|DESA News Vol. 12, No. 02||February 2008|
Investing in women engenders development that benefits everyone
If women are to benefit fully from development, policies and actions need to be sustainable, gender-sensitive and people-centred. But are national strategies and plans actually looking at development cooperation from women’s perspectives? With just a few months to go before a comprehensive review of the implementation of the 2002 Monterrey Consensus, the evidence suggests that on the whole they do not.
Doors have been opening slowly for women in the labour force, among other things, and too few resources are channeled towards women’s empowerment. Even as progress has been made in gender-responsive budgeting, greater efforts are needed to incorporate gender equality into national poverty reduction and development strategies. For example, women’s participation in paid, non-agricultural employment has increased by just three percent worldwide between 1990 and 2005 with no discernable progress in Northern Africa; there, just one in five paid employees is a woman.
World leaders committed in Monterrey to unleashing and increasing financial resources and achieving the economic conditions needed to reach internationally agreed development goals. The Consensus acknowledged the part played by gender equality in realizing good governance and sound economic policies, coupled with the need to empower women through appropriate national policy and regulatory frameworks. Gender-sensitive investments in basic social and economic infrastructure, microcredit for women, and business frameworks that are sensitive to the gender dimension were seen as the specific prescriptions needed to advance.
Yet although gender perspectives were injected into the Monterrey outcome, the issue of gender equality and empowerment of women has received “little attention” in follow-up processes, according to Carolyn Hannan, Director of DESA’s Division for the Advancement of Women, speaking to experts on financing for gender equality last September. Clearly, there is a “need to influence” the upcoming follow-up to Monterrey in Doha from a gender perspective. The priority theme selected for this year’s Commission on the Status of Women which gets underway in New York on 25 February is a response, in part, to that need.
The Commission’s upcoming session will be “a unique opportunity for the international community to adopt concrete policy recommendations which promote greater coherence between macroeconomic policies and resources allocations and internationally agreed development goals on gender equality,” said Ms. Hannan. Women stand to benefit as much as men from improved economic and social conditions. However, disparities between men and women will only be reduced in the process if gender equality is recognized as a key component of poverty reduction and national development. In addition, women need to be fully represented in decision-making, and equally included among development beneficiaries.
Investing in women and girls can have a multiplier effect on productivity, efficiency and sustained economic growth, says the Secretary-General in his report on financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women, prepared for the 52nd session of the Commission. According to a gender action plan entitled “Gender equality as smart economics” launched by the World Bank, the business case for expanding women’s economic opportunities is becoming more and more evident. Investing in women and girls is thus not only a matter of human rights, it also makes economic sense. According to the Secretary-General, an increase in resources to promote equality and empower women – Millennium Development Goal three – would play a major role in the achievement of all other development goals.
Moreover, gender inequality limits pro-poor growth, according to the UNDP magazine “Poverty in Focus.” Addressing gender inequality in education and employment, access to productive assets and increased time burdens due women’s to unpaid work can help improve overall economic growth and specifically contribute to pro-poor growth. Yet despite the economic benefits, research suggests that there has been only limited progress in allocating and channeling resources to translate the commitment to women’s empowerment and equality into action.
Achieving gender equality goals requires, first of all, a reallocation of existing resources and a huge injection of additional and predictable funding, experts concluded at the September meeting organized by DAW. It has been estimated that the financing gap for implementing Millennium Development Goal three on gender equality and gender mainstreaming activities in low-income countries will range from $8.6 billion in 2006 to $23.8 billion in 2015. To realize MDG3 by 2015 would require external resources dedicated to financing interventions that promote gender equality to the tune of $25-28 billion annually in the world’s low-income countries alone.
“While the costs of addressing gender inequality are significant, the means to meet these costs are available,” said Hannan, noting that research has shown that investing in women’s empowerment could be carved out of existing commitments to official development assistance. However, she added, gender equality should be funded, at least in part, through the mobilization of domestic resources to promote ownership and sustainability.
A more gender-friendly look at the Monterrey picture from its different thematic angles could help move the cause of gender equality forward. Starting with the first thematic chapter, how do we ensure that macroeconomic policies lead to mobilization of sufficient domestic resources for women’s empowerment?
Macroeconomic stabilization plans have tended to pursue a strict deficit control strategy and constrain public investment often leading to cuts in basic public services, says a UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women paper on gender perspective in financing for development presented to the DESA expert group meeting. Women can be hit hard by this sort of macroeconomic intervention since health and education services tend to receive substantial cuts. With women taking on responsibility for household maintenance and family care to a much greater degree than men, reductions in public sector expenditure imply an increased burden for women in the domestic sphere. Plus, everyone ends up paying the opportunity cost of reduced economic activity among women outside the home.
“Many implicit decisions on raising the price of health services, the cost of water or delaying infrastructure building or maintenance imposes a burden on the time of women that prevents them from taking part in the paid labour force or engaging in other activities,” says Manuel Montes, head policy analyst in the Financing for Development Office in DESA.
Public investments in infrastructure, skills, health care and so on are all the more needed as the private sector will not provide them. At the same time, they are vital to spur investment from the private sector, explains Mr. Montes. Ultimately, “closing the gender gap in participation and productivity increases the size and capacity of the labour force and the economy’s international competitiveness.”
How can the Monterrey consensus be reformed to finance gender equality? First and foremost, Montes stresses, “Through the design and implementation of public policies, trade policies and private investment that ensure employment and decent work.” This principle did not find its way into the Monterrey Consensus of 2002. However, a general consensus emerged in the 2005 World Summit that domestic resource mobilization should nonetheless be channeled to activities that promote decent work.
Women tend to be the last hired and the first fired since their earnings are still often seen as supplementary, INSTRAW cautions. This may account in part for the fact that while record numbers of women have entered the labour market in recent years, unemployment rates for women are higher than for men in almost all parts of the world. Even in industries where women have tended to constitute the bulk of workers, often in poorly paid and insecure jobs, the female proportion of the labour force has declined. Simply, competition in job markets has intensified, forcing men into industries traditionally dominated by women, such as textile and clothing export industries – under similarly poor conditions.
Appropriate policies and credit targeting are therefore pivotal for generating employment opportunities for women particularly in labour-intensive small and medium enterprises, notes the Secretary-General, where women tend to have more opportunities. The role of microfinance for enterprises, especially in rural areas and for women, for bolstering the social and economic impact of the financial sector was indeed acknowledged in the Monterrey Consensus.
Governments have discovered another way of tackling gender inequality goals: gender-responsive budgeting in which the impact of various budget allocation scenarios on women and men is assessed. This is an initiative, endorsed by the Monterrey Consensus, which has proven to be an effective strategy for linking gender policy to government action and encouraging decision-makers to devote resources to achieving gender equality objectives.
In Russia, a gender-responsive budget initiative coincided with recent administrative and social policy reform. Extensive analysis of budget plans, undertaken by national gender equality advocates with the assistance of UNIFEM, probed the budget adoption process, estimated the share of expenditures for improving women’s status, assessed funding mechanisms for pensions and social insurance, and proposed support for economic opportunities that would reduce gender discrimination.
The initiative expanded the role of women and gender experts in a critical public policy-making exercise. As a result, certain laws governing budget policy decisions now require input from gender experts, and about $1.5 billion from the federal budget has been shifted into gender-responsive measures such as increases in wages in industries where women predominate and tax breaks that benefit families. The project helped develop long-term national capacities through the intensive training of national and local gender budgeting experts. A course on gender-responsive budgeting is now mandatory for students at the Russian Academy of Public Administration, according to a UNIFEM discussion paper on gender equality for development effectiveness in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Other country experiences also demonstrate the potential application of gender budget analysis and tracking tools. Gender budget initiatives have contributed to structural changes where finance ministries are instituting policies that ensure budgeting from a gender perspective, as is the case at the national level in Morocco, Egypt, India and Venezuela, and at the local level in India, Nepal, Ecuador and Bolivia. In the Moroccan case, a gender-sensitive economic and financial report was first produced to accompany the country’s finance bill in 2006. This report includes a gender assessment that now serves as a baseline to measure progress in relation to budget and outcome indicators in the ministries of finance, health, education and agriculture.
More than fifty countries have been launching those budget initiatives over the past decade. At this point, the Secretary-General notes in his report, many initiatives have involved the analysis of budgets but there has been less emphasis on implementation. Broadening the focus to include expenditures analysis along with the revenue side of budgets is needed. Tax systems, he cautions, can perpetuate gender inequalities as well. Indirect taxes, such as value-added and excise taxes, can put a greater burden on poor women as they consume goods and services that benefit family health, education and nutrition.
The importance of foreign direct investment and other private flows to development is highlighted in the second chapter of the Monterrey Consensus. FDI offers a means to transfer knowledge and technology, create jobs, boost productivity and, ultimately, eradicate poverty through economic growth and development. As women make up the bulk of the labour force in export-oriented companies, many job opportunities have emerged for them in countries benefiting from FDI, notes the Secretary. Yet competition to attract FDI, he cautions, may result in a weakening of female workers’ bargaining power over their wages and working conditions.
INSTRAW points out that suppression of minimum wages and the right to strike, as well as temporary contracts or subcontracts depriving women of access to healthcare, have created “an overall climate of instability and unpredictability.” Recent studies, adds the paper, show that the effects of knowledge and technology transfers are also very limited, as women tend to be left out of areas that call for upgrading skills.
“The kind of foreign direct investment one would like to see,” Mr. Montes concludes, “is one that raises productivity and wages, respects labour legislation, and represents a long-term commitment to the country.”
A commitment to trade liberalization and to ensuring that trade plays its full part in promoting growth, employment and development for all was reaffirmed by world leaders in Monterrey. Yet the Consensus did not reflect the differential impact that trade could have on women and men. By way of example, trade policies can create jobs for women in countries that export labour-intensive manufactured goods, but may also lead to unemployment of women, the Secretary-General cautions, if a decline in import prices forces local industries to shut down or lay off workers.
The report of the expert group meeting held last year by DESA stresses that trade liberalization has been pursued vigorously “without sufficient attention to the fact that such liberalization can have a negative impact on government budgets.” This is especially so in countries which depend heavily on trade-related taxes. Trade liberalization can also impinge on food security in some countries because local producers may be forced out of business. “The removal of tariffs and other trade barriers has an impact on prices of goods and services consumed by households,” Ms. Hannan recalled in the meeting. “Decreases in government revenues can lead to cuts in social spending, with direct impact on household budgets, and disproportionate impact on women.”
Setting in motion strategies to ensure that women are protected against trade-related job losses, that they benefit from job creation and have expanded access to trade opportunities is one of the main recommendations of the Secretary-General’s report. Giving women’s organizations a say in decisions that concern trade is also seen as vital.
Allocating resources and sufficient staff in the gender units of donor agencies is another challenge. A survey of OECD members has revealed that while most aid agencies have gender equality policies, some do not allocate sufficient staff and financial resources for follow through on global gender equality goals. Tellingly, from 2001 to 2005 only $5 billion of a total $20 billion in bilateral aid allocated to gender-sensitive sectors such as health and education were devoted to activities that had gender equality as a significant objective. Two thirds of that funding was directed to the social sectors such as health and education, and one third to agriculture, infrastructure, and finance though the latter are seen as critical for women’s economic advancement.
Increasing resources to gender equality and empowerment of women is vital as it could play a major role in the achievement of all other development goals, the Secretary-General notes. Conversely, missing the MDG 3 target on gender equality may place a drag on economic progress, and cut growth rates by between 0.1 and 0.3 percentage points per capita. The Asia-Pacific region is already losing $42 billion to $47 billion annually because of women’s limited access to job opportunities, according to estimates from the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2007, and a further loss of $16 billion to $30 billion annually as a result of gender gaps in education.
Women and girls all too often bear the brunt of countries’ debt burden, especially if debt servicing leads to cuts in public spending in the areas of health and education. This reduces women and girls’ access to public services and inceases the caregiving burden. Debt cancellation, says the Secretary-General, can be particularly beneficial to women if resources are diverted to financing for women’s empowerment. Some countries have used debt cancellation to fund educational programmes on nutrition and family planning.
The Secretary-General calls in his report for eliminating conditionalities in debt relief and debt financing that perpetuate or exacerbate gender inequalities, and for earmarking resources released by debt relief to addressing specific gender equality targets. “What does it mean for women to be at the table when external agencies have decided on our behalf what is good for us and what is not?” asked Marina Durano of UNIFEM at the roundtable on financing for gender equality, held on 28 January in New York and co-organized by DESA.
Also within national governments, national machineries for the advancement of women are ineffective because “they are marginalized in the governments and hampered by a lack of resources and political support,” according to Hannan. “It is essential that these mechanisms receive the financial and human resources necessary to carry out their mandates in support of the implementation of policies that promote equality and women’s advancement.”
It is crucial to pull gender perspectives out of the shadows and, as the Secretary-General stresses, integrate women’s concerns into development policies across sectors if the global economic system is to promote the advancement of all people. The message of world leaders in the 2005 World Summit should resonate loudly this year at the Monterrey Consensus implementation review: “Progress for women is progress for all.”
For more information: http://www/womenwatch/daw/csw/52sesspriorityhtm.html
DESA’s support to national capacity building is an important reality check on its global research and analysis
All institutions that conduct research and analysis are faced with the challenge of sharing what they have discovered with those who can put this knowledge into practice to make a difference in the lives of people. Agricultural and industrial research centres at the country level rely on elaborate extension networks to get their message to practitioners in their sectors. Extension workers, employing a variety of promotional and communications techniques, interact directly with producers’ associations and often directly with producers to share the techniques and findings that researchers have arrived at. Good extension workers also inform researchers of the concerns and ground realities of practitioners.
For DESA, as an important centre for research and analysis on economic, social and environmental themes, such extension work takes the form of its capacity development activities for the benefit of member states. Interregional advisers and other technical cooperation personnel perform analogous functions to those of extension workers at the country level. The research conclusions and policy recommendations that they transmit to those who shape and make policy at the country level result typically from in-depth analysis by research staff and consultants of the Department.
Transmitting knowledge and skills requires, in addition to substantive knowledge of a subject area, good communications, training and organizational development abilities, a different set of skills than those required for research alone. As with extension work at the country level, the lessons learned from the interaction with practitioners through technical cooperation are fed back to the researchers who analyze economic and social issues to arrive at conclusions and policy recommendations. Contact with practitioners serves DESA as a vital reality check to keep its research and analysis relevant to actual country perspectives.
For decades, the keyword in the United Nations for the sharing of knowledge and skills with and among countries was technical cooperation. In recent years, at both the intergovernmental and organizational level, the focus has shifted from technical cooperation and capacity building, which both refer to the processes by which knowledge and skills are shared, to capacity development, which focuses on the outcomes of these processes in the form of stronger institutions, better working methods and better trained personnel at the country level. The shift in focus to capacity development implies a higher aspiration in terms of progress and the need to ensure that international cooperation is truly meeting the needs of national managers and staff who have the central responsibility for capacity development.
Most of the media attention and intergovernmental debate on economic and social development focuses on developing countries and the poorest of the poor. In sharing its knowledge, skills, and norms, however, DESA has a mandate for all countries. Whether it is conveying standards to national statistical offices, suggesting macroeconomic policy options, population policies, alternatives to address challenges of indigenous peoples, youth, elders or those with disabilities, or recommending sustainable patterns of consumption and production, DESA’s focus and messages are at all times on the 192 member states of the United Nations.
This universal focus and breadth of interests makes DESA unique among international organizations, most of which have specific sectoral or geographic mandates. DESA serves therefore both as a repository of living knowledge and skills as well as a network through which countries can tap sectoral and cross-sectoral knowledge from other countries, both developed and developing. In fact, developing countries are providing an increasing share of knowledge and expertise for development.
The international community generally agrees on the importance of South-South cooperation as a complement to North-South cooperation in supporting efforts in low-income countries to achieve national development objectives as well as the internationally-agreed development goals, including the MDGs. While countries of the South stress their ownership of the agenda and priorities of South-South cooperation, the international community recognizes the role for countries of the North and multilateral organizations to support the growth of South-South cooperation through what is called triangular cooperation, where a donor country might provide funding for exchanges of expertise between developing countries.
Recognizing the need to strengthen South-South cooperation, the Assembly decided to convene a high-level UN Conference on South-South cooperation by the first half of 2009. Several other high-level UN forums will provide opportunities to integrate considerations of South-South cooperation into intensifying global efforts to implement commitments on achieving the MDGs. These include UNCTAD-XII in April 2008, the first session of the Development Cooperation Forum of the Economic and Social Council in mid-2008, and the Review Conference on Financing for Development in Doha, from 29 November to 2 December 2008. Working closely with UNCTAD and the Regional Commissions, DESA is facilitating and supporting these intergovernmental processes, which will provide further guidance for its capacity development activities.
Along with the other economic and social entities of the United Nations, DESA has also helped forge an inter-departmental agenda and work plan on South-South cooperation, which provides for developing a supportive institutional framework for this modality, supplying technical assistance, undertaking studies on current trends and emerging issues, strengthening programmes for the promotion of South-South trade and investment, supporting efforts in regional integration, and generally strengthening South-South and triangular cooperation.
In facilitating the sharing of expertise between both developed and developing countries as well as among developing countries, DESA integrates closely its normative, analytical and operational work. Examples of such integration are plentiful. In the statistical field, DESA is the lead in setting standards for indicators for measuring the MDGs and training national statistical offices on such standards. The implementation of capacity training on the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women has led to increased implementation and reporting by Member States. DESA promotes improved national standards for civil service with commitments to transform public sectors in performance oriented and citizen responsive institutions. Advisory work in youth, ageing, and disability helps Member States formulate national policies which reflect their international commitments. And assistance on national sustainable development strategies contributes to integrated water resources management and energy efficiency initiatives.
At a time when untied capacity development resources are rare or non-existent, “e-TC” – technical cooperation with the aid of digital technologies – as well as other internet-based tools represent a cost-effective means to share DESA's knowledge and message in all its mandated areas, not only those that are of interest to donors as in conventional donor-funded capacity building. Knowledge tools currently available include departmental and divisional sites that are being increasingly configured as user-friendly knowledge portals from which clients can download DESA publications, data, reports and other knowledge products for free, web forums devoted to specific topics, which enable sharing of views, information and experiences across continents asynchronously at each participant's convenience in terms of time, and self-paced e-learning courses.
DESA's web services are actively used. The main economic and social affairs portal, which is available in the six UN languages, and the Department’s divisional websites received a total of some 33 million visits over the 2006-2007 biennium, some 16.5 million visits per year. Some challenges to overcome may be access, connectivity or bandwidth issues in the least developed countries. However, innovative solutions such as cyber buses that tour villages are helping to provide accessibility to people living in poverty. The introduction of the high-speed Internet2, an initiative in which the Secretariat including DESA is expected to participate over the next two years, can provide the infrastructure for overcoming current bandwidth issues. Additional resources for e-learning and website development, both through the regular departmental budget and the Development Account have been sought to permit further expansion of these modalities so as to serve Member States more effectively.
To address the challenging implementation gaps of the internationally-agreed development goals in Africa, DESA is working closely with the International Telecommunications Union and other key organizations of the United Nations system, as well as the private sector, so as to pool their capacities and knowledge together, through the development of a consortium for capacity building in Africa focused on training for education, health, e-governance and e-entrepreneurship.
Ultimately, DESA’s capacity development efforts serve to convert the United Nations Development Agenda, the synthesis of all the internationally-agreed development goals, into a reality at the country level. Through its support to the intergovernmental processes, particularly the conferences and summits of the past two decades, DESA has helped Member States forge the United Nations Development Agenda. “DESA is at the centre of the Development Agenda’s operationalization,” Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang told the G-77 at its hand-over ceremony on 11 January. “Indeed, strengthening the UN development pillar and supporting the Secretary-General’s development priorities are at the core of DESA’s vision for 2008.”
For more information: http://www.un.org/esa/desa
Addressing the largest bloc of developing countries at the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that development should not be "a privilege of the few, but a right for all." That right has been made clear over the past two decades, as the world agreed on a set of ambitious, but achievable, development goals,” Mr. Ban told the Group of 77 developing countries and China – commonly known as the G77 – at a ceremony on 11 January at which the group’s chairmanship was handed over from Pakistan to Antigua and Barbuda.
http://webcast.un.org/ramgen/ondemand/specialevents/2008/se080111.rm (12 minutes)
Audio: http://radio.un.org/play.asp?NewsID=8546(1 minute)
Full coverage: http://www.un.org/webcast/SE2008.html