As the 2015 target date looms for UN member countries to achieve the eight Millennium Development Goals – which range from providing universal primary education to combatting HIV/AIDS and other diseases – the UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2014 reveals what targets have been met, what areas are lacking and, with a final push, what goals are still in reach.
By Annika Burgess
Described by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who launched the Report in New York this month, as ‘a pledge to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity, and free the world from extreme poverty’, since their establishment in 2000, the MDGs have led to considerable advancements – for instance, 90% of children in developing regions are now attending primary school.
However, when shining the spotlight on most recent developments, the 2014 Report states: “Despite impressive strides forward at the start of the decade, progress in reducing the number of children out of school has slackened considerably.”
In sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, the Report attributes the slowdown to ongoing conflicts and population growth. It also says that a decrease in aid to some of Africa’s poorest countries – a 5.6% decline in 2013 – is also taking its toll.
Between 2000 and 2012, the primary net enrolment rate in sub-Saharan Africa rose from 60 to 78%; however, compared to 2000, in 2012 there were 35% more children to put in school.
The Report says that the armed conflicts and numerous other emergencies experienced by some countries in the region have kept children out of school. Hence, although the number of children enrolled in primary education more than doubled between 1990 and 2012, from 62 million to 149 million, there were still 33 million children of primary school age who were not in school, of which 56% were girls.
Aida Opoku-Mensah, Special Advisor for the Post 2015 Development Agenda of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), described these results as ‘staggering’, saying that it illustrates why countries need to urgently step up girls’ education in the interest of national development.
“Countries need to realise that without education girls cannot reach their full potential, which in turn severely affects the economic and human development of countries. Apart from economic prosperity, some of the added value of educating girls is linked to lower infant and maternal mortality rates, health diseases and increased family planning measures.”
The Report also highlights, however, the overall progress that has been made to increase the number of girls attending primary school. From 1991 to 2012 in sub-Saharan Africa the net primary enrolment rate rose from 48% to 75%.
“The under-representation of girls in school enrolment and attendance in many parts of the developing world and in Africa – despite a significant increase – can be attributed to poverty, due mainly to limited funds of families and cultural practices and beliefs,” Ms Opoku-Mensah says.
“Public policy in ensuring a sustained and meaningful girls’ education has to address the aforementioned challenges. Therefore poverty reduction strategies and education on eradicating harmful cultural practices can go a long way in addressing the education of the girl child in Africa, alongside a strong focus on ensuring gender equality in society and in the economy!”
In the North Africa region, the primary education enrolment rate reached 99% in 2012, compared to 80% in 1990. The region is also moving towards closer gender parity in literacy rates. The Report stated that female literacy rates rose 29% from 1990 to 2011 compared to 16% for young men over the same period. The overall youth literacy rates in the region have increased from 67% in 1990 to 89% in 2011.
Sub-Saharan Africa is showing improved gender equality in other areas. Women are gaining more influence in politics – seats held by women in single or lower houses of national parliament increased from 13% in 2000 to 23% in 2014, which is the second-highest rate amongst developing regions. Women are also gaining more access to paid jobs outside the agricultural sector. In 1990 the percentage of women working in non-agricultural sectors was 23%; this rose to 33% in 2012.
Frustration over data
There have been concerns raised over ‘out-of-date’ data throughout the 2014 report. In some cases results are taken from 2013, while others date back to four years ago. Despite considerable advancements in recent years, the Report says reliable statistics for monitoring development remain inadequate in many countries. The authors ensure, however, that the statistics provided in the Report still show the general direction the figures are moving in from year to year and should not hamper progress towards meeting the goals.
As well as relying on Member States submitting progress reports, the annual MGD report is compiled using statistics from agencies including UUNICEF and the World Bank.
“After 2015, efforts to achieve a world of prosperity, equity, freedom, dignity and peace will continue unabated,” the UN states on its website.
Member States have renewed their commitment to meet MDG targets and will be holding a Heads of State and Government Summit in September 2015 to adopt a new set of goals for the post-2015 development agenda.
Photo source: UNESCO Africa