Published on Voices

Finding a new balance

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Originally published on the Third International Conference on Financing for Development blog

We are entering this new phase of development with vital experience. We learnt from the Millennium Development Goals that gender equality is a pre-requisite for success in achieving international goals. It’s not easy. Analysis from 168 countries on progress in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action—our global blueprint for achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment—showed that no country has achieved gender equality, and spotlit pervasive constraints.

Financing of course is a major issue: Gaps in addressing gender equality commitments at a national level are reported as high as 90 percent. But, as we flood into Addis Ababa this week to agree on the importance of financing for development, let’s remember that what we seek must go beyond fully-financed business as usual. For development to be truly sustainable we also need to shake up the status quo and work for systemic change. The gender equality goal and gender-sensitive targets throughout the proposed sustainable development agenda are ambitious and comprehensive. To achieve them we will need to shed the constraints that limited the success of the previous cycle, with transformative financing for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Globally, women on average are paid 24% less than men. We are challenging employers in the public and private sectors to take a hard look at their payrolls. Data from France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey suggest that women earn 31-75% less than men over their lifetimes. In developing regions, up to 95% of women’s employment is informal, in jobs that are unprotected by labor laws and lack social protection.

Globally, women spend 2.5 times more of their time on unpaid care and domestic work than men. This is a structural cause of gender inequality, along with violence against women, restricted education, limited control over assets and property, and unequal participation in private and public decision making.

Over a lifetime, and all over the world, the combination of these factors adds up to a devastating loss of security, status and rights. These facts are indictments of the current status quo. They are reflections—and reinforcements—of economies and societies that chronically undervalue girls and women.

But the tide is turning. Women’s organizations and civil society more broadly have been key engines for change, and continue to play an essential role in demanding the accountability of all stakeholders for the full implementation of international norms and standards on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Our work on gender-responsive planning and budgeting, undertaken in 73 countries worldwide, confirms that well-targeted spending of increases in domestically mobilized resources and development aid can contribute to the realization of women’s rights.

Governments are waking up to what society has been missing. In Tanzania, primary school fees were abolished and farm input subsidies were reintroduced in response to lobbying by women’s organizations to ensure that government budgets support women’s rights. Cambodia, Costa Rica, Mauritius and Sri Lanka have reduced spending on security and the military and redirected resources to fund social protection, while Bolivia and Botswana are using revenue from natural resources to fund universal social pensions. Sweden has the world’s first feminist government with gender equality permeating government policy.

Official Development Assistance allocations must prioritize sectors where spending remains inadequate, such as agriculture, women’s enterprises, transport, energy, water and sanitation and social protection including early education and care services. Addressing the gaps in these sectors is essential for reducing and redistributing women and girls’ unpaid care and domestic work so they have more time to participate in education, learning and economic activities. So far, the record on this has been dismal: in OECD-DAC reviews, only 5% of all aid targeted gender equality as a principal objective in 2012-2013. When it comes to aid investment in women’s economic empowerment, the percentage was even lower—2%—and aid to economic and productive sectors has remained flat.

The private sector is a vital counterpart to public action, and must take full account of the gender implications of its investments as well as its own internal operations, taking responsibility for how it employs people. The scrutiny of employment conditions, workers’ health and safety, for example, must extend beyond what happens in parent firms to the millions of women workers who are working throughout the value chain. We also need trade unions and workers’ movements to get on board.

To build momentum in all these areas, we need better data, more effective national gender equality machineries and greater efforts to make gender mainstreaming the standard strategy in government policy making. Governments can increase political participation through special measures; address discriminatory laws, and ensure implementation of current beneficial measures through well-chosen policies, for example that reduce and redistribute unpaid care work, and address the barriers that women and women-owned businesses face in accessing financial services, investment, and technology. When these measures are able to reach those who are most disadvantaged, they will make far-reaching contributions to creating enabling environments and addressing the underlying structures of inequality.

We now have an opportunity to drive transformative change for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. The international community must now show the political resolve to endorse a comprehensive global financing framework that matches the ambition of the new development agenda, one that is farsighted, and that will make women’s rights and equality a reality.


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