Flo Carson

Flo Carson - Social Anthropologist, studying International Development at Sciences Po, Paris. I am slightly obsessed by gender, politics, media, human rights and global health. I've worked in Asia, Africa and Europe and keen to explore more of the world we live in. Take a look at my Twitter & Tumblr for my most recent posts. tly

Friday, 1 November 2013

Millenium Development Goals

Before I ambled off to Nairobi, I wrote this piece for the International Political Forum. Last month, I attended a talk at the London School of Economics, where Prof Naila Kabeer discussed the place of women within the MDGs as they unevenly approach their deadline in 2015. She spoke passionately and from experience about the process which came to create the goals and also raised some enormously striking points about the role that the Vatican play within UN discussions.

What are the Millennium Development Goals?
Millennium Development Goals, have often been referred to as 'the world's biggest promise'; they are the products of several years of discussion, evolution of policy and ultimately an elaborated version of the OECD-DAC International Development Goals. I won't go into their exact detail as you can find that more eloquently written elsewhere. 

As they are approaching their official end in 2015, we are beginning to take stock of the MDG achievements and the global gains as a result of their implementation. The biggest successes have been found in gender education, increasing the number of girls in school. Whereas the largest failure has been in maternal mortality. However, it is important to realise that the MDGs focus on averages and proportions - the poorest may be left far behind these figures.
Inequalities and lack of progress hide behind percentages and graphs. Vastly populated countries like China or India may shift and therefore impact significantly on these averages, whereas entire countries may see no change whatsoever. As we well know, it is always vital to critically think about these figures and not accept them easily. 

In addition, many of the MDGs are vague and wishy washy in their choice of language; 'promote gender equality' fails to explicitly admit to the realities of gender violence, subordination and concrete discrimination that women face.

What does The Vatican have to do with this?
Obviously, Vatican City is the smallest international state in the world. However I had taken it for granted that this meant the state was granted a place in discussions.
Whilst they are unable to vote, they have an enormous and historically important influence over decision making in this context. Kabeer relays an incident in 2012, (the 56th sessions) where the Vatican wanted to remove any reference to sexual reproductive rights in discussions of the MDGs; they took it upon themselves to square bracket any mention of these issues and desperately wanted to keep abortion off the agenda. Kabeer, hilariously exclaimed that the Vatican is made up of 'ageing men, sworn to celibacy', and that 'their only role in the UN is the defence of religion' which means we should expect nothing less of them, really!

However, to have a group that consistently argue against and attempt to block the development of these conversations cannot be conducive to a positive, open and realistic approach to development. Instead, it is inevitably patriarchal and avoiding any uncomfortable issues that don't fit in with their vision of proper morality.

Where are the women in all this?
Kabeer rightfully raises the point that gender inequality and discrimination should not be placed up against or viewed as existing separately to other forms of discrimination necessarily. Indeed, this is where the weight of gender lies. It exists and interacts alongside various other social realities; gender crosses across economy and development, so if we neglect it in our analyses, we distort development. 

Kabeer goes onto explain that sexual rights have come to dominant feminist discourse of the MDGs and she does not view this in a highly favourable light. Accordingly, a hermetically sealed vision of gender development issues as sexual health neglects these broader problems of social, justice and economy. Obviously sexual and reproductive health is an essential aspect of development, but it cannot be realistically achieved without the other facets of development. As a result, Kabeer suggests that women should not simply be seen in the light of gender and sexuality, but should also be understood as 'members of a marginalised economic group'. As opposed to our assertion of the importance of their role in reproduction, we need to remember their place in production more generally.

I overheard on Radio 4 today, that more  money is transferred to the developing world in the form of remittances from the family members who have migrated, than from aid. I think it is important for us to think outside the box and challenge the extent to which the UN is the best place to look for help and bringing about development. Kabeer's talk made me question the extent to which the UN can be viewed as a secular, forward thinking body which can realistically bring about change. 2015 is just around the corner, and I am keenly looking forward to what steps are taken once the Millennium Development Goals deadlines have passed.

Kabeer's talk can be listened to

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