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  1. Barbara ODwyer
    Barbara ODwyer March 8, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Great article Kate and Marianne. It clearly points out the advantages of women’s economic empowerment and how it can be enhanced and in turn, enhance development. But we still have a long way to go. While women and girls health and education in developing countries have improved, women continue to trail men in formal labour force participation, access to credit, entrepreneurship0 rates, income levels and inheritance and ownership rights.

    The World Bank says it’s smart economics to invest in women. Underinvesting in women limits development, slows down poverty reduction and economic growth. The Bank produces papers and facts and figures to support this. But even they say that if they couldn’t show that it enhanced economic development, they wouldn’t be interested. So what about women’s rights and the improvement of women’s lives as an end it itself, as opposed to how useful women in speeding up development.

    The OECD DAC Paper on Women’s Economic Empowerment mentioned in the blog spells it out. It says women’s economic empowerment is a prerequisite for sustainable development, pro-poor growth and the achievement of all the MDGs. At the same time it is about rights and equitable societies. It also points out that women experience barriers in almost every aspect of work. At the same time women perform the bulk of unpaid care work. This latter never seems to receive much attention and is an area for much greater attention by donors through increased recognition and valuing of the ways in which care work supports thriving economies. Indeed, it also need to be addressed in developed countries.

    And why is there so much attention to microcredit rather than macrocredit for women. I’ve had women in Timor-Leste ask me why the men always get the big things like cattle and they always get the small things like chickens. The men can make $100a month out of the cattle while the women only make about $10 from the chickens. And little attention seems to be paid to the possible adverse effects of microcredit loans. The DAC paper points out that often the loans are inflexible, have an exorbitantly high interest rate attached to them and repayment starts immediately putting enormous psychological pressure on the workers, affecting productivity and output. It is repeatedly heard that people prefer not to enter into a microcredit loan as they fear that they will lose everything. In Bangladesh, for instance, women do better when they band together in a co-operative structure and both their economic and social standing in the household improve.

    Women’s social standing, i.e. their status, both in the family and the community is crucial to their welfare and those of their children. In West Africa, when cash cropping was introduced back in the 1960s, all the new technology and money was directed to the men and the women lost their control over family finances through loss of earnings from the excesses from their vegetable gardens that they would normally sell in the markets and use the income for their children’s education and general welfare. Recent World Bank studies in four African countries show that providing women farmers with the same quantity and quality of inputs that men typically receive, and improving their access to agricultural education, could increase national agricultural output and incomes by an estimated 10 to 20 per cent. Why has it taken us so long – over 50 years – to learn this lesson.

    In fact it hasn’t taken us 50 years to learn this lesson. Most of us working in the world of gender equality have always known it. What has taken so long is for decision makers to listen. Why do women have to fight for equality in everything? Why do so few people in influential positions support them? A few years ago, the DAC pointed out that amongst donors, it was mostly relatively junior level staff who pushed for attention to gender equality and that it be included in project designs, monitoring, etc. It appears that women’s rights and gender equality become less and less visible they higher you go up the donors’ ladders.

    Why is this? Where is the logic in it, especially if the evidence shows that assisting women leads to development? Why is there still so much actual resistance to women’s equality – from extreme cases like the Taliban shooting a 14 year old girl because she wanted to go to school, to persistent structural and cultural discrimination and endemic, so called domestic, violence against women and girls. Even in the developed Western world, women still do more of the housework and child care than men, not to mention almost all the unpaid care work. How much of the world’s women’s talents and contributions to development have been wasted over the centuries and are still being wasted today.

    So, a great blog about the ECF and what it’s achieving for women’s economic empowerment but on this International Women’s Day, let’s try and do even more.

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