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INSIGHT: Inequality, discrimination still ‘major hindrances to progress’

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The UN report, which covers 176 countries across the world, shows that women are still discriminated against in many parts of the world, which hinders true development 

By The Citizen

Posted  Saturday, February 22   2014 at  12:38

In Summary

  • The study, which collected data from 176 countries, stressed that growing inequality might undermine progress made in health, education and the fight against poverty in the last 20 years.
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New York. Inequality and discrimination, particularly toward women, are among the world’s biggest obstacles to development, a UN report published on Wednesday says. The study, which collected data from 176 countries, stressed that growing inequality might undermine progress made in health, education and the fight against poverty in the last 20 years. The report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) follows up on a study issued in Cairo in 1994 after its International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). The study, entitled “Beyond 2014” recommends governments to take legislative measures to protect their poorest and most marginalised populations, in particular adolescents, female victims of violence and rural communities.

“The report’s findings point to why governments must enact and enforce laws that eliminate inequalities and that protect human rights, why they must fulfil the commitments they made in Cairo,” said UNFPA director Babatunde Osotimehin. He said young women were an especially good barometer for gauging progress or lack of it. “Adolescent girls are particularly at risk in the poorest communities. More girls are finishing primary school, but they are facing challenges in accessing and completing secondary education,” he noted. “Supporting their aspirations, and the aspirations of all young people, is key,” he said.

In the last 20 years, deaths due to pregnancy and child birth have decreased 47 per cent, more girls go to school and population growth has slowed, the report said. But some 800 women died giving birth each day in 2010, 222 million women still do not have access to contraception and one in three women across the globe says they have suffered physical or sexual violence, the report said.

“Research suggests a significant positive correlation between female education, healthier families and stronger GDP growth,” the report said. While child marriage is illegal in 158 countries, one in three females marries before age 18 in developing countries, ruining their chances for education and social mobility. Osotimehin added that in addition, progress only benefitted a small minority of people.

“The report reveals in stark detail the persistent inequalities and discrimination threatening to derail development,” he said. The report said that the world’s “greatest shared challenge is that our very accomplishments... are increasingly inequitably distributed, threatening inclusive development, the environment and our common future.” “Increasing economic inequality is disruptive and highly detrimental to sustainable development,” it added.

Of the global actors, the UN has proved an exception to the above rule, but even the UN is yet to come out with a truly holistic conception of development. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of the UN have helped pinpoint some urgent concerns, which go to the heart of development but one could state that the outlined aims have not been made to cohere in a synthesising concept which could be referred to as development. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP)’s 2013 Human Development Report is a testimony to the UN’s efforts to arrive at an over-arching conception of development. Nevertheless, these labours could be said to be fruitful because without them the world would still be in a state of ignorance as regards the essentials of development.

When broaching the question of development, the issue that emerges predominantly is whether we have with us a consistent debate on it the world over. The subject never won wide currency in the developed world or the Global North for the simple reason that the issue has been seen as a pressing concern over the decades for mainly the developing world or the Global South.

But even in the case of the developing regions, what has passed for development is mainly economic growth and the economies’ productive capacities. In other words, the mere material advancement of countries has come to be equated with development. This has been particularly so since the onset of market economics over the past 30 years. While critiquing the idea of development should be seen as essential, this task has not been a major preoccupation of the majority of states in the developing world and other quarters, for whom, development in the true sense must matter.

Of the global actors, the UN has proved an exception to the above rule, but even the UN is yet to come out with a truly holistic conception of development. The MDGs of the UN have helped pinpoint some urgent concerns, which go to the heart of development, but one could state that the outlined aims have not been made to cohere in a synthesising concept which could be referred to as development. The UNDP’s 2013 Human Development Report is a testimony to the UN’s efforts to arrive at an over-arching conception of development. Nevertheless, these labours could be said to be fruitful because without them the world would still be in a state of ignorance as regards the essentials of development.

A salient feature of the UN’s work is the emergence of human wellbeing as an important dimension of development. This aspect of development is brought out best in the UN’s concern for humanity’s food security. Along with elements, such as, considerable life expectancy, education and health, access to good, wholesome food by individuals and communities is seen as central to development and these inputs could be seen as welcome accents in the conceptualisation of development. But stable human security too must be seen as an essential component of development and the rising violence, sexual and otherwise, against women the world over must be viewed as running contrary to what informed and literate sections need to see as development. (AFP)