Detours Ahead for Gender Equality in International Development?

There are two new reports (and one brief declaration) from the United Nations family of which we should all be aware – as they affect women’s economic empowerment efforts internationally. First, I’m sure that we’re all aware that 2015 is the year that the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals were to have been achieved. While much has been accomplished, those goals have not been achieved, and the focus is now shifting toward SDGs: Sustainable Development Goals.

roadblocks1Last year, the “Women’s Major Group,” one of nine groups involved in the process of developing the SDGs, issued a statement highlighting “8 Red Flags,” or shortcomings, of the SDGs, stating that they lack “real ambition for the urgent transformational change that the world needs to achieve gender equality.” And in late June, during negotiations for the “zero draft” of the SDGs that will be discussed at a UN Summit this fall, the Women’s Major Group issued a Ten Red Flags declaration highlighting areas that need to be strengthened in UN efforts moving forward, including that:

  • Gender equality and the human rights of women and girls must be recognized as a cross-cutting issue critical for the success of the post-2015 development agenda;
  • Commitments to human rights and inclusivity must be strengthened; and
  • Commitments to civil society and major group participation must be strengthened.

A good summary of the history of this issue is contained in the recently-published discussion paper, “Accelerating Gender Equality Through the Post 2015 Development Agenda,” from the Australian National Committee of UN Women.

There’s a civil society organization, beyond2015.org, with over 1,000 NGO members in more than 130 countries that have joined forces to ensure a strong framework for poverty alleviation and empowerment moving forward from the expiration of the MDGs.

Thirdly, every few years the United Nations publishes a look at the progress of the world’s women with respect to their health, education and legal empowerment. The latest in that series, Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights, was recently published. The previous reports are archived on this page.

The UN has also published data compendia (every five years, from 1990 to 2010) on The World’s Women. These reports, which contain a wealth of statistical data from around the world, are archived on this page and are well worth adding to your womenabling research shelf.

New UN Women Report Published

Every five years or so, the United Nations publishes a compendium of facts, statistics and analysis of the status of women around the world. These Progress of the World’s Women reports share statistics related to education, legal justice, social and political empowerment, and economic empowerment. They are truly go-to reports that deserve a spot on every womenabler’s reference shelf.fig.4.6-1

The latest report has recently been published. Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights features an interactive web portal and downloadable chapters, some very detailed (see picture at right) infographics, as well as the full report.

Some of what’s available in this report:

  • A discussion of the negative impact on women’s rights that has resulted from the rise of extremism around the world;
  • The notion that connecting economic and social policy is key to increasing human potential and equal rights (we would agree);
  • Far fewer detailed country-level tables (which we are disappointed by, but they may be archived somewhere); and
  • A listing of ten priorities for public action, including “create more and better jobs for women” (but no mention of economic empowerment through entrepreneurship).

For a list and links to past reports on the Progress of the World’s Women, visit Womenable’s Womenabler Reference Library page. or UN Women’s Progress of the World’s Women page. Finally, here’s a handy link to the 2015 report Executive Summary.

A Focus on Frameworks

You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, would you, so why are so many efforts to provide greater economic empowerment for women undertaken without a strategic framework? A rhetorical question, we know, but we’d like to call attention to the fact that folks are starting to realize that a framework for action can make governments and other actors more accountable, provide benchmarks and targets against which to chart progress, and give the women’s business community and other important stakeholders a soapbox for advocacy.

We write this because we’ve come across several new strategic framework reports we want to make sure all of you womenablers out there take a look at, bookmark, and file away for future reference and/or action.

First, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has published a Gender at the Heart of ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development): Strategic Framework on Gender Mainstreaming and Women’s Empowerment. While it does not focus much on enterprise development, gender equality, policy action and stakeholder engagement are central tenets covered in the publication. You might also want to take a look at their 30 second public service video, “Empower Women, Empower the Future,” which illustrates how a girl’s future can change with education rather than early marriage. (Puts us in mind of the excellent Girl Effect video.)

The UN agency in the Asia Pacific region, ESCAP, has also recently published a report looking at efforts that could be undertaken in that region to “strengthen national mechanisms” for gender equality and the empowerment of women. Learn more at THIS LINK. Sounds like a framework to us!

Next, there’s a new mid-term assessment of where things stand vis-a-vis MDG3, the Millennium Development Goal related to women’s empowerment. This AWID review of the Dutch MDG3 Fund shows the ways in which targeted investments can really make a difference in organizational capacity and women’s increased participation in advocacy and the political process, which has a ripple effect in other areas of women’s economic empowerment.

And, finally, we would be remiss if we did not mention and remind you of the Roadmap to 2020 report, spearheaded and published by Quantum Leaps in 2010, which focused on what women’s entrepreneurship stakeholders in the United States should do to move the agenda forward. It joins the October 2003 Prime Minister’s Task Force report in Canada and the May 2003 Strategic Framework report in the United Kingdom as a trilogy of policy and program recommendations to be undertaken in a developed economy context (which, truth be told, is not terribly different from areas of focus in developing economies).

Celebrating the Power of Numbers

Where would we be without numbers? We womenablers know well that women business owners would still be all but invisible if not for statistics that show:

  • women are starting businesses at a faster rate than their male counterparts,
  • despite that fact, women-owned firms lag all firms with respect to number of employees and revenues, and
  • while gender gaps are closing in education and health indicators, and there is growing gender parity in terms of political participation, it is in the area of economic participation and entrepreneurship where the largest gaps remain.

It is often said that what does not get measured does not get managed, so what better way to improve the situation of humankind than to measure – and to celebrate measurement.
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That’s the thought behind the first-ever World Statistics Day, being celebrated around the globe on October 20: 2010-20.10. The UN Statistics Office website lists a number of activities being held (pun intended) to celebrate statistics. Among them:

  • In Canada, Statistics Canada is throwing a party for their staff, and celebrating the role that Canada plays in supporting information-gathering domestically and internationally,
  • In Germany, the German Federal Statistics Office is hosting a conference entitled “What drives politics – How relevant is statistics?” at the Social Science Research Centre in Berlin, and
  • in Qatar, the Qatar Statistical Authority will be releasing their 2010 Census of Population, Households, and Establishments – and announcing a plan for public use of the results.

There’s even a Facebook page for the initiative, which you can “like.” (We have, of course.) So, join us in a hearty cheer: “All hail the number-crunchers of the world”!