Monday, 8 March 2010

Making women count: Why global progress can’t happen without gender equality

For much of the past two decades, the global economy has experienced a period of significant growth and overall rates of poverty have declined. However, inequalities between men and women, between rich and poor and between urban and rural communities remain rife. The recent financial crisis in particular poses specific challenges for developing countries and threatens the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. As the global economy rebalances, more attention needs to be paid to quality of life, social development and in particular, gender equality.

Why gender equality particularly? Globalisation and development processes have transformed men and women’s roles and relations, but this has not necessarily translated into more access to resources and greater empowerment for women, or more gender equality. More women end up in the informal sector in ‘bad jobs’, women bear the brunt of climate change and poverty, few women are represented in decision-making structures, and violence against women remains widespread. For women, little progress is being made. Globally speaking, can we have progress if we still don’t have gender equality?

Women are 50% of the population and up until now, they are not being accounted for in any measure of development or progress. What would it mean if all of the work that women do around the world was actually counted and measured over time? What would it mean if violence against women was recognized as having real economic, social, political and security consequences? What would it mean if women were able to engage effectively in decision-making in the home, community and at the national level? How should we capture this data and turn it into knowledge? A wider range of dimensions of progress, quality of life or well-being can and should be utilized in order to answer these pressing questions.

Capturing and measuring these dimensions of progress is challenging but essential for gender equality. While the OECD has traditionally focused on economic measures, it has recently along with its partners been at the forefront of the Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies, which is a part of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress chaired by Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz. This Commission focuses on applying additional measures of progress to foster the development of sets of key economic, social and environmental indicators, thereby providing a more comprehensive picture of how the well-being of a society is evolving. This project is looking at the factors that cannot be considered by income and assets alone, such as environmental depletion and human well-being, and focuses on determining what to measure and how. It also seeks to develop innovative tools, such as wikiprogress and wikigender, to gather progress related data and communicate results. There is a real opportunity here to look at measuring progress in gender equality though this perspective.

Why are women currently not counted? Most statistics and data on development and economic growth are gender-blind and too little sex-disaggregated data exists, meaning that the work that women do, particularly in the informal sphere, is made invisible. Furthermore, the gender equality indices that do exist tend to focus on gender differences in outcomes such as in education or labour market participation. While important, the OECD’s work on gender and social institutions argues that these underlying norms, cultural factors and formal and informal laws are important underlying factors that drive discrimination against women. Measuring the impact of social institutions and understanding how they affect policy outcomes is critical to addressing gender inequality.

2010 presents many opportunities for strengthening women’s rights and gender equality. Beijing +15 will review progress towards achieving the UN’s ambitious platform for women’s empowerment adopted in 1995, the UN’s reform process that will establish a new, stronger women’s entity backed by resources and political will is well underway, and it is the 10th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The OECD and UNESCO are therefore taking this opportunity in the context of International Women’s Day on 8th March to explore how to measure and address remaining gaps in gender equality through a conference to be held on 12th March in Paris. The outcome of this meeting will be to improve our understanding of the linkages between gender, culture and progress in societies, and to take concrete next steps in this regard.

Women must not be seen as victims but as agents of change that bring resources, knowledge, capacity and opportunities for enhancing not just social development at household and community level but also global progress more broadly. In short, ensuring women count will make the achievement of global progress much more likely.

Happy International Women’s Day. Karen and Angela

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