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Women and Poverty
10 January-4 February 2005
Moderated by the World Bank

Objective of the discussion

Welcome to this online discussion on Women and Poverty moderated by the World Bank. Promoting gender equality is a core element of the World Bank's strategy to reduce poverty and we are very pleased to facilitate this important discussion. The objective is to draw on the collective experiences since Beijing and to identify what has worked well and what hasn't in reducing women's poverty and reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

What do you think are some of the main lessons that have been learned since Beijing for reducing women's poverty? What policies and programs can be replicated and scaled-up? And what should we avoid? Such sharing of experiences should give useful ideas to others working on similar issues worldwide and will help the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women better understand progress and challenges since Beijing.

This is an opportunity for individuals, groups and networks worldwide to share their knowledge. Young women and men are particularly encouraged to participate in this discussion because it is important for us to focus on a forward-looking assessment during this 10-year review to ensure that the needs of the future generation are taken into account.

Organization of the discussions

The Beijing Platform for Action identified four Strategic Objectives for women and poverty:

  1. Review, adopt and maintain macroeconomic policies and development strategies that address the needs and efforts of women in poverty;
  2. Revise laws and administrative practices to ensure women's equal rights and access to economic resources;
  3. Provide women with access to savings and credit mechanisms and institutions; and
  4. Develop gender-based methodologies and conduct research to address the feminization of poverty.

This discussion on Women and Poverty will be organized around four themes that parallel these Strategic Objectives. Each week will begin with a short introduction and a set of suggested questions posted by the World Bank facilitator, Josette Murphy Malley, an anthropologist and evaluator. She will also post a summary at the end of each week. Your contributions will be summarized in a final report and presented at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women during its forty-ninth session from 28 February to 11 March 2005.

Weekly topics:

Week 1 (January 10-17), Macro-economic policies
Week 1 will focus on two areas of macro-economic policy for which there has been many efforts to mainstream women's equality issues since Beijing: (i) the preparation of comprehensive, national poverty strategies and national reviews of public expenditures, and (ii) reforms in labor legislation and regulations.

Week 2 (January 17-21), Women's land tenure and access to financial services
Week 2 will focus on the related issues of women's land tenure and access to financial services, which often require ownership of some collateral.

Week 3 (January 24-28), Monitoring and evaluation of poverty reduction
Week 3 will focus on how women's equality can be strengthened through monitoring and evaluation of poverty programs, as well as through further research.

Week 4 (January 31-February 4), Emerging issues and opportunities
Week 4 will focus on identifying emerging issues for women and poverty and new opportunities to address gender inequalities. Most importantly, you will have the opportunity to tell the Commission on the Status of Women what you think are the three top priorities for reducing poverty among women.

Josette Murphy Malley
Forum facilitator for the World Bank

Week & Theme Details
Week 1
Macro-economic policies
(10-17 January 2005)

Welcome to Week 1 of the online discussion on Women and Poverty. I am Josette Murphy Malley and will facilitate this discussion for the World Bank. I look forward to a lively sharing of experience from people working in very different settings. Each week, I will post an introduction to the week's topic as well as a summary of the previous week's discussion. As explained in our introduction to Women and Poverty, the objective of this discussion is to stimulate an exchange of ideas, learn from specific achievements in the last 10 years, and identify emerging issues and priorities that the Commission on the Status of Women should address in its forthcoming meeting. Your contributions will be summarized in a final report presented to the Commission before its session starts on February 28, 2005.

In 2000, the Beijing+5 Outcome document stated that there was "increasing recognition of gender dimensions of poverty." The Report also noted progress in "pursuing a two-pronged approach of promoting employment and income-generating activities for women and providing access to basic social services, including education and health care."

This week, we will focus on two areas of macro-economic policy:
1) The preparation of comprehensive, national poverty strategies and national reviews of public expenditures; and 2) Reforms in labor legislation and regulations.

Women and national poverty strategies
Since Beijing, many countries have prepared some form of national strategic plan for poverty reduction, whether a poverty reduction strategy developed in low-income countries in the context of debt relief, or an in-depth assessment of poverty issues. Preparation of these plans has led policymakers to improve the linkages between sectoral strategies and poverty reduction goals, to reassess priorities across sectors, and sometimes to broaden grassroots participation in the planning process.

Preparing a poverty reduction strategy creates opportunities for addressing gender inequalities, opportunities that countries as diverse as Benin and Vietnam have taken up by mainstreaming gender into their analysis. Frequently, women's organizations have been involved in this process. These efforts have often occurred concurrently with a review of public expenditures to assess how the allocation of public funds to various sectors affects males and females differently. Examples include Bangladesh, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Morocco.

Labor legislation and regulations
Since Beijing, many countries have pursued a policy of reforms to develop their private sector and to increase their exports of goods and services. This opens up opportunities for relatively skilled workers and entrepreneurs, but women are often hampered by lack of skills, or by distortions in the labor market, in training, in labor regulations, and in unemployment benefits. Many countries are revising their labor codes, for example by providing state benefits to workers in the informal sector (Thailand, South Africa and Chile). Others are adopting policies to improve women's access to highly skilled technology positions (Brazil, India and Malaysia).

Many countries are also reviewing their legislation on wages, pensions, and benefits, including maternity leave. In some cases, labor reforms intended to protect women workers have, perversely, increased discrimination against them in the labor market. For this reason, an understanding of the gender impacts of labor regulations among policymakers, labor officials, employers, and unions is important. Women, too, must be well informed of their rights and of how to get help if needed.

Some questions that explore these areas include:

  1. What are some specific cases in which women were able to influence the national poverty strategy of their country? What factors were critical in making this happen?
  2. Can you give examples of how a participatory process led to a significant contribution by women groups or women's advocates? What were the factors explaining this success? Are there examples of fruitful partnerships between women organizations and other local, national, or international organizations?
  3. What specific cases do you know of in which the needs of women were identified in the diagnosis, action priorities and monitoring indicators in the poverty reduction strategy? Were such needs identified for sectors other than the social sectors, such as infrastructure and transport?
  4. What are specific cases of reforms in labor laws regarding wages, pensions, specialized skills training or employment benefits which helped women gain access to better job and business opportunities? Are there reforms you know of that appear to have backfired, reducing opportunities, wages or benefits for women?
  5. What are examples of steps taken to ensure that the reforms are actually applied, that women are aware of their rights and opportunities, and that discriminatory practices are curbed?
  6. Can you cite specific experiences in other macroeconomic analyses, such as public expenditure reviews and studies of labor regulations, particularly examples that have influenced subsequent public expenditures or labor legislation?
Women's land tenure and access to financial services
(17-21 January 2005)

Week 3
Monitoring and evaluation of poverty reduction
(24-28 January 2005)

Week 4
Emerging issues and opportunities
(31 January-4 February 2005)

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