This past May, I traveled to Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania to produce “Mind the Gap: Gender Equality and Trade in Africa” with a Nairobi-based film crew. As I headed off on my first official trip, I read and re-read the chapters that this film was designed to complement — all part of a fantastic new book, “Women and Trade in Africa: Realizing the Potential.” I felt very comfortable with the facts and figures — tourism in Kenya accounts for 12.5 percent of GDP; cotton is the third largest export in Uganda; small business owners are a huge part of Tanzania’s export economy, etc. — but did not fully understand the situation we were trying to explore until I met Mary.
In September 2013, four elderly sisters in Botswana were finally and definitively allowed to remain in the ancestral home where they had spent most of their lives — the result of their own tenacity and determination that a young nephew could not step in and take ownership of a property they had lovingly maintained.
This landmark decision by the highest court in Botswana, the Court of Appeal, followed five years of efforts by women’s networks and legal associations who helped the sisters bring their claim. The judges decided that customary laws favoring the rights of the youngest male heir were simply out of date.
“The Constitutional values of equality before the law and the increased leveling of the power structures with more and more women heading households and participating with men as equals in the public sphere and increasingly in the private sphere demonstrate that there is no rational and justifiable basis for sticking to the narrow norms of days gone by when such norms go against current value systems,” wrote Justice Lesetedi of the Botswana Court of Appeal.
The reform of discriminatory laws can lead to transformative change.
This week I had the pleasure of attending Women Deliver 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — the largest global gathering of the decade to focus on the health and well-being of girls and women. The conference convened several thousand people from 140 countries — including many ministers and parliamentarians — to generate momentum and political commitment for girls’ and women’s rights and reproductive health.
We heard the voices of the wealthy and powerful — like Melinda Gates and Chelsea Clinton — as well as the voices that too often go unheard — including young people, sexual minorities, widows, women with disabilities, and women living with HIV and AIDS. I was really inspired by the passion of all the participants — of whom, by the way, 40% were male, quite a high proportion for gender events — and was reminded that the safe and healthy experience I had having my own kids is so far from the reality of many millions of women around the world.
co-authored with Alaka Holla
Everyone always says that great things happen when you give money to women. Children start going to school, everyone gets better health care, and husbands stop drinking as much. And we know from impact evaluations of conditional cash transfers programs that a lot of these things are true (see for example this review of the evidence by colleagues at the World Bank). But, aside from just giving them cash with conditions, how do we get money in the hands of women? Do the programs we use to increase earnings work the same for men and women? And do the same dimensions of well-being respond to these programs for men and women?
The answer is we don’t know much. And we really should know more. If we don’t know what works to address gender inequalities in the economic realm, we can’t do the right intervention (at least on purpose). This makes it impossible to economically empower women in a sustainable, meaningful way. We also don’t know what this earned income means for household welfare. While the evidence from CCTs for example might suggest that women might spend transfers differently, we don’t know whether more farm or firm profits for a woman versus a man means more clothes for the kids and regular doctor visits. We also don’t know much about the spillover effects in non-economic realms generated by interventions in the productive sectors and whether these also differ across men and women. Quasi-experimental evidence from the US for example suggests that decreases in the gender wage-gap reduce violence against women (see this paper by Anna Aizer), but some experimental evidence by Fernald and coauthors from South Africa suggests that extending credit to poor borrowers decreases depressive symptoms for men but not for women.