Issue 6 - September/October 2005

Gender and the Millennium Development Goals

In this issue

Message from the Director

The adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by world leaders at the Millennium Summit in 2000 constituted a situation unprecedented in the history of development cooperation. Because poverty is multi-faceted, the consensus encompasses 8 goals (see box), 18 targets and 48 indicators.


Millennium Development Goals (MDGs):

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development



This results management framework now drives the poverty reduction strategies of developing countries, and harmonizes and aligns the strategies of the donor agencies, leading to strong country ownership of the poverty reduction strategies and the results.

Allowing for differences in country performance, the Asia and the Pacific Region is making good progress in reaching the MDGs. Growth, distributive agricultural growth, enhanced value-added in the micro-enterprise sector, and inclusive institutions are major determinants in this success.

Two thirds of the world's extremely poor people live in rural areas and most are women. Yet, the MDGs are not rural-urban differentiated, and except for MDG 3, they are not gender disaggregated. National statistical systems are unevenly able to report with rural-urban and gender disaggregation. Rural women, in particular, remain statistically invisible despite their number, their crucial role in family well-being, their contribution to social welfare, to the rural economy and to the social capital of the most successful microfinance programmes. Without rural and gender disaggregated goals, targets and statistics, it is difficult to define appropriately rural and gender disaggregated policies, strategies, budget allocations and institutional development programmes.

For this reason, IFAD's country programme strategies aim to:

  • explicitly disaggregate rural poverty diagnostics by gender
  • differentiate the strategy for reducing female poverty from that of all rural producers and secure appropriate budget allocations
  • explicitly include women in policy and institutional transformation agenda
  • measure and report on results with gender differentiation

IFAD is doing this in collaboration with its development partners, including: women's associations and federations in many Asian countries in concrete national strategic and operational terms; other multilateral development institutions, such as UNIFEM at the global advocacy level; and bilateral development partners, such as Japan, that provide additional human and financial resources in support of this concern. This newsletter shares IFAD's initiatives in this area, with the aim to further develop its partnerships and to continue enhancing its effectiveness in contributing to the MDGs.

Back to top

Impact of IFAD projects on poverty among women in Bangladesh

A Country Programme Evaluation in Bangladesh, completed in June 2005, noted "…one of the most successful aspects of the (IFAD) programme has been its impact on gender equity and the condition of women…". Through earlier collaboration with pioneers in microfinance such as the Grameen Bank and BRAC, IFAD acquired considerable experience in the successful delivery of microfinance services to rural women in Bangladesh . According to the evaluation report, "...through microfinance activities, IFAD projects have contributed to a gradual transformation of rural life in terms of women's own self-image, their relationships with others and the recognition accorded to them as economic actors by the community at large…".

A clear example of this is provided by the recently closed Agricultural Diversification and Intensification Project. In the 6200 groups formed by the project, over 90 per cent of members were women. These group members received microfinance services and training in a range of livelihood activities, including crop and livestock production technology. The project impact evaluation found that access to credit and technical support had a significant impact on women, with 45 per cent buying or leasing land, 40 per cent purchasing livestock, 16 per cent poultry, and 29 per cent setting up small businesses. Traditional norms of social prestige and status were broken down – 80 per cent of women were using credit for enterprises they operated themselves, their status and self-confidence greatly improved, in most cases women were controlling their own money and assets, and there less domestic violence was being reported. Up to 50 per cent of female group members were buying land in their own name, although the proportion of members purchasing land varied considerably from group to group. The impact survey confirmed that the role of women at the household level had improved markedly, with participation in household decision making increasing from 35 to 88 per cent of women group members, and participation in financial management decisions increasing from 30 to 89 per cent of group members.

Back to top

The challenges of reaching gender MDG targets in Pakistan

The problems faced by rural women in Pakistan are compounded by traditional social taboos and Purdah, which often restrict development interventions from reaching them. While communities do not usually resist men's activities, women's participation is often a sensitive issue. Project implementation experience has shown that this resistance is mainly from men, while women are usually quite willing to participate when given the chance. This situation has seriously affected ongoing IFAD projects in Pakistan that focus on women's empowerment. There are even examples where project offices have been bombed and female project staff have been fired upon. In such challenging and difficult circumstances, projects have been manoeuvring at two levels to improve outreach to rural women. Firstly, projects are engaging in constructive dialogue with religious leaders from the local areas, with positive results (see Newsletter number 2). Secondly, projects are supporting a number of activities that are helping women to strive towards improved social and economic status at the household and community level. This includes support for vocational/skill development centres, tailoring businesses, women's shops, poultry farming, honey bee keeping, and drinking water supply schemes. By adopting this twin-track approach, IFAD projects have been able to intervene in very difficult areas for the first time, for example in the Darel and Tangir valleys in Diamer District near Gilgit. In the case of IFAD's ongoing Northern Areas Development Project, religious leaders initially were against the idea of bringing in non-local female staff. After a consultation process with local stakeholders, the project recruited local educated women and trained them in social mobilization approaches. Gender awareness training and workshops have led to much stronger commitment by project management. The project provided computer training to young school girls and local school teachers, and has encouraged local religious institutions to focus on girls schooling requirements, leading to increased enrolment for girls.

Back to top

Promotion of gender equality in decision-making in Viet Nam

Bangladesh The Gender and Women's Livelihood component of the Rural Income Diversification Project in Tuyen Quang Province , Viet Nam has established a Women's Livelihood Fund (WLF) that enables communes in the project area to finance needs that women themselves have identified. The women's formation and management of WLF village groups, which are grassroots, community-based organizations, has had a significant impact on women's self-confidence in making community decisions, and on their capacity to think through a project from beginning to end. WLF Village Groups have helped women to participate in community decision-making and to learn how to prioritize public, as well as household, development decisions.

Thanks to WLF village groups, women are making collective decisions for the first time and are reflecting collectively on their economically deprived conditions. A review by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) found that the WLF was embraced enthusiastically by the women in the villages. Also for the first time, women at village level had the power to make decisions about the use of project funds. They liked being able to make community decisions and recognized that having access to funds and control over how the money was to be spent enabled them to assess their situation from a wider perspective. Women decided on criteria for how to ensure that poor people received equal benefits, and reviewed various conditions before making decisions.

WLF village groups will develop better organizational and leadership skills, to ensure the sustainability of these positive results.

Back to top

"The education and health of our children come first", say poor women in Indonesia

China When given the opportunity to save, access credit and choose an investment option, women in Indonesia invest in food security, good nutrition and the health of their children and the whole family. The Post-Crisis Programme for Participatory Integrated Development in Rainfed Areas, the most successful IFAD-financed programme in Indonesia , has shown that investing in women and their institutions is a powerful way to tackle rural poverty and achieve the MDGs in the most disadvantaged areas of the country.

Education and health rank among the most popular investments, according to data on the purpose of the loans taken out by individuals in 2,000 self-help groups (SHGs) connected to the programme. More than half the members of the SHGs are women. The opportunity to borrow for any purpose, at lending rates lower than those required by moneylenders, has enabled women to invest not only in economic activities, which would not be viable without the credit provided by the SHG, but also in appropriate nutrition, education and health for the entire family, particularly children. Women are also able to advocate for more gender equitable community development, and to influence public investment decisions in favour of health and education facilities, clean water supplies, and other infrastructure schemes. As a result, both child malnutrition and food insecurity have decreased considerably among families participating in the SHGs.

The programme's experience also helped explain why cases of chronic child malnutrition emerge even in food surplus regions – as in the case of the province of Nusa Tenggara Barat early this year. If priority is given to production objectives rather than people's incomes and thus their well-being, the weakest members of the farming family, especially children and lactating mothers, are the first to suffer. As a result, they become malnourished. When designing programmes, the Ministry of Agriculture and IFAD often refer to the following principles: "we grow money, we do not grow crops"; "farmers come first, not increased agricultural production"; and "we help farmers and their husbands". These principles remind us that investing in agriculture is a means to an end: to raise incomes in order to ensure food security and adequate nutrition for the whole farming family. Poor rural women seem to agree with these principles.

Back to top

Empowering women workers in India


Decent work involves:

  • opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income
  • security in the workplace and social protection for families
  • better prospects for personal development and social integration
  • freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives
  • equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men"

Source: ILO

The roles of women are changing from subordinate household workers to income earners. Most rural women spend their day involved in several activities, including weeding and harvesting, collecting animal fodder, water and fuelwood, food processing and marketing agricultural produce. These activities contribute directly to both household income and the local agrarian economy. However, access to decent work (see box, right) which the International Labour Organization (ILO) recognizes as "the heart of social progress", remains gender-biased. Women are kept out of skilled labour categories, and even if their work is skilled, it remains classified as unskilled.

In India , through the Livelihood Security Project for Earthquake-affected Rural Households in Gujarat , IFAD works with the Government of Gujarat and the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) which plays a significant role in assisting informal workers with livelihood needs. In Gujarat , SEWA has 468,445 members out of which 87,514 are within the IFAD project. The project helped to establish SEWA Mahila Gram Haat and the SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre. Both work towards empowering local communities, in particular women, by:

  • helping them identify alternative livelihood opportunities for productive work
  • training them to be able to access information about sales and marketing
  • helping them to establish strong linkages with markets at the local, regional and global levels

The SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre focuses on converting the traditional skills of hand embroidery and crafts into a commercially viable, self-sustainable model. It provides comprehensive market intelligence, including market research for specific product categories, access to buyers' databases, information on tariff structures and non-tariff barriers, identification of possible distribution channels and the development of an effective sales strategy. The SEWA Mahila Gram Haat concentrates on providing technical training and marketing services to rural producers, including training in basic computer skills using software in the Gujarati language. The project has developed an innovative strategy not only to increase women's access to productive work and income, but also to create opportunities for personal development.

As a result of these activities, women's social status and security has increased within their families and communities as they have become more independent and successful income earners. Through the project, women and men artisans and craft workers have been mobilized and organized into collective enterprises, thereby strengthening their bargaining power, achieving economies of scale and acquiring competitiveness for their enterprises. Project support has enabled 15,000 women to access decent work and earn an average monthly wage of 1,500 rupees (US$30).

Read more about the project

Back to top

The role of women in environmental management in Nepal

Women in the uplands of Asia play a crucial role in natural resource management, agriculture and caring for livestock . The workload of upland women is intensified by a number of factors, including their limited access to resources, inaccessibility and isolation, outmigration of men to seek work in lowland areas, and environmental degradation. As a result of diminishing forest resources and a declining agricultural base, women are forced to travel greater distances to collect fuel and fodder. Environmental degradation in mountain regions also increases the erosion of topsoil, leading to crop failure. As a result, there are growing food deficits and incidences of trafficking of mountain women in lowland and urban centres, all of which contributes to increased poverty.

Women seldom hold ownership and tenure rights to land, trees, water and other natural resources. However, the Leasehold Forestry and Livestock Programme in Nepal is facilitating social mobilization and providing support to indigenous women and men to access degraded forest land for a period of 40 years. Thirty per cent of leased certificates are issued in women's names, even though in Nepal it is usually the man who is recognized as the head of the household. However, with the facilitation of local women's group promoters, supported by the Society for Partners in Development, women are being regarded as household heads when they are single or widows. This experience has proven that:

  • Rural poor women, who are also resource poor, can be economically empowered through access to forest land or common agricultural land.
  • Through economic empowerment, women gain more self-confidence and raise their social and political status.
  • When women have access to land, they can contribute towards environmental sustainability.

Read more

Back to top

Promotion of local, regional and global partnerships for development: regional conference on development effectiveness through gender mainstreaming, New Delhi

IFAD, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and Canada 's International Development Research Centre (IDRC), organized a three-day regional conference on development effectiveness through gender mainstreaming: lessons learnt from South Asia . The workshop was held in New Delhi , India from 10-12 May 2005. The main goal of the conference was to contribute to the achievement of the MDGs by advocating for more effective implementation of development policies and programmes designed to reduce gender inequality and rural poverty in South Asian countries.

Its specific objectives were to:

  • assess progress towards gender equality and rural poverty reduction in South Asian countries
  • strengthen advocacy networks, local, regional and global partnerships of policy makers, practitioners, and scholars for promotion and implementation of gender equality and poverty reduction in rural areas
  • identify policy options which governments can consider in mainstreaming gender in development programmes to achieve the MDGs
  • More than 100 policy makers, practitioners, researchers and community leaders from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Fiji, India, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka attended the conference, together with representatives of international and donor agencies.

The conference highlighted the need to go beyond the existing policy frameworks with regard to women in the formal and informal sectors. By providing conditions of decent work, women's vulnerabilities especially structural violence against them can be reduced, enhancing women's individual and collective agencies, political voice and representation. It also observed that in order to close the gap between policy, and practice and implementation, there is a need to transform the ways of providing adequate resources, building capacities and promoting institutions inclusive of women within an overall rights framework. To achieve this, local, regional and global partnerships must be developed.

Back to top

Useful links for monitoring progress toward the MDGs

About IFAD

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is a specialized agency of the United Nations, dedicated to eradicating poverty and hunger in developing countries. Its work in remote rural areas of the world helps countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Through low-interest loans and grants, IFAD develops and finances projects that enable rural poor people to overcome poverty themselves.

IFAD tackles poverty not just as a lender, but as an advocate for the small farmers, herders, fisherfolk, landless workers, artisans and indigenous peoples who live in rural areas and represent 75 per cent of the world's 1.2 billion extremely poor people. IFAD works with governments, donors, non-governmental organizations, local communities and many other partners to fight the underlying causes of rural poverty. It acts as a catalyst, bringing together partners, resources, knowledge and policies that create the conditions in which rural poor people can increase agricultural productivity, as well as seek out other options for earning income.

IFAD-supported rural development programmes and projects increase rural poor people's access to financial services, markets, technology, land and other natural resources.






Martina Spisiakova
Tel: 3906-54592295

Making a Difference in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 5: July/August 2005 - Partnership

Issue 4: May/June 2005 - Rural Finance

Issue 3: March/ April 2005 - Donor Harmonization

Issue 2: January/ February 2005

Issue 1: November/ December 2004

Upcoming events:

IFAD Executive Board, 6-8 September 2005, will consider the following programmes for approval:
Laos: Country Strategic Opportunities Paper (COSOP)

China: South Gansu Poverty-Reduction Programme

Millennium Summit, New York, 14-16 September 2005

Heads of MFIs at IADB, Washington, 23 September 2005

Development Committee, Washington DC, 24 September 2005

7th Replenishment Consultation - Fourth Session, Qatar, 1 October 2005

Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) Meeting, Rome, 14 October

IFAD/World Bank Strategic Partnership in Asia and Pacific, "From Vision to Action" – a two-day meeting, the World Bank, Washington, 17-18 October 2005

Annual Portfolio Review Workshop, Bangkok, 21-24 November 2005

Bhutan – Loan Signing – Agriculture, Marketing and Enterprise Promotion Programme, Rome, 12 October 2005

Start-up workshop – Rural Finance Sector Programme, Xian, September 2005

Inauguration/Start-up of the China/Mongolia IFAD Regional office, Beijing, October 2005

Project management office workshop, Hubei province, November 2005

DPR Korea – Consultation on COSOP , Pyongyang, Autumn 2005

India– Loan Negotiations, Post-tsunami Sustainable Livelihoods Programme for the Coastal Communities of Tamil Nadu, Rome, September 2005

Indonesia – Financing Agreement Negotiations, Rural Empowerment and Agricultural Development Programme in Central Sulawesi, December 2005

Start-up Workshop – Farmer Participatory Evaluation Demonstration and Transfer of Improved Upland Rice Technologies organized by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Outomxai, 27-28 October 2005

Start-up Workshop – Rural Livelihoods Improvement Programme in Attapeu and Sayabouri, Attapeu, 1-2 November 2005

Upcoming missions:

Assessment of Regional Gender Programme, October - December 2005

Grant Design Mission - October 2005

Formulation mission – Decentralized Rural Livelihoods Improvement Programme, 11 September – 7 October 2005

Project completion review mission – Agriculture Productivity Improvement Project, November - December 2005

Feasibility study – Village Development Funds, September 2005

Inception mission – Modular Poverty Reduction Programme, October 2005

Mid-term review mission – West Guangxi Poverty Alleviation Project, November 2005

Mid-term review mission – National Microfinance Support Programme, 28 September - 14 October 2005

Formulation mission – Country Strategy and Opportunities Paper (COSOP), October 2005

Inception mission – Eastern Indonesia , October - November 2005

Financial management mission – Rural Livelihoods Improvement Programme in Attapeu and Sayabouri, September 2005

Monitoring and evaluation mission – Rural Livelihoods Improvement Programme in Attapeu and Sayabouri, September 2005

Portfolio review mission, October 2005

Project completion review mission – Xieng Khouang Agricultural Development Project – Phase II, October 2005

Mid-term review mission – Oudomxai Community Initiatives Support Project, November-December 2005

Project completion mission – A rhangai/Huvsgul Rural Poverty Alleviation Project, September 2005

Mid-term review mission – Rural Poverty Reduction Programme, September - October 2005

Grant Design Mission - October, 2005

Monitoring and evaluation set-up mission – Leasehold Forestry and Livestock Project, Kathmandu , October 2005

Sri Lanka
Follow-up and support mission – Matale Regional Economic Advancement Project and Badulla Integrated Community Organisations Support Project, 10 - 23 September 2005

Formulation mission – Smallholder Outgrower Estate Development Programme, October 2005

Viet Nam
Inception mission, November 2005