Locating Education and gender goals in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

On Thursday, the UN High-level panel of Eminent Persons released a report on goals for sustainable development to shape foreign aid after the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. Titled, “A new global partnership: Eradicate poverty and transform economies through sustainable development” the report detaiImagels five big transformative shifts and 12 goals for the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030.  As an Education and women’s advocate, I will discuss how women’s and girls’ education is included in the goals and later suggest ways to amend these goals to have a greater impact on women and girls worldwide. Of the 12 goals, 3 relate to education and women.

Goal 1: End Poverty

The first goal is to end poverty. As reported by Global Poverty Project, 70% of the world’s poorest, 1 billion people are women. Women, around the world are more likely to be poor than their male counterparts; therefore any development agenda aimed at ending poverty must recognize the gendered, female face of global poverty. I admire the outcomes of this goal as they relate to women. The first, “bring the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day to zero” quantifies poverty in real economic terms (32). The second outcome of this goal goes beyond the first one in acknowledging the gendered face of poverty. It reads, “Increase by x% the share of women and men, communities and businesses with secure rights to land, property, and other assets” (ibid). With access to capital (land), the world’s poorest, women can lift themselves and their families out of poverty with their agricultural outputs, financial investments in their children, and newly generated wealth. While I concurred with the 4 measurable outcomes of this goal, I was disappointed that the explanation of this goal gave scant mention to the role of education in poverty eradication. One of the few education references is that a manifestation of poverty is  “limited or lack of access to education” (32).  Education both formal and informal can help women and men to overcome poverty, find better jobs, or begin entrepreneurial ventures. To eliminate extreme poverty, the development agenda must address barriers to access and quality of education for the world’s women.

Goal 2: Empower Girls and Women and Achieve Gender Equality

The second goal of the post-2015 agenda, “empower girls and women” demonstrates how gender equality and women are still at the forefront of sustainable development. I commend the committee for specifically laying out 4 outcomes for this goal. Most notably, outcome b, “end child marriage” shows the relationship between child marriage and illiteracy for young women. If social systems are strengthened to keep girls in school longer and out of child marriages, these girls grow into women who are more likely to have smaller families, decreases their risk of dying in childbirth, and leads to more educated children. Empowering women and girls through equality and education strengthens families.

Goal 3: Provide Quality Education and Lifelong Learning

The 3rd goal is the most education specific aim out of the 12 goals. Of the four outcomes it gives, only the last (d) focuses on adult/lifelong learning. It states, “Increase the number of young and adult women and men with the skills, including technical and vocational needed for work by x%” (36).  With the UN’s Education for All Committee as a vocal proponent of education, I was disappointed that only 1 of the outcomes targeted adult learners. In 2012, the UN reported that the adult illiterate population totaled at 775.4 million of which 64.1% is female (UIS Fact Sheet 2012). With this significant number of illiterate adults, more attention and aid should be given to adult literacy and technical and vocational skills training.

Overall, I think the post-2015 goals correct some of the pitfalls of the Millennium Development Goals with the 5 focus areas and 143 goals. However, overall the goals do not give enough attention or linkage to education and development and adult education. I would suggest the committee modify the goals in the following ways:

–       Give equal attention to primary and adult education, especially for women

–       Be more definite or SMART in their targets

–       Not limit gender equality to a goal in and of itself but be a part of achieving every other goal.

In the less than 1,000 days that remain until 2015, citizens, policy makers, and bilateral institutions have the historical opportunity to shape and refine the development agenda for the next 15 years. Without adult education and women’s education at the forefront, sustainable development and an end to extreme poverty will remain as lofty goals on paper.


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