Janice Foerde/ Photo: Janice Foerde's personal archive

Narrow, simplified and with little ambition

Janice Foerde, Danish women's rights expert gives a personal estimate of the MDG's success -and shares her hopes for the future.

29.10.2014

Janice Foerde is the chairwoman of KULU – Women and Development. KULU is a Danish non-partisan advocacy and development organisation for 23 women’s organisations, women and equality councils of political parties, development NGOs, trade unions, and other civil society organizations and individual members.

A very important part of the work of KULU is supporting the education and capacity building of women and girls in a selected number of countries in the Third World. Collaborating with a local NGO, KULU helps Mali women and girls get birth certificates and other identity papers which are a precondition for accessing their rights to enter an education as well as the right to vote and borrow money.

Beneficial simplicity

When the Millennium Development Goals were discussed and defined, Janice Foerde and KULU took an active part in the process from the beginning. She and KULU participated in the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ NGO hearing process. KULU has also contributed to the annual and 5-year evaluations of the MDG progress in Denmark and internationally together with women’s right and development networks.

– We wanted the goals for women’s equality to be more specific and more detailed. And I still think that the result lacked ambition. Rather than cutting poverty by half, the goal ought to be to eradicate poverty, Janice Foerde says.

She adds that the gender equality listed under Goal 3 can be obtained without really establishing equality.

On the other hand the simplicity of the goals and their realism made it possible to gather a wide support and to actually make governments work for their realisation.

Behind the global average

One of the subgoals under the headline “Promote gender equality and empower women” (Goal 3) was to obtain total equality in primary education in 2005 and at all educational levels in 2015.
A preliminary balance sheet made in 2013 concludes that on a global level the index on equality for children entering primary education is very close to 1, defined as identical entering rate for both sexes.

However, huge regional differences hide behind the global average.

Only 2 out of 130 countries with relevant data has obtained full equality when measured for enrolment in all levels of education.

– The same is true for many of the goals. The global average shows important improvement. But behind the average is the reality of many countries where not much did happen, explains Janice Foerde.

For example, the number of girls that enrol in primary education has improved in most countries, but much fewer girls than boys complete basic education. When families have to make priorities because of economic and social problems, it is the girls that are told to stop going to school.

Governments looking for prestige

Whatever problems and limitations there may be, Janice Foerde thinks that these kind of global goals are useful. She says:

– To many governments it is prestigious to be able to declare that they have obtained one of the goals. Because of that and due to the legitimacy of the issues the MDG make the advocacy work of NGO’s like KULU much easier.”

In Denmark KULU has organised three national conferences to highlight the MDG and to promote the work to realise the goals. KULU is not a big organisation, but it has collaborated closely with other Danish NGO’s.

Foerde thinks that this coordination of NGO’s has truly influenced official Danish policies, both in realisation of government campaigns and on Danish official policy in international negotiations.

– I think that the Danish government likes to be able to tell other government representatives that they have the support of their own NGO’s, says Janice Foerde.

Coordinating global goals

KULU is also an active participant in international networks for NGO’s working with gender and development issues. In these fora the MDG, the Beijing+20 and the Financing for Development are closely related. This is also the situation for both the official and NGO preparation of defining post 2015 goals, which also includes the Rio process on sustainable development.

In Denmark the government has established an open working group for this. As part of the largest NGO umbrella organisation KULU are involved in this work, and Janice Foerde has participated in one of the preparatory conferences.

– It seems that we will succeed in expanding the number of issues covered by the post 2015 goals,” expects Janice Foerde.

– Regarding the gender issue a goal on reducing gender based violence is on the agenda. I would also like increased focus on reproductive rights like abortion and contraception and sexual rights. But this is very controversial – also in the world of NGO’s, she continues.

Feminists on education and gender

60 feminists from 31 countries and 47 organisations met in February 2014. The meeting produced a declaration: “Gender, Economic, Social and Ecological Justice for Sustainable Development – A Feminist Declaration for Post 2015”. It is now endorsed by over 350 organizations in 143 countries calling for the fulfilment of gender equality and women’s human rights through the Post 2015 development agenda, and for the agenda and governments to prioritize gender, economic, social and ecological justice.

KULU took part in writing the declaration and is one of the endorsing organisations.

A paragraph crystallizes the declaration’s view of education:

“Any goal on education must:

  • include specific means to address the social, cultural and community practices that prevent girls, adolescents and women across the life-course from accessing and completing education and lifelong learning;
  • create enabling environments for girls’ learning, including safety, hygiene and mobility, achieve universal access to equality, early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary education for all children and eliminate gender gaps, with a focus on transition between primary-secondary and secondary-tertiary in order to ensure retention and completion by girls, adolescents and young people;
  • provide formal and non-formal education for all women to be aware of and able to exercise their human rights,
    ensure comprehensive sexuality education programs that promote values of respect for human rights, freedom, non-discrimination, gender equality, non-violence and peace-building;
  • implement education curricula that are gender-sensitive and eliminate gender stereotypes, sexism, racism and homophobia, and that provide teacher training to enable the delivery of un-biased, non-judgmental education.”