, training of female candidates and getting more women to cast their votes, are part of the efforts.

In countries around the world, women in politics are strengthening the credibility of democracies through their participation, reinvigorating political accountability, and contributing to improved efficiency in policymaking through bringing their diverse perspectives. In India for instance, in areas with female-led local councils the number of drinking water projects was 62 per cent higher than in those with male-led councils, while in Norway, evidence shows a direct relationship between the number of women in municipal councils and childcare coverage they enacted.

UN Women works to enact and implement equal economic rights for all. Legislation on equal pay for equal work, better access to employment opportunities, equality in hiring and promotions, leave and unemployment benefits, freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace, and other critical rights are increasingly being legislated. But serous lag in implementation of the laws continues to constrain women’s equality and empowerment.

On the ground:

With some electoral gains in Iraq, women candidates work towards change

Iraqi woman looks at voting lists

Amid violence-fraught local and regional elections, in which 14 candidates were killed, 300 women contenders were trained by UN Women and the Iraq Foundation. Many emerged successful and thanks to a quota law, women will probably hold 26 per cent of seats on local councils across Iraq. Read more»

Domestic workers’ rights move closer to becoming reality worldwide

Domestic workers rejoice after C189 adopted

As the International Labour Organization Convention 189 on domestic work turns two, a look at how Governments, unions and the private sector supported by UN Women are working towards ensuring that this female-dominated profession is regulated and worker’s rights are protected. Read more»



Target: Reduce by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate

Where are we?

Worldwide, the mortality rate for children under five dropped by 41 per cent—from 87 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 48 in 2012. Despite this enormous accomplishment, more rapid progress is needed to meet the 2015 target of a two-thirds reduction in child deaths. Children are also at greater risk of dying before age five if they are born in rural areas or to a mother denied basic education.

Child mortality
Source: The Millennium Development Goals Report Gender Chart 2012

Physiologically, boys are less likely to survive than girls. Still, Southern Asia provides exceptions to this trend as mortality rates still reflect practices related to son preference in some countries.

UN Women’s efforts:

UN Women works with partners to prioritize care of mothers. Adequate nourishment and care during pregnancy and childbirth could prevent three of the four million infant deaths in the first four weeks of life.

UN Women works to ensure that women’s voices and concerns are reflected in budgetary planning processes, including for health and education programmes that respond adequately to their needs and to those of their children. A mother’s education is a main determinant of child mortality. Studies show better-educated women space childbirths over longer periods, ensure their children are immunized, are better informed about children’s nutritional needs, and adopt improved sanitation practices. Literate mothers are more likely to bring sick children for treatment at an earlier stage and seek medical services. All of these practices lower infant and child mortality rates.

UN Women also focuses on fighting discrimination against girls– which can include female infanticide and systematic neglect. Working with UN Partners, UN Women focuses on changing attitudes and laws to address this practice. More commonly, unequal sharing of food and resources fuels higher under-five death rates for girls than boys.

Ensuring equitable access for the most vulnerable women and girls to health services is also key to bringing down child mortality. Particularly vulnerable groups, such as girls who live away from their parents or who are out of school as well as women and girls who have recently migrated to cities or are domestic workers, often fall outside the attention of social service delivery and protective social networks and must be targeted to reduce child mortality.

On the ground:

Women in Uganda’s villages influence local budgets and policies

After attending workshops by UN Women, women in 16 villages are learning to organize and have a say in health policies, which have yielded improvements in the health of their children. In one community, their advocacy resulted in a health centre which provides immunization and free essential medicine for children. Read more»

Rural Women Take on a New Role in Delivering Services in Tajikistan


A programme to improve access to social protection in rural areas is creating Women’s Watch Groups, which monitor the situation of the most vulnerable households. We bring you the story of Savrukhon Kholmatova, who had to care for her own four children and three orphaned disabled nieces and nephews. Read more»

MDG 5 – Targets include:

  • Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio
  • Achieve universal access to reproductive health. Inadequate funding for family planning is a major failure in fulfilling commitments to improving women’s reproductive health

Where are we?

Globally, the maternal mortality ratio declined by 47 per cent over the past two decades, from 400 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 210 in 2010. All regions have made progress, but meeting the MDG target of reducing the ratio by three-quarters will require accelerated interventions.

Worldwide, unmet need for family planning dropped from 15 per cent in 1990 to 12 per cent in 2011, driven by progress in developing regions. By 2015, total demand for family planning among married women is projected to grow to more than 900 million, mostly due to population growth – an indication of the unfinished agenda in reproductive health and the scale of efforts needed to keep pace.

UN Women’s efforts:

Maternal health
Source: The Millennium Development Goals Report Gender Chart 2012

Women’s empowerment is a prerequisite to forward progress on this stalled goal.

UN Women works to end practices that bring danger to mother and child. Child marriage, female genital cutting, dietary restrictions, and all other forms of violence and discrimination against women must end if maternal mortality is to be reduced. Early marriage has an important bearing on women’s autonomy and reproductive health.

Girls who marry young have fewer opportunities to go to school, less say in household decision-making, and are more likely to experience domestic violence. They are exposed to the risks of early pregnancy and childbirth, the leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 in developing countries.

Women die for lack of family planning, inability to negotiate the number and spacing of their children, lack of money to pay for transport to and for skilled birth attendance or emergency obstetric care, and from violence. One in three maternal deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth could be avoided if women who wanted effective contraception had access to it. Evidence further shows that in societies where men traditionally control household finances, women’s health expenses are often not a priority. UN Women works to ensure women’s greater decision-making and position in families and societies, so that they can have more access and voice in issues such as healthcare as well.

UN Women also seeks to increase the share of women in decision-making positions in the health sector. Women at all levels of health services can make sure the specific health needs of women and girls are not neglected, can ensure attention to local health care provision, the front line providers of health care to most women, and can help to redress inequalities in health outcomes and access that exist in every region.

On the ground:

Ensuring mothers do not die when giving life

UNWomen Mali
A programme in seven countries advances efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality highlighting the links between violence against women and maternal health, and training midwives and community health workers to bring long-term change. Read more»

Syrian women refugees face forced early marriages and restricted mobility: UN Women report

Syrian Refugees
UN Women launched the findings of new study on violence and a programme for Syrian women refugees who have fled to neighbouring Jordan. The programme aims to increase their access to comprehensive, life-saving protection including health, psychosocial and legal services. Read more»


Targets include:
  • Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS
  • Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it

Where are we?

The incidence of HIV is declining steadily in most regions; still, according to the latest UN AIDS report 2.3 million people were newly infected in 2012. However, HIV remains the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age worldwide. Every minute, a young woman is infected with HIV. Young women are more vulnerable to HIV infection due to a complex interplay of physiological factors and gender inequality. Because of their low economic and social status in many countries, women and girls are often at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating safer sex and accessing HIV prevention information and services.

By the end of 2012, some 9.7 million people in low- and middle-income countries were accessing antiretroviral therapy, an increase of nearly 20 per cent in just one year, which comes on top of similar gains in previous years. The 2010 target of universal access, however, was not reached.

MDG6 chart on HIV
Source: The Millennium Development Goals Report Gender Chart 2012

UN Women’s efforts:

UN Women is working with governments on enactment and enforcement of legal measures against discrimination that drives the spread of HIV and AIDS among women and girls. Efforts focus also on measures that address gender-based violence, which perpetuates the spread of AIDS. Rape, trafficking of women, forced marriage, and sexual exploitation of women and girls in situations of conflict are all recognized as significant risk factors for HIV transmission. UN Women also supports HIV-positive women and girls and advocates for their leadership and full participation policies that affect them.

UN Women advocates equality in society, including marriage and family relations. Gender equality is the foundation by which girls and women acquire negotiating power, confidence, and information to insist on safe sex in marriage and to be an equal partner in family planning decisions. Resources must be directed to the needs of the most vulnerable populations, which in many cases are adolescent girls and young women. Working with men and boys to fight violence against women and the spread of AIDS, is also part of the efforts. Women’s greater economic independence can reverse the spread of AIDS and other epidemics through increasing women’s self-esteem, negotiating power and reducing women’s vulnerability to being sexually exploited.

Caring for sick family members is seldom paid, rarely recognized, and most often done by women. Women, who are more likely to be employed in jobs with little sick leave and other benefits than men, pay a heavy price in terms of lost labour and skills-building opportunities, overwork, and less time for other responsibilities. And for women who are at home full-time looking after their family members, the burden of care prohibits not only seeking paid opportunities, but also any other activities, such as seeing a doctor for their own medical issues, and other such necessities.

On the ground:

Activists fight for the rights of HIV-positive women living in Peru

World Aids Day - Peru

After contracting HIV and losing her son to the disease, Guiselly Flores became an activist. As the Director of the Peruvian Network of Women Living with HIV (RPM+), over the last 15 years she has demonstrated unflinching commitment to the rights of HIV-positive women. Read more»

In Sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS widows strive to regain their rights after husbands are gone

Community meeting in Kenya

AIDS widows face additional economic and social exclusion, and for many, living with HIV adds to their vulnerability and stigmatization. UN Women is working with community groups and traditional leaders to empower widows, protect their property and inheritance rights, and provide essential services. Read more»

MDG 7 – Targets include:

  • Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes; reverse loss of environmental resources
  • Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation

Where are we?

Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have increased by more than 46 per cent since 1990. Containing the growth in global emissions demands bold, coordinated, national and international action. Efforts are ongoing to strengthen national mitigation efforts under the Climate Change Convention and its Kyoto Protocol.

Collecting water
Source: The 2012 Millennium Development Goals Report, p. 54

The MDG target of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water has been achieved five years ahead of schedule. Despite unprecedented progress, 768 million people still drew water from an unimproved source in 2011. Most of them were poor people in rural areas. Where water sources are not readily accessible, women and girls often bear the burden of collection and must walk long distances to satisfy household needs.

UN Women’s efforts:

UN Women works with Governments on development policies and programmes that both respond to the needs of women and are sustainable. This includes promoting gender-responsive budgeting and measures to improve access to safe drinking water for women, who are most often the primary users, providers, and managers of water in rural households, and the guardians of household hygiene. With improved access to safe drinking water, women have more time to earn income, girls are more likely to attend school, family health and hygiene are improved, and women suffer less from the burden of carrying heavy loads.

UN Women works on reforming policies for equitable property and resource ownership. Without title to land, women are often denied access to technologies and resources– such as water resources, irrigation services, credit, extension, and seed– that strengthen their capacity to manage natural resources (of which they are often the primary users as farmers and household managers) in a more sustainable manner.

UN Women advocates for gender equality and women’s empowerment in mitigating and adapting to climate change, and achieving equitable and inclusive sustainable development. Women are disproportionately affected by extreme weather resulting from climate change and their voices must be included, both in household and political decision-making. UN Women is a part of global climate change negotiations and maintains active outreach to ensure that decisions incorporate gender equality, women’s rights and women’s contribution in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

On the ground:

Tanzanian women bring safe drinking water to their communities

Water kiosks

In the Kingolwira village in Tanzania, where water is scarce, women’s leadership and the community-wide construction of a small dam is now ensuring an equitable distribution of clean water. Read more»

Latin American and Caribbean women chart their priorities for the new global development agenda

Guatemala post-2015 consultations

To give women more voice in the United Nations post-2015 development agenda, UN Women is organizing various consultations globally. Recently they took place in the Americas and the Caribbean, bringing forth the priorities of the region. Read more»

MDG 8 – Targets include:

  • Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system
  • In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications

Where are we?

In 2012, net official development assistance (ODA) from developed countries stood at $125.6 billion, representing 0.29 per cent of donors’ combined gross national income. This is a 4 per cent drop in real terms from 2011, which was 2 per cent below the 2010 level. On the bright side, aid is increasingly addressing gender issues. 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.

MDG8 Internet access
Source: The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013 p. 59
With a projected 6.8 billion mobile-cellular subscriptions by the end of 2013, global penetration (measured as the number of subscriptions in relation to total population) will reach 96 per cent. By end of 2013, an estimated 2.7 billion people will be using the Internet, which corresponds to 39 per cent of the world’s population.

Still, while more and more people are joining the information society, more men than women are using the Internet. Globally, 37 per cent of all women are online, compared to 41 per cent of all men. The gender gap is more pronounced in the developing world, where 29 per cent of women use the Internet, compared with 33 per cent of men.

UN Women’s efforts:

Because of the cross-cutting nature of women’s empowerment for all the MDGs, assistance to gender programmes should be increased in order to pave the way for attainment of the MDGs, from allocation of resources for women’s economic empowerment to ending violence against women, a pandemic of huge proportions, which is not only a gross human rights violation, but also which hampers development and growth.

To advance gender equality and the inter-linked gender dimensions of all the MDGs, UN Women has been working with partners to train women and girls in the use of ICT as a tool for education and economic empowerment.

On the ground:

In Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, a new online tool tackles violence against women and girls

Girls train girls in cell phone apps for safety in Rio de Janeiro favelas

Using cell phones and Internet cafés in 10 favelas of Rio de Janeiro, women and girls are accessing information about the services of a network for tackling violence – whether psychological, economic, physical or sexual – and training their peers. Read more»

Closing the science and technology gender gap in the Dominican Republic

Gender and ICT project in DR

Overcoming stereotypes, promoting interest in mathematics among girls, and eventually reducing the gender digital divide in the Dominican Republic is the objective of the project Gender and ICTs: Equality and Equity in E-Dominican, supported by the UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality. Read more»

Related links:

The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013

UN Women launches global call for a transformative agenda to make gender equality a reality

To improve data collection, UN agrees on ground-breaking gender indicators

In Focus: Momentum towards meeting the MDGs

A Gateway to the UN System’s work towards the MDGs

Gender Equality Now

Video: Momentum towards meeting the MDGs

Multimedia presentation of the MDGs Gender Chart 2012
Credit: UN Women/Laura Turquet and United Nations/Keiko Osaki Tomita