The State of World Population 2000 Chapter 7: Working Towards a Better Future

United Nations Population Fund

The Role of Governments

In many ways, governments create the conditions for gender equality. They can remove legal barriers and change the law to promote gender justice; they can pay attention to gender equality in the design of policies and programmes; and they can encourage supportive institutional environments. As the biggest direct and indirect employers, government can set standards and provide an example to others. Finally, political leaders can advocate and promote gender equality, and encourage their followers at all levels to do so.

Jorgen Schytte/Still Pictures
Jorgen Schytte/Still Pictures
Training programme for office workers in Ghana. Governments can train men and women to use new technologies.

Governments agreed in the ICPD Programme of Action on the need to increase domestic allocations to health care, including reproductive health, and contributions to international assistance. They agreed that greater participation in technical cooperation and support among developing countries would more broadly disseminate lessons learned from successful programmes.

Legal Support for Gender Equality

Many legal or administrative codes contain barriers to women's access to resources and property, to basic information about and access to services (including health and education), to basic decisions concerning their family status,1 to protection from violence, and to freedom of association. Even where supportive legislation exists, these legal rights may be weakly enforced or overridden by customary law.

Reproductive rights are guaranteed in South Africa's Constitution, but their exercise has been restricted by appeals to customary law. This is being adjudicated, and policy makers' attention has been drawn to the need for clarification.

UNFPA has sponsored discussions among parliamentarians in the Arab states and Africa of changes in personal status laws needed to protect the exercise of reproductive and other rights.

More than two thirds of the countries in the world, including almost all of Latin America, have modified legislation to improve women's access to resources, education and health services, and their decision-making power in families.2

In Ecuador, the National Constitutional Assembly has discussed incorporating sexual and reproductive rights in the Constitution. Women's groups, including the national council for women, led the consultations and lobbying. In Venezuela, the Network on Population, with UNFPA support, promoted the incorporation of sexual and reproductive rights and gender equity into the new Constitution, approved in December 1999.3

Female genital mutilation has been outlawed in Ghana (1994); Djibouti (1995); Burkina Faso (1996); Côte d'Ivoire, Togo and the United Republic of Tanzania (1998); and Senegal (1999). A 1996 Ministry of Health decree in Egypt banned FGM except in cases of medical necessity; in 1997, the highest administrative court upheld the ban after a legal challenge.4

Box 30: Women in Decision-making

New Legislation

In the years 1997-1999, a number of countries enacted or amended legislation in various areas to reflect the major goals of the ICPD and FWCW.5

Reproductive health.

Mexico and Peru enacted comprehensive legislation to increase access to reproductive health services of all kinds. Guinea's new Public Health Code made family planning services a priority. Georgia's law on health care stipulated that all citizens have the right to determine the number and spacing of their children. Portugal amended its Constitution to specify that the State has to guarantee the right to family planning. Ecuador's new Constitution guaranteed the right of persons to decide on the number of children that they want.

Peru guaranteed the right to choose sterilization as a method of family planning. Brazil approved sterilization for persons aged 25 or under 25 with two children. Paraguay issued a National Family Planning Manual authorizing sterilization. Thailand authorized employees to take leave in order to be sterilized.

The Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare approved the sale of low-dosage oral contraceptives in 1999, almost 40 years after the first efforts to obtain such approval.

Cambodia enacted comprehensive abortion legislation, liberalizing the circumstances under which abortions can be performed.

Improvement of women's status.

Albania, Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Fiji, Madagascar, Poland and the Sudan adopted or amended their constitutions to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. France amended its Constitution to promote equal access of women and men to electoral powers and elected office. Luxembourg criminalized discrimination based on sex in most aspects of society.

Cape Verde and the Czech Republic enacted new family codes guaranteeing equality of rights and duties in marriage. South Africa mandated the equal status of spouses in customary marriages. Other countries adopted less comprehensive legislation in this area.

In Pakistan, the High Court of Lahore ruled that the consent of both parties is an indispensable condition for the validity of marriage and that a guardian has no right to grant such consent on the behalf of a woman without her approval. Burkina Faso's Constitution affirmed that marriage is founded on the free consent of man and woman.

Gender-based violence.

Botswana, China, Colombia, Dominica, Peru, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and Viet Nam increased penalties for various sexual offences or broadened protection against sexual violence. Cape Verde, Cuba, Thailand, Ukraine, the United Republic of Tanzania and Viet Nam outlawed trafficking of women and children. Canada, Italy and the United Kingdom criminalized sexual tourism with minors. Bolivia no longer requires that a woman be found to be "honest" in order to be the victim of certain sexual offences. Germany criminalized rape by a husband against his wife.

Belgium, Bermuda, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mauritius, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, South Africa and Venezuela adopted various forms of domestic violence legislation. Bermuda prohibited stalking, while New Zealand and the United Kingdom established measures to counteract harassment.

Labour relations and employment.

Cambodia, Ecuador, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, Senegal and Tajikistan enacted new labour codes broadly prohibiting discrimination against women in the workplace; Cambodia, Ecuador and Swaziland also guaranteed pay equity, and all but Tajikistan now provide protection against the dismissal of women who are pregnant or on maternity leave. In Senegal, a working woman no longer needs her spouse's consent to join a labour union. In Ecuador, employers must employ women as a certain percentage of the work force. Thailand requires employers to treat male and female employees equally and prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace.

The United Republic of Tanzania prohibited dismissal for reasons of sex or pregnancy. Chile, Cyprus, the Sudan and Zambia outlawed discrimination on the basis of pregnancy or childbirth. Chile also prohibited requiring a pregnancy test as a condition of employment. The Republic of Korea banned gender discrimination in labour unions. Fiji outlawed sexual harassment and discrimination in employment applications. Several other countries strengthened existing protections against sex discrimination.

In an earlier legal reform, the Egyptian Government in 1999 repealed a controversial part of the criminal code that allowed rapists to avoid imprisonment if they offered to marry their victims. 

Box 31: Egyptian Women Gain Divorce Rights Similar to Men's

Design of Policies and Programmes

Several Latin American countries have begun to analyse differences in the impact of their programmes on men and women. Most countries now have plans of action for implementing the ICPD Programme of Action and the FWCW Platform for Action. Almost all African countries have a ministry, bureau, department or unit responsible for gender equality issues.

Governments can design policies and programmes with attention to their diverse impacts on men and women, encouraging participatory feedback and local monitoring. They can reward institutions that promote equality in staffing and allocating resources.

National plans for implementing conference recommendations must be specific about responsibilities, both inside and outside government, and incorporate the views of the different groups concerned. New policy and administrative bodies or gender focal points in existing institutions may be needed.

Box 32: Monitoring and Evaluation Improve Programmes and Promote Gender Sensitivity

Key Policy Issues

Policies and institutional changes

Countries may need to formulate or revise official policies intended to promote gender equality. Policy makers need to be able to analyse the different impacts programmes have on men and women, and how well they respond to their different needs. Institutional changes may also be required, such as identifying focal points to monitor progress. Also needed are improved mechanisms for reporting and for receiving feedback from civil society, including women's groups.


Policy makers and programme staff need training about gender issues to promote gender equality. International and local NGOs and networks, development assistance offices, international financial institutions and national offices have all prepared training materials. In Colombia, for example, training for reproductive health clinic workers has improved the flow of information, reduced waiting time, and increased staff involvement and client satisfaction.


Resource allocations need to be monitored to ensure that they promote gender equality and address the needs of both men and women. Schools, for example, must be equally accessible to boys and to girls, and pupils safe from abuse.Programme indicators need to be made gender-sensitive, and gender-disaggregated databases must become standard instruments of assessment. Qualitative indicators should supplement quantitative approaches.


Codes of conduct for health programmes should ensure respect for the rights, needs, perceptions and opportunities of clients. Ombudsman systems and other means for soliciting feedback and participatory input are needed to ensure accountability to programme beneficiaries.

Health-sector reform and structural adjustment

Analyses in South-east Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa have shown that adjustment programmes, including decentralization of services, can weaken education and health programmes and undermine efforts to eradicate poverty and improve the quality of life. Governments should monitor the impact of reform programmes to ensure that education and health services continue to reach the poor, particularly women and girls.

Quality of care

Service providers need training and support to provide sensitive care to both women and men. Improvements are needed in the quality of care in health systems, and particularly in sexual and reproductive health. International and bilateral donor agencies, including UNFPA, have increased emphasis on quality of care initiatives as part of their support to reproductive health programmes.

Gender-sensitive budget analysis

National budgets should be examined to see how they respond to the needs and interests of women, tracing the effect of expenditure and revenue policies and especially how they affect poor women.6 Resources from public, private and community sources are needed to ensure that protections for gender equity are strictly enforced. Cuba, Ecuador and El Salvador have increased their budgetary allocations for women's programmes since the ICPD and FWCW.7 Since the mid-1980s, Australia has been conducting regular analyses of how women have benefited from federal and state government expenditures.8 The Commonwealth Secretariat has supported governments including Barbados, Fiji, St. Kitts and Nevis, South Africa and Sri Lanka in a gender budget initiative.9


The different needs of women and men, the impacts of gender inequality, and barriers to improvement need to be better assessed, to inform programming and advocacy. Since the most debilitating gender discrimination is in the family, support should be given to collecting data on, and monitoring changes in, families.

Programmes aimed at men

Programmes are needed to address men's reproductive health needs, foster their active support for women's health, and engage them in dialogues on gender inequality and its costs to women, men and society as a whole.

Prevention of violence

Protecting women against gender-based violence requires action in many areas: advocacy; legal changes; improved enforcement; safe alternatives for victims; reporting systems; mediation and counselling services; and funding for local support groups.

Poverty eradication

Attention to meeting the needs of the poorest of the poor has become a priority in international development assistance. In India, for instance, the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), developed by government and international organizations, outlines a coordinated approach to development assistance, with attention to poverty eradication and gender concerns.10

Hiring barriers and pay differentials

To eliminate gender discrimination in hiring, employers should be barred from requiring women job seekers to prove they are using contraceptives or are not pregnant. Wage differentials between men and women should be analysed and made part of the public debate about gender equality and justice, the meaning of "equivalent" work, the importance of women's reproductive and productive roles, and related questions.11

Human rights education

Campaigns in support of basic human rights for men and women, including rights to sexual and reproductive health, should take into account the different perspectives of men and women. Messages should be appropriate for various ages and situations. Civil society organizations have developed a variety of human rights education syllabi and training materials.12


Media, including film, radio, TV and increasingly the Web, can encourage positive images and role models. Education for policy makers, local leaders and the community can spur communities and families to act against inequities. Better access to new information technologies will allow open exchange of information on best practices and different approaches.

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UNFPA Support for Gender Equality

As the lead organization in the United Nations system supporting implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, the United Nations Population Fund assists developing countries and those with economies in transition in ensuring universal access to reproductive health, including family planning and sexual health, and in implementing population and development strategies in support of sustainable development. The Fund also works to promote awareness of population and development issues and advocates for the mobilization of the resources necessary to meet the goals of the ICPD.

A commitment to reproductive rights, gender equality, male responsibility and women's empowerment underpins UNFPA programming in each of these areas.

Support to Governments

In Mexico, with UNFPA support, the National Population Council has trained its technical staff and the staff of 10 state population councils on how population programmes and policies can promote gender equality. The five poorest states in Mexico now have plans for gender equality in their population programmes. The next stage will be to include a gender perspective in monitoring and evaluation.

UNFPA has provided training and technical assistance, for example, in Angola for the Ministry of Family and Promotion of Women and in Swaziland for the Gender Office in the Ministry of Home Affairs.13

In Peru, profiting from experience elsewhere in the region, UNFPA supported the creation of the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Human Development. In the Dominican Republic, UNFPA provided expert advice for legislation creating the new Secretariat for Women.

In Ecuador, Peru and the Dominican Republic, where health services have been decentralized, UNFPA has supported municipalities to promote reproductive rights and women's active participation in decision-making.

The Fund is also actively addressing a wide range of specific gender-related issues.

Adolescent Reproductive Health

Countries have given more attention to adolescent reproductive health since the Cairo and Beijing conferences. UNFPA offers technical and financial assistance for national programmes.

In Latin America, the NGO-led Journeys of Conversation on Affection and Sexuality encourages teenagers to discuss their experiences and develop their own alternatives. The methodology was developed with UNFPA support in Chile by the National Service for Women, the National Institute for Youth, and the Ministries of Health and Education; Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica and Uruguay have adopted it. UNFPA has given additional support for programmes addressing adolescent needs in Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela. A UNFPA-supported project for rural adolescents in Nicaragua focuses on the poor and those excluded from formal education.

In Egypt, UNFPA has supported the training of young men and women as peer educators to develop their leadership skills. Activities include self-awareness development, life and career planning and a focus on reproductive behaviour, parenthood, STDs and family planning.14

Gender Violence

Box 33: Legal Reforms in India against Rape

UNFPA has supported training for health workers on intervention in cases of gender-based violence, as well as on laws, enforcement and counselling. In the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela, it has provided support to governments, parliaments and civil society organizations to make, reform or enforce laws punishing violence against women; and has helped develop reports on sexual abuse of girls in Chile, Nicaragua and Panama.

In the Dominican Republic, the Fund has supported the creation of police department offices to handle accusations of violence against women and girls, and helped prepare publications on prevention of gender violence and laws against it. In Haiti, UNFPA has supported women's groups lobbying to improve the administration of justice in cases of rape, and helped train members of the national police force in preventing and managing gender-based violence. In Peru, UNFPA, UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization support the national commission for the prevention of intra-family violence, which includes government departments, the national association of municipalities and women's organizations.

The Fund has also been part of a United Nations public education campaign against violence to women and girls in Latin America and the Caribbean, headed by UNIFEM in collaboration with UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP and UNAIDS. In various countries, UNFPA has supported marches, press conferences, meetings and discussion panels.

Box 34: Legal and Professional Action against Rape in South Africa

Male Involvement

UNFPA has supported various regional conferences on male involvement, a variety of regional approaches in sub-Saharan Africa, and the creation of men's groups in Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru and Uruguay.

In the armed forces and police of Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru, the Fund is supporting activities to generate greater awareness about the sexual and reproductive health of men, unequal gender relations and violence against women.

In the northwest region of Namibia, UNFPA is supporting discussion groups for men on family planning, STDs and gender inequality. Male nurses, members of the police and defence forces, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and a soccer club are participating.15

Other Areas of Assistance

HIV/AIDS prevention

UNFPA works with UNAIDS, WHO and other agencies to ensure gender equity in programmes for preventing HIV/AIDS and STDs. UNFPA and IPPF are developing a training module in HIV/AIDS prevention for family planning associations and other service providers.

Research and training

With UNFPA support, Nicaragua has established an international masters' programme in reproductive health and rights with a gender perspective. In Bolivia, UNFPA helps train reproductive health providers about service quality, rights and publication of qualitative research.16 UNFPA has supported research in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and Peru to identify specific needs of women in sexual and reproductive health, particularly in relation to health policies and their impact, maternal mortality, and women's employment.17  In Panama, UNFPA has supported research on the links between population, gender and poverty, and trained NGOs and government organizations to prepare gender-sensitive projects linking population and poverty reduction.


In Haiti, UNFPA is helping the Ministry for the Status of Women and Women's Rights to design and manage advocacy strategies on women's rights. In Bolivia, UNFPA supports the development of educational television programmes on health and gender equity.18 In Mexico, UNFPA supports Comunicacion e Informacion de la Mujer, a national network of newspaper writers committed to gender equality and women's empowerment. In Chile, the Fund has supported Fempress, the magazine of the Latin American and Caribbean Women's Health Network.

Women's political participation

In Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, UNFPA has supported training for women's political leadership and participation in legislative processes as well as for local policy and management.

UNFPA has supported women's networks and indigenous groups in Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Central America, and also the Afro-Caribbean network.

Jorgen Schytte/Still Pictures
UNICEF/1220/Cindy Andrew
Schoolgirls in Malawi. UNFPA supports advocacy efforts aimed at keeping girls in school.

Girls' education

UNFPA supports advocacy activities aimed at retaining girls in the school system and improving their social status, in support of the Plan of Action of the 1990 World Conference on Education for All. The Fund collaborated with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UNDP, UNICEF and the World Bank in an evaluation of the Plan of Action, culminating in a World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, in April 2000.


Governments increasingly support micro-credit institutions, directly, through subsidies, or through supportive regulation. To be effective in empowering women, these programmes should provide literacy, numeracy and family life education, and if possible encourage the transition to formal businesses. UNFPA has supported a variety of these programmes, for example, in Yemen.19 In Viet Nam, UNFPA has supported the creation of more than 500 women's savings groups, providing assistance to agricultural and community improvement projects, campaigns to improve water and sanitation, and a network of community-based health volunteers.20

Data collection

UNFPA provides technical assistance to countries to increase awareness about gender inequities, and to generate and analyse gender-sensitive data for planning and evaluating policies and programmes. Bolivia, Haiti, Honduras and Venezuela are being assisted in preparing national population censuses, applying an analysis that addresses gender equity.

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The Role of Donors

The international donor community has strongly supported efforts to promote gender equality. The commitment of donor organizations is clear in policy statements,21 in institutional mechanisms22 and in reporting23 since the ICPD and FWCW, but this commitment is not yet backed by adequate resources.

The ICPD agreed that $5.7 billion in international assistance would be needed for reproductive health and population programmes in the year 2000, rising to $7.2 billion a year in 2015. Only about $2.1 billion a year is currently being made available.24

Better collaboration among donors is needed to reduce duplication and share expertise, in line with reforms of United Nations development assistance.

UNIFEM and UNFPA have signed a memorandum of understanding increasing cooperation in support of national efforts. UNFPA gender specialists give support to UNIFEM projects and training activities around the world.

UNFPA has adopted programming guidelines on gender equality and sensitivity25 and operational guidance for its field offices on promoting women's empowerment and human rights.26 Other organizations of the United Nations system, including UNICEF, UNDP, WHO, the International Labour Organization and the World Food Programme, have also prepared guidelines and manuals on the subject.

The World Bank has produced a Policy Research Report on Gender and Development,27 analysing the importance to development of gender issues and women's empowerment, and has reported on lending programmes and projects funded by World Bank loans.28 The Bank is developing strategies and reviews of gender concerns in sectoral programmes.29

Agencies will need to continue and intensify these efforts.

Private foundations, including the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Summit Foundation, the Wallace Global Fund and the United Nations Foundation, are playing an increasingly important role in supporting national programmes to promote reproductive health and gender equality.

Increased support from the donor community will encourage national and local efforts.

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The Challenges Ahead

Social change is always difficult, particularly when the basic relations between men and women in families and society are involved. The past several decades have seen greater attention and some progress towards the empowerment of women. There has also been a growing recognition of how the rules governing men and women's opportunities, social endowments and behaviours affect the prospect for accelerated development and justice.

The changes in these relationships, and the systems of power and belief that support them, are no less sweeping and important than changes under way in spheres such as globalization, governance, information technology and urbanization. Societies need their own solutions, grounded in a vision of justice and gender equality and consistent with their cultures and conditions, to provide a better life for both women and men.

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