By Pierre de Boisséson, Economist, and Alejandra Meneses, Policy Analyst, OECD Development Centre
Human development relies on three fundamental building blocks — health, education and income. A recent report from the OECD Development Centre shows that in Southeast Asia, women’s human development remains severely constrained by discriminatory social institutions, in other words, formal and informal laws, practices and social norms. These socially and culturally embedded norms, attitudes and behaviour limit women’s ability to control and make decisions on their own health, education and access to labour opportunities. Dewi’s story is especially telling.
By Ravi Verma, Regional Director, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)
A friend told me recently, “While I am able to fight against the rules set for me and continue my struggle to do so, I feel helpless about my father and brothers. I realise and openly acknowledge how they have also been victims of rules and norms set by what we call “Patriarchy”. Unfortunately, the rules for them have remained unchanged, they seem to have been frozen in time.”
By Felix Zimmermann, Co-ordinator, Development Communication Network (DevCom), OECD Development Centre
With individual actions, we can all help the world achieve gender equality. That is the message behind #GenerationEquality, the theme for International Women’s Day on Sunday, 8 March. While #GenerationEquality is easily tweeted, the 2019 Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) tells us that, around the world, discrimination remains deeply entrenched. Many countries have enacted laws to protect women’s rights. But laws can be easier to change than attitudes and behaviours. Shockingly, SIGI tells us that almost 1 in 3 women around the world still believe that spousal violence is sometimes justified. Almost 1 in 2 people think that men make better political leaders than women.
To eradicate harmful practices and achieve gender equality, we need to change attitudes and shift gender norms. The evidence confirms that those of us communicating for development have crucial roles to play. We can expose people to new ideas, encouraging them to reflect on their discriminatory attitudes or emulate positive role models. We can raise awareness about new laws and the benefits of gender equality, such as happiness or economic growth. UK-based think tank ODI shows how media initiatives like the interactive SSMK radio show helped transform the lives of adolescent girls in Nepal.
We have witnessed numerous efforts to enhance gender equality throughout the past decade. Legal reforms are taking place worldwide, and discriminatory laws are slowly being struck down in favour of parity. But despite developments in employment laws, inequality persists. Women’s labour participation has been stagnant, and last year, the already low number of female CEOs tumbled even further. As the provider of 90% of jobs worldwide, the private sector plays a significant role in the push for gender equality in employment. By adopting gender-smart policies, companies may be able to fill the gaps unaddressed by laws and minimise the impacts of inequality in the workplace. Although not all women work in these institutions, such policies are nonetheless impactful for those who do and could set in motion a new and replicable culture of work – one that is both business-smart and more gender-inclusive.
Many very relevant things have been said about the adverse impact of gender-blind social protection systems on gender equality. Yet, at a time when many countries are embracing universal social protection, more clarity is needed on who amongst potential beneficiaries are most at risk of falling into the gender inequality trap. In the absence of gender-sensitive social protection reforms, my take is that the risk may fall disproportionately on those who may not be eligible for social assistance and who rely exclusively on social insurance systems. Indeed, gender-blind social insurance creates enormous space for perpetuating gender inequality.
Understanding why begins with recalling that social protection typically encompasses both social insurance and social assistance.
On the one hand, social assistance programmes are not conditional on previous payments of contributions. They are usually financed through general taxation and external resources. In developing countries, social assistance schemes have witnessed the most rapid growth amongst social protection programmes. By and large, social assistance, including cash transfers and benefits related to maternity and children, and social pensions have been instrumental in addressing gender-specific constraints in the labour market and society in general, increasing women’s income security and labour force participation. Yet, some specific forms of social assistance schemes are not free from criticism. Shahra Razavi rightly blames the paternalistic conditionalities often attached to cash transfer schemes for not acknowledging women as workers but instead reinforcing their traditional role as caregivers. Conditional cash transfers can also increase the opportunity costs for women to participate in the labour market by exposing them to greater insecurity if they have to travel long distances to reach collection points or health facilities. Still, I think it is fair to say that gains for women from expanding social assistance outweigh the costs. Continue reading “What will it take for universal social protection to avoid the gender inequality trap?”
The call for leaving no one behind includes extending social protection to excluded groups, such as vulnerable women, and providing all women with similar benefits as men. For instance, despite the universal provision of paid maternity leave (only 2 out of the 180 SIGI1 countries do not provide paid maternity or parental leave for mothers), only 41% of mothers with newborns receive a maternity benefit (with fewer than 16% in Africa), while 83 million remain uncovered (ILO, 2017). In Europe, the relatively narrow gender gap in old-age pension coverage (6.5 percentage points) hides extensive gender disparities in the actual benefits: women’s pensions are, on average, 40% lower than those of men (Directorate for Citizens Rights and Constitutional Affairs, 2016).
The terms gender and social norms have become increasingly used in development discourse. They focus on the core of discrimination: people’s attitudes and behaviours as held and enacted by individuals, as housed in social institutions, and as codified in formal and informal laws. These attitudes and behaviours push women and girls to the margin of society, leaving them disempowered and often impoverished. But changes in these social and cultural rules are not simply cosmetic; social norms are being actively contested and changed, and these changes have the potential to endure and make a real difference.
However, changing norms, or the rules underpinning discriminatory attitudes and behaviours in our daily lives, can face difficulties on multiple fronts. For one, norm change can look dangerously like a magic bullet for fixing social problems. As work on norm change grows in popularity in the development sector, these efforts risk overlooking the complexity of what works to change norms and the multi-level nature of change that is required. At the same time, others see norm change as too challenging. Efforts to change norms can be difficult, highly political and risk provoking backlash.
A saying that motivates our philanthropic work at Fondation CHANEL is that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” This humble recognition drives us in filling our blind spots through evidence building so that we can succeed in delivering on our social mission to advance women and girls in society.
As a global private donor, we select amongst many filters to decide who and what to support. But how can we make those choices with greater confidence? For the past seven years, we have built a stronger knowledge base by compiling strategies from around the world that make a difference for girls and women. By cooperating with several grassroots and development organisations, social businesses and research institutions, the Foundation is bridging some gaps in understanding what works in which contexts and how to approach the complex social changes needed to reduce gender inequalities.
The rapid rise of the Internet, together with emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), advanced robotics and drones, Blockchain, the “Internet of things” (IoT) and 3D printing, are unleashing new opportunities and transforming the global economy. While these technological advances can address some of the most pressing 21st century challenges – from education, health care and public services to agriculture, economic inclusion and the environment – the benefits are not being shared equally. Despite Internet connectivity having finally reached 50% of the world’s population in 2018, the rate of Internet access growth has slowed down considerably.2 In Africa, specifically, only about 20% of the population has regular Internet access3 – a challenge with significant implications for harnessing the transformative power of the technology-driven Fourth Industrial Revolution for inclusive and sustainable development.
Women from developing countries comprise the majority of the unconnected. The gender divide has narrowed in most regions since 2013, but it has widened in Africa. The proportion of women using the Internet on the continent is 25% lower than the proportion of men.4 Notwithstanding the significant potential of mobile phone technology to spur women’s entrepreneurship through mobile banking and payment services as well as improved access to information and finance, sub-Saharan Africa follows South Asia with the second largest average gender gap in both mobile ownership and mobile Internet use.5 A widening gender digital divide concerning the availability, affordability, accessibility, and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) negatively impacts women’s economic empowerment. It further undermines full gender equality that lies at the core of human rights and is integral to the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).