Report from Gender Equality results meeting

UNU-WIDER / December 2013
Roger Williamson

The Danish State Secretary for Development Policy Charlotte Slente, welcomed the participants and contributors to the meeting and stressed the centrality of gender equality to Danish development policy. She indicated that the understanding of gender equality includes redistribution of resources between women and men, sexual and reproductive rights, a woman’s right to control her own body and determine her own sexuality, land rights and access to financial services.

A video greeting from the Nobel laureate in economics, Amartya Sen, summarized his thinking on the artificiality of unequal treatment of women. He argued that this needs be corrected through enlightenment and agency. Education and employment are key for women increasing their voice and agency. It is not only a matter of eradication of poverty – there is no automatic improvement in the status of girls and women as a result of economic growth. The example of Kerala was raised where we can see consistently better outcomes with regards to equality and development than in richer states as a result of social attitudes and deliberate policies.

Caren Grown provided an introductory overview of the topic of gender in foreign aid, referring to the importance of the statement by Amartya Sen and his track record in calling attention many years ago to the missing millions of women. She quoted the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon (8 March 2008) who posited "investing in women is not only the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do. I am deeply convinced that, in women, the world has at its disposal, the most significant and yet largely untapped potential for development and peace." 

Caren Grown argued that one should not only rely on such an instrumental case to defend investment in gender equality– but should stress that women’s rights are human rights. Yet, it is often the instrumental case which moves donors. She called attention to two important recent reports from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Bank.

As long ago as 1992, Larry Summers had made the case that girls’ education was the best return on investment which can be made among development options. There is a virtuous circle of more girls in school, reduced fertility, and more women in the labour force. Even the World Bank now admits that growth will not eliminate gender inequities.

Women spend on average two hours a day more than men on unpaid work. Unpaid care includes childcare, care for the elderly, food preparation and cooking, and gathering fuel. There needs to be a twin track of 1) gender mainstreaming and 2) particular emphasis on women’s empowerment. Areas of work such as health, education and microfinance lend themselves to this approach and significant progress has been made. Agriculture and governance have not had the same degree of attention from a gender perspective, except in fragile states. Poor women need bundled services. Less poor women require assistance and support for entrepreneurship, and also job information and vocational training. Women’s work is often more vulnerable than men’s. They also need childcare and other support services. As well as the mainstreaming approach, it is important that stand alone approaches and scaling up are used. Prevention of gender-based violence is perhaps the most urgent and obvious example.

Introduction to gender and foreign aid – flows, allocation, big picture outcomes

Leonce Ndikumana centred his presentation on aid effectiveness. There is both a difficulty with quantity (inadequate volume of aid) and quality (allocational inefficiency). Increasing agricultural productivity is a key development challenge – and highly relevant to women in poor countries. Additionality is weak: more could be gained through enhanced spill over effects and improved technology and knowledge transfer. Policy and institutions are not responsive enough to the best practice in aid. You cannot improve aid efficiency if you don’t improve institutions. There continues to be poor alignment of incentives and interests. In addition, certain areas like infrastructure have been relatively impervious to a gendered approach – although this should change. It is necessary to change both policies and institutions.

Kai Gehring looked at gender inequality and the allocation of aid. There seems to be little evidence of merit-based allocation of aid i.e. of rewarding good outcomes. Improvements in education and female literacy have been followed by reductions in aid. The work has uncovered interesting correlations – all of which, of course, require interpretation and detailed examination for plausible descriptions of causation. For example, left-wing donor governments tend to support education and women’s rights more strongly. Donors with a high percentage of women in parliament tend to reward countries with higher female representation.

Mina Baliamoune-Lutz documented the major changes in the Middle East and North Africa region in terms of advances for women and girls. There have been significant advances for women in the region, with considerable variations from country to country, but a great deal is still needs to be done culturally, economically and politically. In some countries there are significantly more female Members of Parliament and women in leading positions than in others – but in the region as a whole only 17.8% of parliamentarians are women. Family planning has not been as effective as one would hope – stronger political representation by women would certainly bring results in that regard. High adolescent fertility rates predictably have a negative effect on women’s political participation. Women took on a more active role in some countries (Tunisia) than in others (Libya or Yemen) during the “Arab Spring”.

Actors is foreign aid

Eugenia McGill reviewed gender mainstreaming in major Asian donors such as the Asian Development Bank, Australian Aid, JICA, KOICA and the New Zealand Aid Programme. Key elements are: strong leadership, expertise and accountability, effective procedures and practices, capacity-building measures for staff and development partners, adequate financial resources and rigorous evaluation. Current challenges include political changes and restructuring, the way economic development projects are conducted and weak or uneven implementation of gender policy commitments.

Malokele Nanivazo presented a study on gender mainstreaming in three of the Nordic development agencies (Denmark, Finland and Sweden). Gender equality is a priority and well-funded in all three agencies. Implementation remains weaker than the rhetoric at programmatic level.

Nilima Gulrajani’s presentation suggested a transition in perception from business as a tool for growth, through corporate social responsibility as well as inclusive business to social business. The presentation profiled two challenge funds supported by DFID (UK) and SIDA (Sweden). She outlined six principles for engaging with the private sector:

  1. Carefully consider donor and corporate comparative advantages.
  2. Be clear and ambitious with gender objectives in the project selection phase.
  3. Partner with committed social businesses.
  4. Integrate and ensure consistency between gender strategies and markets – for poverty strategies.
  5. Engage corporate actors more pro-actively on gender.
  6. Ensure greater oversight over third party engagement.

Aid Effectiveness and Gender Equality – from a partner country perspective

Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury outlined the context in Bangladesh – where much of the population live on less that $1 per day. However, growth alone will not necessarily lead to the desired social outcomes. Gender equality has to be assessed in that wider context with commitment to poverty eradication dimensions of the MDGs and post-MDGs central. Human security and food security are also key. Gender equality must be brought to the core of the development drive. Judgement on aid effectiveness must be made to include gender-based violence, and equality in education and political participation. Her experience is that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was sometimes not included in aid planning.

Khieu Serey Vuthea described her work in Cambodia. Her Ministry has pioneered gender mainstreaming and now has a National Council of Women to help implement CEDAW. The Ministry has a strategic plan on issues including pension equality, economic empowerment and access to justice and leadership positions.

Pakistani politician Attiya Inayatullah reviewed the progress of recent decades. The agenda is now centred around women’s empowerment – meaning entitlement, women’s agency, and a human rights agenda. Even so, women’s development issues are still underrepresented in the post-2015 discussion. Gender should be central to that development framework. Budgets tend to be decided by “important people” whereas gender issues are isolated and side-lined in the political process. Inayatullah also argued that aid donors should invest in family planning.

Aid and sectoral issues

Jasmine Gideon stressed the importance of power relations and of not having an over-medicalized understanding of health in a development context. 16 out of 68 Countdown to 2015 countries have had their development aid reduced. In addition, there is a reductionism applied to women’s health, so that women’s health becomes a proxy for reproductive rights. Women’s voices are often excluded when funds are distributed at local level.

Nathalie Holvoet presented work which shows a clear effect of gender-disaggregated data and index in education in improving the educational status of girls – and suggested wider application of the approach. Gender working groups also have a positive impact.

Sirkku Hellsten argued that the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security agenda and the development agenda too often run in parallel, rather than being integrated. This runs the danger of violence against women not being adequately dealt within development interventions. The UN has decided that 15% of UN managed funds should be allocated to work on UNSCR1325. Hellsten posited the question to the audience: could the donor community match this commitment?

Helle Munk Ravnborg presented an overview on women and land rights. Women own only 15% of the land in sub-Saharan Africa. However, she warned that moving too quickly to formalise land rights might undermine women’s situation by undercutting secondary land rights.

Panel discussion on the future of aid and gender equality

Patti O’Neill (OECD) stressed the need for a stand alone goal for the post 2015 development response. It needs to be a really well integrated package of issues which will not be adequately addressed under other headings. It needs to include the gender dimensions of education, sexual and reproductive rights – family planning, economic issues and women peace and security.

Cindy Clark provided some of the main messages from the study Watering the Leaves, Starving the Roots produced by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID). This gives an overview of funding for women’s organizations in development and tracks changes since the previous survey had been done. One finding is that the median income of women’s organisations in the sample is c. $20,000 – with more money being mobilized “in-country” than previously. At least rhetorically “women and girls” is generally included as a priority. There is a diversification of funding (more private sector actors) and corporatization of development is an increasing trend.  Clark emphasized violence against women and campaigning against early marriage as important priorities.

The panel underlined that there is a problem of donors “holding back” under the pretext of not wanting to pre-empt the process of designing sustainable development targets beyond-2015 on the basis of arguments about country ownership. They should ensure that appropriate priorities relating to the gender agenda are central. The Eighth Session of the Open Working Group (February 3-7 2014) is an important late opportunity to do so.

It needs to be noted that a number of countries are restructuring their aid programmes, cutting staff and shifting their focus. The UN Commission on the Status of Women is meeting from 10th-21st March 2014. This is also an important opportunity to ensure that the new set of development targets are properly formulated with a gender dimension running right through with particular goals identified. It is essential that the national reports are of high quality in this regard. Detailed gender data is required on e.g. the percentage of women unemployed or in vulnerable work, the situation of woman and girls in conflict, post-conflict and fragile states (all related to UNSCR1325).

Caren Grown gave examples of how transport and infrastructure also can reflect a proper gender perspective. Women are much more dependent on public transport and less likely to have private cars. She also gave the example of the design of a bridge in the Philippines, where the steps were too high for women of shorter stature, who were likely to be looking after young children and also carrying. Planning needs also to take into account that there is, for example, sufficient space for safe sidewalks, and the availability of handrails. By these means a gender dimension can be brought into infrastructure projects.

Lucia Hanmer  (World Bank) profiled the 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development which catalogues the dramatic changes in the lives of women and girls in the last 25 years. The 2013 report on Jobs gives important information on the situation of women in labour markets. The World Bank now takes seriously that gender equality is the right thing to do – on its own merits.  It is certainly now well beyond either arguing only that the full involvement of women in the economy is good for growth or instrumentalizing women’s work in other ways. Gender is now a central dimension in the country dialogues. Gender data is used as a diagnostic for lending, there are still knowledge gaps but a serious attempt is being made to fill these, and finding ways of leveraging additional financial commitments to benefit women are part of the Bank’s activities. Inclusion of gender data in the Bank’s analysis and programme design is now almost universal. All IBRD and IDA financial transactions are gender informed. Country assistance strategies are based on a diagnostic which incorporates gender data. The World Bank is currently working on a report on Women’s Voice, Agency and Participation. The Africa region’s Gender Innovation Lab is important and the Bank has supported work against gender-based violence.

Carolina Wennerholm (SIDA) indicated that gender in development is one of the top three priorities of the agency. One key challenge is to work out viable and convincing indicators to inform and strengthen this priority. Patti O’Neill indicated that the gender marker was currently the best agreed tool which we have, but that it is good that Swedish colleagues are trying to develop more sophisticated metrics.

Discussion: After the highly contentious debates on reproductive health and family planning, Cairo had achieved some sort of closure on the debate with the agreement that abortion was not to be regarded as a method of family planning. UNU-WIDER work has argued that the USA’s contentious 1994 Mexico City Policy (MCP) does have unintended consequences for development.

Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) must be more informed from a gender perspective. Post-2015, there is a need a transformational target. OECD countries should press recipient countries to use something similar to the gender equality marker for assessing the gender impact of aid interventions. Employment and empowerment for women – particularly in agriculture remains a vital challenge. The BRIC countries are here to stay, and must be engaged in development dialogue – with a stress on gender.

Mina Baliamoune-Lutz pointed out that China, India and the Middle Eastern countries all have high levels of gender inequality. She also issued a challenge to the men present; that they should assist in full inclusion, not least so that when and if the tables are turned, men have learnt the arguments they will need to press for full inclusion and rebalancing society and the economy. Leonce Ndikumana argued for the importance of better aid statistics based on disbursement not commitments, since it is the former which counts.

In conclusion

Finn Tarp, in conclusion, stressed that women’s rights are human rights, and that as head of a UN institution he was keen to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, rather than succumb to relativism on human rights. It should still serve to inspire the values which all governments have committed themselves too. It may not be easy to use as an operational tool, but the challenge is to apply it in different contexts. Household surveys serve as a way of showing the reality of women’s lives. Development must be a way of improving their life chances and liberating their time – he recalled the development of a better variety of cassava which transformed the lives of rural women in Mozambique. The issue of gender equality would remain on the UNU-WIDER agenda, which, for 2014-2018 has set as its priorities: economic transformation, inclusion and sustainability. 

Roger Williamson is currently Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and consultant at UNU-WIDER.