|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-second General Assembly
Panel Discussion (PM)
speaker in Second Committee panel discussion calls inequality ‘bad economics’,
calls for integration of gender perspective into monterrey follow-up process
Noting the growing evidence that gender inequality was bad economics, Isabella Bakker, Professor and former Chair of Political Science at York University, stressed today the crucial importance of integrating a gender perspective into the Monterrey follow-up process, which had thus far paid only limited attention to gender equality and women’s participation.
Speaking during a Second Committee (Economic and Financial) panel discussion on “Financing for gender equality within the context of follow-up to the Monterrey Consensus”, Ms. Bakker said that, according to the 2007 Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific, gender inequality cost the region $80 billion annually. “The region loses up to $47 billion annually because of restrictions of women’s access to employment, and up to $30 billion because of gender gaps in education,” she said, adding: “It’s clear from statistics that there remains a crucial need for resources in order to improve women’s lives and eliminate gender gaps in quality of life and life chances.”
Most of the world’s extremely poor people were women, who earned on average just slightly more than half of what men earned, she said, pointing out also that violence and maternal mortality were major causes of death and disability for women aged 16 to 44 years. The Monterrey Consensus made several references to women’s empowerment and gender, but they were not directly integrated throughout the leading action areas. The document contained a call for gender sensitivity in applying polices and programmes, but no clear time frame or institutional arrangements for implementing gender mainstreaming objectives in the context of other development goals.
She said the lack of coherence between economic policies emphasizing low inflation and mobility of capital on the one hand, and social commitments to poverty reduction, human rights and gender equality on the other hand was a key shortfall of the Consensus in terms of financing for gender equality, and that must change. Participants in the Expert Group Meeting on financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women, held in Oslo in early September, had urged Governments to integrate a gender perspective into their public finance systems and to increase the share of official development assistance devoted to women’s empowerment and gender equality to 10 per cent by 2010 and 20 per cent by 2015.
Manuel Montes, Chief of Policy Analysis and Development in the Financing for Development Office of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said there was a need to reform the Monterrey follow-up process, noting that its employment-related commitments must be adapted to include fiscal deficit and inflation targets. International aid must be predictable to enhance public expenditure planning, and given without conditions that favoured macroeconomic stability at the expense of employment and growth. Public investment must focus on enhancing domestic labour-force productivity. Further, closing the gender gap in labour- force participation would increase the size and productivity of the labour force as well as an economy’s international competitiveness. The international trade and finance system must also be reformed in order to stimulate domestic productive capacity in developing countries.
He stressed the need for countries to pay attention to the impact of women’s employment and earnings opportunities. “Women should stop being treated as ‘starter’ workers, being brought into export production to break into a world market and replaced by men when industries move into higher productivity activities.” Improving the working conditions of temporary migrant workers and facilitating the remittances of their earnings would also finance gender equality and expand financing for development. Women wanted the same things as men in terms of development and poverty reduction. While eliminating discrimination and harassment were more specific to their situation, decent productive jobs, rising incomes, reliable social services and protection, and greater public sector capacity in investment and regulation were in the interest of men as well as women.
Mohammed Chafiki, Director of Studies and Financial Forecasts at the Ministry of Finance and Privatization of Morocco, said gender-sensitive budgeting was no longer an abstract question in his country, but now corresponded to actual, local projects. For the first time in its history, Morocco had published a set of gender statistics and had set up indicators to determine women’s access to health care, education and energy, among other areas, making it possible to address gender inequality and create guidelines for the public and private sectors while furthering dialogue on issues relating gender inequality and the differing needs of the population.
He said his country was also developing a “gender report” to evaluate public policies and a “poverty map” to address poverty eradication and gender, and thus budget accordingly. School attendance had risen from 79 per cent in 1999 and 2000 to 93 per cent in 2005 and 2006, largely thanks to progress made among rural girls. Access to safe drinking water had risen, from 48 per cent in rural areas in 2001, to 90 per cent in 2007; that had had an enormous impact on women by drastically reducing the amount of time spent searching for clean water.
Stephanie Seguino, Professor of Economics and Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Vermont, noted that job creation was critical to improving the lot of women. Inflation targeting reduced the availability of credit and limited job growth, a burden disproportionately borne by women. The focus should be on targeting credit for employment creation, such as subsidized credit for small-scale agriculture, and small and medium-sized businesses. Subsidies for women farmers could stimulate internal trade and supply domestic agro-processing firms while reducing demand for imports. Sufficient public investment in infrastructure was also needed.
She said gender equity in education and other capabilities did not ensure that women would benefit from higher productivity, and there was a need for other measures to improve women’s bargaining power with employers. Firms could threaten to relocate if women did not accept a particular job, often a low-wage offer. Foreign direct investment could and should be regulated to benefit female workers. In the Caribbean, for example, Governments collectively negotiated with multinational hotel chains to source locally. State support was needed to nurture domestic entrepreneurial capabilities and thus help limit firm mobility. Indeed, much more research was needed to explore successful cases of firm mobility in the context of World Trade Organization rules.
Mariama William, Research Associate of the International Gender and Trade Network, said the question of gender equality was positioned between the “two scissor blades” of economic liberalization and a “highly contractive security or war on terror agenda”, reducing the space for human security and having a restrictive effect of human rights. Both economic liberalization and the war on terror hurt human rights, as they entailed a return to a highly militarized State and a “one-size-fits-all” economic policy. Regarding economic liberalization, there was little accountability and responsibility, either at the institutional or corporate levels. There had been widespread market failure, due to an excessive focus on a narrow set of economic indicators, as well as “unrelenting stress and strain” on the global market.
In general, little attention was paid to how policy variables impacted social infrastructure such as child care and housing, she said. Restrictive fiscal policy measures, such as a rise in sales tax, had a “pronouncedly negative impact” on social equity, as they impacted directly on household budgets. While free trade had initially been presented as a “panacea” to social and economic inequality, that notion was now recognized as an illusion. Instead of earmarking Aid for Trade funds to develop supply capacity, funds should be used on increasing women’s participation in trade and on training programmes.
During the ensuing discussion, questions were put to the panellists by representatives of Egypt, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, a Sudanese non-governmental organization, the International Trade Union Confederation and the Association of University Women.
Concerning how women’s groups could be empowered at the national level, Mr. Chafiki said non-remunerated work was a key issue, and women’s roles in reproduction must be taken into account and measured. With regard to girls, a good deal of Morocco’s budget was being spent on girls in rural areas, whose opportunities for education tended to be restricted.
Regarding important issues to be addressed at the 2008 Doha Conference on Financing for Development, Ms. Seguino cited international financing for the rights of the individual, particularly women, and the effectiveness of aid. Public investment in infrastructure and the use of targeted credit to create employment were also of key importance.
Ms. Williams said the “magic of the market” came from social reproduction. In other words, the market was efficient because of women’s unpaid work and more resources should therefore be allocated to the kinds of issues that affected women, such as water and sanitation, and transportation.
Ms. Bakker said it was important to scale up the share of official development assistance devoted to gender empowerment and equality. The notion of gender sensitizing public finance systems was welcome, and tracking instruments should be established to monitor the use of public funds on gender equality.
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