Millennium Development Goals


2. A summary of some of the key criticisms of the idea as well as the context/practice of the MDGs

Some of the key criticisms include:

  • They are too narrow in scope and focus - they have left out key areas such as strong governance, employment, reproductive healthcare and institutional reform at international level
  • They rely on indicators that are too narrow e.g. school enrolment gaps to track progress in gender equality or numbers of telephones to measure technological change
  • They are unrealistic and have set a stage for failure and therefore for dis-illusion and they can be used to 'name and shame' countries that do not achieve the goals
  • They could distort national priorities and could be imposed 'top down' on governments and peoples by donors thus undermining local ownership of the agenda
  • The MDGs are the latest set of 'targets' and 'objectives' agreed by the 'international community' to which there is only lukewarm commitment and not a lot of real political will, despite having agreed to them, governments will, in effect, ignore them.
  • They are very often abstracted from the social, political and economic realities in which they exist and from which they arise e.g. existing unequal power relations, international poverty etc.
  • They have only an indirect relationship with the human rights obligations identified in, for example, the 1986 UN Declaration on the Right to Development.
  • For many, especially those working in the filed of health and development, health in the MDGs is viewed primarily as disease or death and the link between health and wider issues of poverty and inequality is not drawn.
  • The aim of gender equality and the notion of women's 'empowerment' is reduced to improving women's access to education.

One commentator, Sarah Bradshaw, a gender researcher working with CISAS in Nicaragua, summarises the main criticisms of the Millennium Development process as follows:

'MDGs may distract from wider development issues and the commitments made at UN conferences.?The notions of equity and equality for all underpinning the Human Rights framework is lost, retreating from UN principles and undermining its work and status. The MDGs allow further expansion of the influence of the World Bank and the IMF into the social policy arena while not altering the existing macroeconomic policy framework nor adequately addressing trade imbalances.

The focus on a narrow set of linear, measurable targets means the analysis of, and attention to root causes is lost and replaced by reliance on technical fixes. The goals of gender equality and health for all are co-opted within the MDGs and become not ends/goals in themselves but means to an end and women in particular are key for ensuring the other goals, placing further burdens on them.

The conceptualisation of women within the MDGs may actually make the situation worse for women given the goals do nothing to change inequalities and actions to meet the goals may actually strengthen rather than challenge gender stereotypes. The exclusion of any discussion around sexual and reproductive rights is a fundamental weakness of the MDGs and questions the possibility that the MDG process can bring any improvement in the situation of women.'