An Analysis of the Sustainable Development Goals from a gender perspective. How do they compare with the former Millennium Development Goals when looked at with a gender lens?



On the 25th of September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly took on the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development as the proper scheme for International Development. The Sustainable Development Goals succeeded the Millenium Development Goals. This will be a short paper evaluating and analysing how the Sustainable Development Goals compare to the previous Millenium Development Goals as well as how and if they succeed in the first place. In particular, this will be through the lens of a gender perspective.



The Millenium Development Goals


The Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) were a group of 8 International Development Goals to be achieved by 2015. They had been established at the Millenium Summit in 2000.The goals were: to eradicate poverty and hunger, to achieve universal primary education, to promote gender equality and empower women, to reduce child mortality, to improve maternal health, to combat  HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, to ensure environmental sustainability, to establish a global partnership for development.Each of the 189 member states of the United Nations and more than 22 International Organisations committed to trying to attain each of these goals in their countries.Many individuals and organisations complained that these were not the goals that should be focused on and that there was in fact not enough analysis given to the chosen goals. In particular Goal 3, the Goal to Promote gender equality and empower women, one of it’s primary goals was to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by  2005 and at all levels by 2015.This was to be done by implementing fixes in a few key areas. To begin with the ratio of boys and girls in primary, secondary and tertiary education, at that time there was vast inequality and many more boys than girls studying in higher and secondary education. Next, the goals hoped to tackle the share of wages in employment in the non-agricultural sector and finally to have an equal appropriation of seats in national parliaments for women.Many argue that the Millenium Development Goals were unsuccessful in some ways, especially from a gender perspective. According to the UN MDGS Gender Chart showed how the MDGS were progressive in many ways, yet still have many issues to deal with, hopefully through the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030.For example, the MDGS were very successful regarding poverty reduction by reducing the people living in extreme poverty by over 50%.One of the MDGS goals was to achieve universal productive rights and reduce maternal mortality rates by three-quarters of the levels in 1990. The MDG achieved reducing these rates by half since 2000, yet still, one maternal death was reported every ten minutes in India, double the ambitions of the MDGs.The goals of the MDGs were based on data in the 1960s and the following of trends of where progress would happen. This clearly points out not only a failure of the UN but also a complete slowing down of movement altogether. The United Nations Development Fund said: “Inadequate funding for family planning is a major failure in fulfilling commitments to improving women’s reproductive health.” [Un representative, Un report,2012] Development ideals for the MDGs from a gender perspective could not be achieved unless the Patriarchal hierarchy can be adapted towards progression. One way that maternal death rates in Ogun were being prevented in Nigeria was by giving maternal women in remote areas cellphones. However, whenever the phones were called, it was their father or husband who answered.The phones were already being confiscated from the women and giving the phone to women from then on was pointless. Scenarios like this and other are hoped to be prevented with the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.


The Sustainable Development Goals

As mentioned before on the 25th of September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly took on the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are planned to supersede the MDGs in some ways. The SDGs have been designed to be more comprehensive in scope, transformative for the planet and will be able to be universally applied. The MDGs were focused only on developing nations as opposed to before where the focus was almost solely on developing countries. Goal number 5 of the SDGs is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. This Goal is similar to Goal 3 of the MDGs. However, they do differ in some ways. The SDGs were formed mostly by people in the areas where the goals are to be implemented as opposed to the MDG’s which were drawn up in the UN headquarters. This a move which shows the UN trust to experts in the field rather than only office staff who may not have as many hands on experience where development is to be made. The example that was shown before of the mobile phones being taken from women in Ogun can be better implemented. The MDGs were not prepared for such situations, but  by relying on more in-depth consultation, the SDGs can help promote gender equality where development failed before. The SDGs plan to empower women more so than the MDG’s ever did by working much more closely than civil society organisations. Empowerment can be defined as a “multi-dimensional social process that helps people gain control over their own lives. It is a process that fosters power (that is, the capacity to implement) in people, for use in their own lives, their communities, and in their society, by acting on issues that they define as important” [Directorate –general for internal policies, policy department C, citizens rights and constitutional affairs]. In fact, according to UN World Survey on the Role of Women in Development 2014,” there are proven synergies between women’s empowerment and economic, social and environmental sustainability.” [Directorate –general for internal policies, policy department C, citizens rights and constitutional affairs].






There were many complications with the Millennium Development Goals. People argued that they were poorly implemented and did not gain the results they were intended to. They  did, however, help promote gender inequality in some ways “As of October 2013, women were 21.8 percent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses and 19.4 per cent of Senate or upper houses, up from 12 per cent and 10.1 per cent in January 1997, respectively.”[UN, progress towards meeting the MDGs for women.] and “Gender parity in schooling worldwide is closest to being achieved at the primary level; however, only 2 out of 130 countries have achieved that target at all levels of education.”[MDG3,]. In the numerous areas that the MDGs failed to promote true gender equality, the SDGs are hoped to succeed. Development will be worked towards on a case by case basis rather than devised from UN headquarters. It is entirely possible that the SDGs will encourage equality more than before, they give individuals agency that they never had with the MDGs, it will be 2030 however before the results are shown.


Interview with Ven. Dr. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni

Ven. Dr. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni
(ธัมมนันทา ภิกษุณี)

“Remember three things in life think of yourself as in a cocoon as we are 1.To always be humble,2. Be eager 3. Always seek to improve yourself. No one can stop us now,, not the Sangha or others,we are growing and will continues to grow….No one can stop us now”

1.How can Buddhism be used as an effective tool to empower women in Thailand
1.Yes most definitely, through communication and development, Buddhism is part of our Thai cultural identity and therefore can be used to empower women

2.The Tripitaka because it was written by men with Indian social values of that time could be said to oppress women?
2.Yes, for sure, it was written in a time when social values were different, and gender norms were also different.It was a different time then, and things were not as they are now

3.What are your thought on the 8 gurudhamas?
3. Even if a monk or junior comes to our temple, I will Wai and welcome them.These are to be followed but read carefully.Look at an example of when a group of bhikkhunis were having their robes lifted by a group of young monks.The Buddha intervened and told the bhikkhunis that they do not have to show respect to the monks, this is one of the several examples, always read the footnotes in life and most importantly always be humble

4.Do you feel you need to follow the precepts more strictly because you are bhikkhunis and may be judged unfairly?
4. Yes, indeed, eyes are on us, and we are women after all.

5.Some women in Thailand feel they need to make more merit than men in Thailand, why is this?
Yes, this is also cultural, women make merit at the temple and give offerings in the mornings, yet it is the men who lead the ceremonies.At the temple it is the women who sit on the outside furthest from the monks, even their sons are closer to the centre.

6.What are your thoughts on Mae Ji’s?
6. I depend on you and you depend on me, my grandmother was illiterate and she is a Mae ji, yet when it came to praying she knew everything.she prayed beautifully.Mae Ji’s are not ordained, nor do they receive the benefits of being so.In fact, they are more often treated like servants, having to wash the monk’s clothes and cleaning.Look at the four pillars of the Buddhist community, like legs on a chair, The Bhikkus(monks) Bhikkhunis(nuns), Laymen and Laywomen.Mae Ji’s are a new concept

7.In Thai folklore some people believe that women are born from bad karma, What are your thoughts?
We are all born of good and bad karma, and all have the same potential to reach enlightenment, it is cultural, the culture protects you.Look at the way a young man may drink and be drunk, and it is acceptable but what would people opinions be if it was a woman?

8.Do you ever see a bhikkhunis Sangha being possible in Thailand?
Yes, we have over 100 bhikkhunis in Thailand currently as well as this we have a network throughout ASEAN and Asia. This is for Theravada Buddhism, in Mahayana they don’t need to worry they have over 22,000 in some countries alone.

9.Some have dubbed the bhikkhunis as rebels, what are your thoughts?
Not many in Thailand understand Buddhism truly like when the Buddha first said no to his aunt and her followers when they asked to be ordained, this was not because of their gender, but because they were women of the court, they could not handle the conditions.Many forget that the Buddha was from a time when social values were different.

10.What do you see as the future of the Bhikkhunis in Thailand?
10.Remember three things in life, think of yourself as in a cocoon as we are 1.To always be humble,2. Be eager 3. Always seek to improve yourself. No one can stop us now, not the Sangha or others, we are growing and will continue to grow.



I mentioned I was gong to visit Ven. Dr Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, well I have now been and visited for a few days. She was inspiring, she knew all the Buddhist teachings and takes to apply them in modern times. There has been very mixed opinions about her throughout Thailand.She has often been condemned by the  Thai Sangha which is the governing body of monks in Thailand, the Sangha holds huge political power also.These are just a few of the questions that I asked her. She emphasised the fact that is women who make most of the merit(giver food to the monks in the morning, prepare food at the temple, cleaning etc).When it comes to religious ceremony and offerings the women have to sit at the back, furthest from the monks, even the mothers and grandmothers, their sons going before them. With Buddhism being a major part of Thai cultural identity(Over 95% Buddhists) what would happen if women were also allowed to be ordained once more, it would revesre these roles and in fact empower women who then have role models in their religion which takes part in almost all aspects of Thai daily life.

Attached is my photo when talkin with her, also the books which she has written.Although she has ordained now, she has written many books, talked at UN conferences, TED talks, and even been nominated for the nobel peace prize.She came across as a very genuine woman with a wealth of knowledge and a great sense of humor.