Gender on G8

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For the first time in history, women's economic empowerment will be on the G8 agenda in 2007.

German Chancellor Merkel made the commitment at a High Level Summit on Women’s Economic Empowerment in Berlin last month (to launch the World Bank Group Gender Action Plan: Gender Equality as Smart Economics). It seems it has taken a woman at the helm of the G8 to finally get this critical issue on the agenda.

The links between gender and growth have been attracting increasing interest since The Economist asserted last year "Forget China, India and the internet: economic growth is driven by women" and pointed out that in the last decade women's increasing entry into paid employment has contributed more to global growth than China.

As a recent IMF Working Paper notes, a range of studies now suggests that societies that increase women's access to education, health care, employment and credit and that narrow differences between men and women in economic opportunities increase the pace of economic development and reduce poverty. So if this all makes so much sense why aren't countries doing more to improve the legal and economic status of women?

Speaking at the German summit, CEO Abed of BRAC, pointed out that around a quarter of countries still have laws that prohibit women’s land ownership and criticized governments for impeding women's ability to lift themselves out of poverty and contribute to economic growth. In a number of African countries, for example, custom law overrides constitutional principles of gender equality, preventing women from inheriting land and hence hindering their access to business loans and producer groups, keeping them stuck in the informal economy. Women are the overwhelming majority of those.

So why aren't international institutions and bilateral donors putting more pressure on developing country governments to provide women equal rights?

The African Development Bank spokesperson at the Berlin summit pointed out the tension between the notion of country ownership of development agendas and the conditionalities that used to accompany development assistance. He asked "How can donors and IFIs legitimately give unconditional budget support in countries where the legal system effectively disenfranchises 50% of the population?" What do others think?

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