Why empowering women can make women and men happier

By Gaëlle Ferrant, Alexandre Kolev and Caroline Tassot, OECD Development Centre

IWD2017The OECD has long argued that the ultimate goal of public policies is to improve the quality of our lives. But what makes us happy? Does living in a country guaranteeing equal rights and opportunities to women and men increase people’s happiness? The answer apparently is yes.

For policy makers interested in the pursuit of happiness, these findings may at first glance come as bad news as we mark International Women’s Day this year. Gender-based discrimination remains, after all, a critical challenge around the globe. Despite changes in gender roles following improvements in economic, political and social rights, no country has achieved gender parity. Only half of working-age women are in the labour force, earning on average 24% less than men (UN Women, 2015). Despite their increasing involvement in the labour market, women still perform 75% of total unpaid care and domestic work (OECD, 2014). And gender-based discrimination in social norms remains widespread worldwide (OECD Development Centre, 2014).
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Changing social norms through entertainment education: the case of a soap opera in India

By Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India

 

poonam-muttre
A promotional activity is held for Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon, in Bhourikala Village, India’s state of Madhya Pradesh

“You forced me into marriage. I wanted to study.”
“What difference is that gonna make! Are you going to be the Prime Minister?”
“Yes. I will become the Prime Minister.”

This powerful exchange between key characters in a soap opera demonstrates reel life emulating real life.
In 2011, the Population Foundation of India (PFI) set out to use the soap opera Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon (MKBKSH) or I, A Woman, Can Achieve Anything as the centre of a transmedia initiative that leverages the power of entertainment education to change social norms. At the heart of the soap opera are the struggles and triumphs of Sneha, a doctor working in Mumbai, as she journeys from the city to her village, emotionally torn between family and society, between professional aspirations and personal commitment.

But why pursue entertainment education and what has been the experience?

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Gender and Skilled Immigration: Challenges and Recommendations

By Dr Anna Boucher, University of Sydney

woman-looking-forwardWith population ageing occurring in all advanced industrial nations, immigration policy is one key way to augment the skill base of domestic labour forces. Though the economic benefit of skilled immigration for receiving states has been a central policy focus globally, the equity considerations of such policies have attracted less attention. Yet, in the global race for human capital, gender equality matters.

Research demonstrates that while women comprise an equal proportion of migrant stock globally, they are underrepresented within skilled immigration flows (Brücker et al 2013 and Piper and Yamanaka 2008). This is particularly true of women from key developing countries in the global South (i.e. Sharma 2006: 129). These data stand despite the increasing educational achievements of women globally, which suggests that governments utilise factors other than educational status to assess “skill” within selection criteria (Brücker et al 2013). As such, labour migration is segmented by both country of origin and by gender. Considering these factors is important for understanding intersectional equality as gender discrimination can operate alongside other forms of disadvantage.

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Empowering women is key to improving food security and resilience in West Africa

By Richard Clarke, Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat

women-processing-fish
Fish processing facility in Togo

Food insecurity remains unacceptably high in West Africa. According to the Food Crisis Prevention Network, nearly 9.5 million people in the region required food assistance as well as measures to protect their livelihoods and combat malnutrition between June and August 2016, despite significant improvements since the 1990s. FAO data also shows that changing trends have seen women representing approximately 50% of the agricultural labour force on the African continent, while IFAD estimates that women contribute 89% of agricultural employment in Sahelian countries. Thus, women’s contributions to food systems across West Africa have both widespread implications and prospects for food security and resilience in the region, a subject upon which Donatella Gnisci has written a paper for the OECD/SWAC West African Papers Series.   Continue reading

India’s Development Tug-of-War: Which side will win?

By Shailaja Chandra, Former Permanent Secretary of the Government of India and former Chief Secretary, Delhi; Former Executive Director, National Population Stabilisation Fund, India

For a chaotic country full of argumentative Indians many of whom are poor and uneducated, India’s continuous economic growth (not prosperity) remains a surprise. But something else is even more striking. The country has the world’s largest youngest population: 27 million babies are added each year. With such youth to bank on, India’s productivity seems to possess the best ingredients for success for decades to come.

But all great stories have another side that also must be told. Most births in India take place in some of the country’s poorest states where high fertility, low age of marriage, and a disproportionately large number of mother’s and children’s deaths present an ever-distressing picture. A group of five states have had the dubious distinction of accounting for around 45% of the country’s population, suffering and stymied from poor investments in health and education. No wonder these states were officially referred to as the BIMARU states, an acronym for their names of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, which denotes much more since the word bimaru in Hindi means sickly.

For decades, these states have defied conventional experience about the process of development and held back the achievements of the rest of the country. The differences are stark: some other states in India reached replacement level of fertility as early as 1989 and 1992. Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, however, may need another five years to get there. The infant and maternal mortality in the progressive states is lower by half, and in some cases even 70% less, than in these laggard states.

Some 15 years ago, the Indian government decided to pay focused attention to these states, particularly in the highly neglected area of reproductive health. Around the same time, the five states were reorganised and became eight in number with the hope that being smaller would help them respond better to the process of development. They were rechristened the Empowered Action Group (EAG), and the pejorative title BIMARU was wiped out of the official vocabulary.  In 2005, the National Rural Health Mission, India’s largest-ever health programme, started pumping resources into these “high-focus states.”  Strategies included revamping rural health infrastructure, promoting health centre-based deliveries, facilitating access to emergency obstetric care, and assigning a trained health activist to make family-level contact, undertake pregnancy tracking and provide access to contraceptives.

Many hoped that with such a high dose of attention, the EAG would eventually catch up. Most, however, did not share this optimism, and not without reason. Even today, strong patriarchal attitudes continue to discriminate against women. Girls are denied access to schooling once they reach puberty. They are married off well before the legal age of 18 and subjected to a host of discriminatory barriers. The political leadership in most of these states has seldom accorded high priority to health or education; many have invested in perpetrating caste-based divisions in society. This backdrop naturally fails to inspire change.

Yet the good news is that by focusing attention on these laggard states and monitoring health indicators annually, a decline in fertility has begun and it is faster than anywhere else in the country. The increase in institutional deliveries has been impressive, and family health surveys and other research show that an increase in the age of marriage and greater use of contraception have contributed to lowering fertility. After decades of stagnation, the population growth rate in these states has registered a significant fall for the first time, dropping from 25% to 20.9%. From the point of view of women, the opportunity to have hospital-based deliveries stands out, complemented by such popular incentives as transportation to a health facility, compensation for leaving home, supplementary nutrition and contraception advice.

While these are positive trends, the push has to continue. These states will contribute 50% of India’s population within the next five years, equalling if not exceeding the combined population of the rest of India. The prospect of half of India holding back the other half is a dismal one. Only if the special efforts mounted receive commensurate political support that simultaneously encourage girls’ education and skill learning, later marriages and spacing between children will the laggard 50% eventually catch up. Happily, the process has begun.

India has been a member of the OECD Development Centre since 2001.


 

This article should not be reported as representing the official views of the OECD, the OECD Development Centre or of their member countries. The opinions expressed and arguments employed are those of the author.

Measuring discrimination will bring the gender equality global goal a step closer

By Keiko Nowacka, gender coordinator at the OECD Development Centre

A warning often repeated since the Rio+20 summit is that lessons learned from the millennium development goals (MDGs) should not be forgotten when the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – the new development framework adopted at the United Nations general assembly – replace them. Such concerns seem warranted given the mixed report card on the MDGs.

While there were substantial improvements in poverty reduction and education, other goals showed patchier progress. The MDGs were praised for focusing the development community’s attention on eight priority areas, but also criticised for leaving out other key sectors. Many lessons have been learned over the past 15 years on how to make development more effective and help those most in need. As we look to the next 15 years, which of these key lessons should we take to heart to turn the promises of the SDGs into reality – particularly when it comes to gender equality and women’s empowerment (MDG3)?

First, focus matters. A standalone goal on gender equality has been retained (SDG5). A dedicated goal makes a big difference in mobilising action and resources. Furthermore, SDG5 includes many ambitious targets left out of MDG3. Tackling gender-based violence, unpaid care work, early marriage and harmful practices, among others, are now high on the gender and development agenda.

Second, strong indicators that can monitor the SDG commitments, inform policy action and ensure accountability on gender equality are just as important. After the adoption of the SDGs, all eyes will be on the selection of indicators to track progress on the 17 goals and 169 targets. Over the past year, representatives from governments, UN specialised agencies and international organisations, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), have worked on establishing a list of provisional indicators, which will be adopted at next year’s 46th UN statistical commission. While this list shows how much better we have become at measuring complex areas, gaps in data coverage and availability present real challenges to the SDG enterprise.

Indicators and data on gender equality are a case in point. A data revolution, strengthened national statistical systems and other statistical initiatives have already given us a very detailed understanding of remaining gender inequalities in the labour market or in education, just to cite two areas, and what policy interventions have worked to reduce them. Still, so much is not captured systematically by regular social or economic surveys, which are critical for measuring gender equality, and also for tracking progress towards SDG5. Here, the MDGs taught us another valuable lesson: what gets measured, gets done.

Addressing discriminatory social norms and institutions has become a new development priority and features strongly across the SDG5 targets. Yet, this area needs much more statistical work and investment. Data reveals how formal and informal laws, practices and attitudes shape women’s ability to enjoy their rights and take advantage of empowerment opportunities.

Results from the OECD Development Centre’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), for example, highlight how a discriminatory social practice such as early marriage adversely affects girls’ educational attainments, or how an unequal share of unpaid care work between women and men can exacerbate gender wage gaps. These examples demonstrate the value of including targets in the new framework; quantifying and measuring discrimination against women is challenging, but possible.

Indeed, the OECD Development Centre recently completed its first SIGI survey in Uganda, where new data on social norms was generated for the first time at the local level, providing evidence on how these norms can exacerbate inequalities despite the introduction of gender-sensitive laws. The survey showed that one-quarter of Ugandans agree that women and men should not enjoy equal land rights. Close to half of the population (45%) agree that early marriage is acceptable for girls (but not for boys). Such data is critical and a valuable resource for identifying how to make laws more efficient, and target the root causes of inequalities between women and men.

So what will it take to step up to this statistical challenge? Financing and technical support for statistical agencies is key. Most of the proposed indicators for SDG5 are classified as tier two (methodology exists, data not easily available) or tier three (methodology needs to be developed). For example, unpaid care work is measured through time-use surveys. However, less than half of the world’s countries have conducted such surveys in the past 10 years. Designing surveys, harmonising methodologies to ensure cross-country comparability or including indicators in existing surveys can be costly. Worryingly, this summer’s Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa did not include increased commitments for statistics, even though it is estimated that at least an additional $200m (Paris21) is needed.

 The silver lining is that data on gender is getting better all the time. We now know much more about the prevalence of and attitudes towards violence against women than in 2000, thanks to demographic and health surveys. Political will has proved critical too. Colombia and Uruguay, for example, have passed legislation to mandate regular time-use surveys. Innovative projects, such as the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality initiative led by agencies, including the World Bank, UN statistics directorate, UN Women, the OECD and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, have shown exciting results in advancing our knowledge of women’s asset ownership through new approaches and thinking around data collection. This is promising for future measuring of results for the SDGs: more reliable data and innovative methodologies will help truly capture and track women’s empowerment in the home, the workplace and in public life.

While these investments in indicators and data may appear formidable, the promise of a high return if we are able to achieve SDG5 by 2030 is certainly worth it.

This article first appeared in The Guardian on September 28, 2015. Read it anew here.


This article should not be reported as representing the official views of the OECD, the OECD Development Centre or of their member countries. The opinions expressed and arguments employed are those of the author.

How to make the SDGs walk the talk about gender equality and women’s empowerment

By Keiko Nowacka, Gender coordinator at the OECD Development Centre

This September, the world will adopt a new development framework: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that aim to “transform our world by 2030.”  Gender equality and women’s empowerment feature as a stand-alone goal (SDG5) and are integrated through many of the other goals (e.g. SDG1, 3, 5, 10, 11). By 2030, the SDGs aim to ensure that “every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality” (paragraph 15) through ambitious and comprehensive targets missed in the Millennium Development Goals. Focus now includes unpaid care, violence against women, early marriage and women’s political participation. It is no exaggeration to say that the SDGs boast unprecedented potential for dramatically challenging and changing the status quo of gender equality. Continue reading