The 2006 World Development Report acknowledges the importance of ensuring equal opportunities across population groups as an intrinsic aspect of development and as an instrument for achieving poverty reduction and growth (World Bank 2005). Noting that men and women have starkly different access to assets and opportunities in many countries around the world, the report refers to gender inequality as the archetypal “inequality trap,” reproducing further inequalities with negative consequences for women’s well-being, their families, and their communities. MDG3 refl ects the strong belief by the development community that redressing gender disparities and empowering women is an important development objective on grounds of both fairness and effi ciency.1
This chapter reviews the evidence on the relationship between gender equality, poverty reduction (MDG1), and growth. There is also compelling evidence that gender equality and women’s empowerment are channels to attaining other MDGs—universal primary education (MDG2), lower under-fi ve mortality (MDG4), improved maternal health (MDG5), and lower likelihood of contracting HIV/AIDS (MDG6).2
The chapter also tracks progress of countries toward meeting MDG3 since 1990, using the offi cial MDG3 indicators. Because these indicators only partially capture the elements of gender equality, the chapter introduces fi ve complementary indicators that provide a more complete and nuanced description of gender equality and women’s empowerment. The indicators are measurable, actionable, and parsimonious; three of the fi ve build on existing measures of other MDGs, so the data requirements for monitoring them are not onerous. Further, some of these complementary indicators (or similar measures) are being considered for inclusion in the MDGs as part of new targets for decent and productive work and for reproductive health services. Finally, the chapter extracts preliminary lessons from countries that have achieved high levels of—or fast progress toward—gender equality, but does not undertake a systematic analysis of policies. Countries that perform well on MDG3 illustrate that investments in equality in rights, resources, and voice can make a difference.
Thanks to the push to achieve universal primary education with gender-informed education policies, girls’ enrollments at all levels of schooling have increased, and several countries have achieved gender parity in primary enrollments. Their success story suggests that concerted action can foster progress in gender equality not only in education but also in the economy and the society, where advances have been more modest.