The pervasive issue of unpaid care and domestic work in the global fight against gender inequality presents itself in many different contexts and guises. Yet, the one constant thread is the impact of unpaid care and domestic work on time availability. The disproportionate workload borne by women –that hinders their full engagement as economic actors in paid employment, their participation in education and training, and their overall quality of life – is widely recognised. Solutions are diverse. They include technological ones to improve water supplies and save time and labour. They embrace policies and practical ways of providing childcare facilities and paternal leave. And they call for addressing cultural norms underlying the unequal gender division of labour for unpaid work.
Despite some progress, gender equality remains unfinished business worldwide, including in West Africa and particularly in the Sahel1. Such West African countries as Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone have closed the gender gap in primary school enrolment. However, youth (aged 15-24) illiteracy rate in Chad is still twice as high for women than for men. In Liberia, only one-third of girls were enrolled in secondary school in 2015. Women are increasingly represented in the Senegalese parliament, and the proportion of female MPs almost doubled in the last five years, from 23% in 2012 to 42% in 2017. Nevertheless, women’s equal political participation remains a major challenge throughout the region. Women in parliaments increased only marginally from 13% in 2007 to almost 16% in 2017, with wide disparities across countries ranging from 6% in Nigeria to 42% in Senegal.
Irrespective of where in the world we look, we find micro and small businesses leveraging an online platform business strategy to engage in commerce on a global scale. That’s been the finding of the eBay Public Policy Lab and a team of economists at Sidley Austin LLP who have worked together since 2011 studying the trade patterns of enterprises using the eBay marketplace.
The economic opportunities cannot be overestimated.
Indeed, trade participation is linked to increased productivity and greater probability of firm survival. This, in turn, contributes to more prosperous communities. Nevertheless, micro and small firms remain underrepresented in world trade, despite them dominating most countries’ enterprise population. Moreover, developing countries’ role in world trade is still understated, not to mention the small firms in those countries.
By Laurent Bossard, Director, Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC/OECD)
In Mali, Niger and Chad, 40% of children under five suffer from stunting. These children do not receive enough nutrients. Their bodies — their brains, bones and muscles — do not get enough calcium, iron or zinc or enough vitamins (A, B2, B12 etc.), so they do not have enough energy to grow and develop. Many of these children will suffer from chronic diseases and will have cognitive problems — so they won’t be able to go to school for long, if at all. As adults, they will have little chance to flourish and, secondarily, will have low economic productivity. Many will also die very young, often before turning five.
In these countries, at least 100 children out of every thousand die before reaching the age of five. That’s 10 times more than in Sri Lanka, 20 times more than in Canada and 50 times more than in Luxembourg. Why are these children dying and why are they doomed to a hopeless future? Continue reading →
By Gaëlle Ferrant, Alexandre Kolev and Caroline Tassot, OECD Development Centre
The 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). Continue reading →
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)?
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.
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.
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 →
Current approaches to food security and sustainable development consider women’s empowerment and gender equality to be sine qua non conditions for success in the Zero Hunger Challenge and the Post-2015 development agenda. The Milan Charter also emphasises women’s fundamental roles in all private and public spheres of life at the local as well as the global level. Continue reading →
If you agree that a lack of access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, clean water and energy goes against human dignity, will you join Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in signing the Milan Charter? The Charter, which is available in 19 languages, emphasises that one of the greatest ongoing challenges for humanity is feeding an ever-growing population, and doing so in participatory and inclusive ways, without harming the environment. To tackle this challenge, citizens, members of civil society, businesses, and local, national and international institutions, are invited to commit to safeguarding everyone’s right to food as a fundamental human right.
The Milan Charter is Expo Milano’s contribution to the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Through it, the Expo aspires to establish its central legacy. The Charter summarises a process of reflection that involved global experts and leaders. Together, they examined the linkages between development, equity and sustainability, urbanisation and agriculture, natural resources and biodiversity, health, waste and energy, and stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities. On the Charter’s website this complexity is broken down by topic, and by actor, so that readers can filter content and visualise the issues at hand, the rights that they refer to and the changes that the Charter argues are needed. These changes relate to prevailing production and consumption models, economic activities, political and citizen engagement and individual behaviours.
But what does the Milan Charter mean for West Africa? In my view, the Charter stresses three useful points.
1. In an increasingly urbanised world, agriculture is still of paramount importance.
The Charter reminds us that agriculture goes far beyond food production, involving landscape design, environmental and territorial protection, the sound management of natural resources and biodiversity conservation. As the West African regional agricultural policy adopted by ECOWAS in 2005 recognises, the transformation of agriculture in West Africa has important regional dimensions. This regional approach to agriculture is based on the complementarities between agro-ecological zones, the importance of intra-regional trade, the interest in creating larger markets for agricultural products and the desire to stabilise prices in a context of demographic and socioeconomic change. According to an OECD/SWAC study, agricultural producers accounted for 90% of the region’s population in 1950. By 2010, they made up only 50% of the population. Meanwhile, total agricultural production has increased fourfold over the last 30 years, while the importance of urban and peri-urban agriculture have both risen. For the Climate & Development Knowledge Network, urban and peri-urban agriculture have had positive effects on food security and resilience to climate shocks in West African cities, although their environmental impacts need more analysis. The production of primary commodities (e.g. cocoa, cotton, groundnuts and fishery products) coexists with a vibrant horticultural sector, reaching from Mauritania to Chad. However, challenges, capacities, market connectivity and opportunities vary across countries. So, signing the Charter will remind regional actors and partners that agriculture is crucial to West Africa’s sustainable development and food security, and that this makes the regional/national co-ordination of agriculture-related strategies, policies and programmes all the more important. The Charter rightly considers these within a broader context, where interventions in agriculture need to be linked to efforts to promote rural and urban development, improved natural resource management, and environmental protection.
2. Women’s empowerment and gender equality, and food and nutrition security are two sides of the same coin.
The Charter notes the lack of universal recognition of the fundamental role of women, especially in agricultural production and nutrition, and the unjustifiable inequalities in the possibilities, capabilities and opportunities of women and men in many spheres of life. West African countries rank poorly in the Gender Inequality Index calculated by the United Nations Development Programme: ranging from 119th for Ghana to 151st for Chad, out of 187 countries. Regional reduction of maternal mortality only reached 46% in 2014, meaning that the Millennium Development Goal 5’s target of a 75% reduction by 2015 is beyond reach. Women’s empowerment is often a hot topic. It is presently high on the political agenda at the international level (2015 European Year for Development, the Sustainable Development Goals), on the continent (African Women’s Decade 2010-2020) and in West African countries (Beijing Platform for Action +20 implementation monitoring process). By signing the Charter, regional actors and partners will make their engagement in this complex agenda visible once more. What specific aspects should be prioritised in the West African context? How do we step up efforts to learn from experiences elsewhere?
3. Who is responsible, who is accountable?
The Charter gives a straightforward answer: We all have distinct but shared responsibilities to adopt sustainable behaviours, models of production and consumption, ways of using resources and approaches to waste disposal. Actions are proposed for individuals, economic actors and community members. The Charter points out that we are collectively responsible for holding political institutions that represent us accountable for inclusive decision-making, which must both benefit people and the planet. Institutions should commit to the adequate co-ordination of policies, programmes and efforts for resource mobilisation. This approach resonates well with the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR) – Sahel and West Africa. Under the political leadership of ECOWAS and UEMOA, AGIR has nurtured multi-stakeholder, multi-sectoral and multi-level approaches and partnerships, strengthening the resilience of West African people.
In adding his signature to the Charter, Professor Sen reminded us that hunger “is above all an economic, political, cultural and health care problem”. That raises a compelling question: What is each and every one of us doing to solve it?