By Ruth Owino

The Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest gender disparities in education, high maternal mortality and adolescent fertility rates,” this is according to the UNDP Human Development Report 2011. The Report says that, “In South Asia, women lag behind men in each dimension of the Gender Inequality Index, most notably in education, national parliamentary representation and labour force participation. Women in Arab states are affected by unequal labour force participation and low educational attainment.”

According to the report, the 10 countries that place last in the 2011 HDI are all in sub-Saharan Africa: Guinea, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Chad, Mozambique, Burundi, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Despite recent progress, these low-Human Development Index nations still suffer from inadequate incomes, limited schooling opportunities and life expectancies far below world averages are mostly due to deaths from preventable and treatable diseases such as malaria and AIDS. In many, these problems are compounded by the destructive legacy of armed conflict. In the lowest-ranking country in the 2011 HDI, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 3 Million people died from warfare and conflict-linked illness in recent years, prompting the largest peacekeeping operation in UN history. Kenya is ranked 143 out of 187 countries surveyed in the 2011 Human Development Index (HDI), Australia and the Netherlands lead the world, United States, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Germany and Sweden round out the top 10 countries.

The 2011 Report: “Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All” covers a record of 187 countries. The report notes that income distribution has worsened in most of the world, with Latin America remaining the most unequal region in income terms, even though several countries including Brazil and Chile are narrowing internal income gaps. Yet in overall terms, including life expectancy and schooling, Latin America is more equitable than sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia, the Report shows.

Gender Inequality and Reproductive Health
The 2011 Report focuses on challenges of sustainable and equitable progress. It shows how environmental degradation intensifies inequality through adverse impacts on already disadvantaged people and how inequalities in human development amplify environmental degradation. From the Gender Inequality Index (GII)of 145 countries, reproductive health constraints is a major contribution to gender inequality.

In countries where effective control of reproduction is universal, women have fewer children, with attendant gains for maternal and child health and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, from the report Cuba, Mauritius, Thailand and Tunisia, where reproductive health care and contraceptives are readily available, fertility rates are below two births per woman. But substantial unmet need persist worldwide, with suggestion that women need to exercise reproductive choice, in order to slow down population growth so as to bring greenhouse gas emissions below current levels.

According to the report, women’s economic opportunities and empowerment remain severely constrained. Although access to reproductive health care has been improving in most regions, it is not fast enough to achieve Millennium Development Goal 5- To improve maternal health. The Gender Inequality Index (GII) shows that Sweden leads the world in gender equality, as measured by the composite index of reproductive health, years of schooling, parliamentary representation and participation in the labour market. Yemen has the least equitable, with 7.6 percent of women having a secondary education, compared to 24.4 percent for men; women hold 0.7 percent of seats in the legislature; and only 20 percent of working-age women are in the paid work force, compared to 74 percent of men.

Due to lack of access to reproductive health services, there has been debilitating outcomes for women and children. From the report, an estimated 48 million women give birth without skilled assistance, and 2 million give birth alone. An estimated 150,000 women and 1.6 million children die each year between the onset of labour and 48 hours after birth. For the bottom 20 countries in the Gender Inequality Index, the population-weighted maternal mortality ratio averages about 327 deaths per 100,000 live births, and the adolescent fertility rate averages 95 births per 1,000 women ages 15–19, both roughly double the global averages of 157 deaths and 49 births. In these countries contraceptive use is low, averaging only 46.4 percent. More broadly, an estimated 215 million women in developing countries have unmet need for family planning.

Every country that offers women a full range of reproductive health options has fertility rates at or below replacement. The report ranks Cuba, Iran, Mauritius, Thailand and Tunisia with fertility rates of less than two births per woman, while Addis Ababa’s is also less than two births per woman, Ethiopia’s rural fertility rate remains above six. In much of rural Bangladesh, despite widespread poverty, fertility is now at the replacement rate. However, family sizes have fallen as rapidly in Iran as they have in China, but without government limits on family size. In Japan, the Netherlands and Norway, most couples use of contraceptive inequality is high, while in Mali, Mauritania and Sierra Leone, contraceptive prevalence is below 10 percent.

The reported unmet demand for family planning is very low in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Niger (below 5 percent), alongside very high average fertility. This happens due cultural or religious objections by women, their husbands or other family members; a lack of knowledge of contraceptive methods or fear of their side effects; or preference for larger families. Low unmet need can be associated with low contraceptive prevalence at low levels of development (where fertility preferences are high) and with high contraceptive prevalence at high levels of development (where fertility preferences are low). Meaning, family planning programmes must go beyond supplying contraception at affordable prices to raising awareness of its use and health effects and addressing the structural constraints facing poor women.

Women’s participation in decision-making
Women lag behind men across the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Arab States. This is a challenge in achieving sustainability and equity, since women often shoulder the heaviest burden of resource collection and mostly exposed to indoor air pollution, they are often more affected than men by decisions related to natural resources. From the report, there is Gender inequalities in women’s low participation in national and local political fora, countries with higher female parliamentary representation are more likely to set aside protected land areas and to ratify international environmental treaties.

For full report visit: http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2011_EN_Complete.pdf

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