By Cathleen O’Grady

Recently, Foundation Beyond Belief notified members that we would be incorporating the Millennium Development Goals into our charity vetting process. In order to better help our members get acquainted with these goals, we are rolling out a monthly explanation of the goals, the progress made thus far toward their achievement, and what we, as a global community, have left to achieve in the remaining three years of the plan. Read more about the background of the Millennium Development Goals here. Unless otherwise noted, all information below comes directly from the United Nations.

Millennium Development Goal 3 is closely related to Millennium Development Goal 2 in that it targets education, but its focus is weighted more on eliminating the gender disparity in both primary and secondary schooling, as well as in employment and politics.

The UN aimed to eliminate the gender disparity in primary and secondary schooling by 2005, and at all levels of education by 2015. The 2012 UN report highlights the complexities involved in achieving this goal, as well as its limited successes. Gender parity (expressed as the number of girls enrolled in school for every 100 boys) is accepted as the range between 97 and 103, and on average, this has been achieved in the developing world, which had a Gender Parity Index (GPI) score of 97 in 2010, up from 91 in 1999. However, there are certain regions that have not yet achieved parity, especially Western Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the GPI was only 93.

In some of the countries that have not yet achieved gender parity, the gap exists right from the beginning, with more boys than girls enrolled on the first day of school. There are even greater barriers at the beginning of secondary education, due to societal gender discrimination, early marriage, fears for the safety of girls attending secondary schools further away from home, and the greater expense of secondary schooling forcing prioritization of household resources, which often favors boys. The GPI for all developing countries in 2010 was 96, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 82. Tertiary education has, internationally, achieved parity at a GPI of 98, but again, certain areas lag: Sub-Saharan Africa at 63, Southern Asia at 76, and Western Asia at 89.

Poverty remains a significant barrier to gender parity, with lower-income countries enrolling significantly more men in tertiary education, and higher-income countries enrolling more women. Children from the richest households are more than twice as likely to attend secondary school than those from the poorest households. Violence against women is a further factor affecting achievement of parity at all levels.

Equal access to job opportunities is another problem facing significant barriers in certain regions. While this has increased slowly, from a 35% share in paid jobs in 1990 to 40% in 2010, parity in non-agricultural jobs has generally been achieved in the developed world, as well as the Caucuses and Central Asia. Meanwhile, 20% or less of the non-agricultural workforce in Western and Southern Asia and Northern Africa consisted of women. Women still represent only 25% of senior management positions, and still occupy jobs with lower remuneration and in a more limited range of activities than men. Because of this, many women turn to the informal economy, with more than 80% of women working outside agriculture in Mali, Zambia, India, and Madagascar holding informal jobs, and similarly high figures in other developing countries.

Finally, women still lack parliamentary power, accounting for only 19.7% of parliamentary seats worldwide at the end of January 2012. While there is an upward trend—this is a 75% increase from the 11.3% of 1995—progress is slow and uneven, with Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa leading the way in the developing world, and Oceania lagging behind.

A succinct progress report for Millennium Development Goal 3 can be found here.

Foundation Beyond Belief considers Millennium Development Goal 3 in its assessment of all beneficiary categories. Learn more about how our Q2 Poverty and Health beneficiary, One Acre Fund, is playing a role in empowering women to earn an income, reducing poverty and providing for the next generation.

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