MFAN Partner Responds to OECD Gender Initiative

See below for a guest post from MFAN Partner Women Thrive Worldwide on the OECD’s new gender initiative and the importance of gender integration for U.S. development efforts. For more on OECD week, click here.

Gender and Effective Development

Women Thrive Worldwide

The OECD’s new gender initiative has rightly won kudos and attention from Secretary Clinton, who addressed the Gender and Development session of the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting in Paris last week. After spending several decades on the sidelines of the development debate, being tacked on as an admirable afterthought, gender integration is increasingly being recognized as key to effective development and broad-based economic growth.

The need is urgent. Women are the majority of the poor and illiterate worldwide, over six in ten of the hungry, and owners of just 1 percent of the world’s land.  The lost opportunity is equally great.  To take just one example: according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the gender gap in agriculture that stems from lack of education, land, and credit for women farmers means that they yield on average 20 to 30 percent less than male farmers in developing countries.  Just closing this gap would increase agricultural output by 2.5 to 4 percent, meaning 100 to 150 million fewer hungry people around the world. Investing in women and girls, half the world’s population, would create what Secretary Clinton called “a powerful engine for creating jobs and spurring economic growth.”

Gender integration however, is not just about women.  It’s really about looking at what role gender plays in development. What are the roles, needs, strengths, and obstacles that women and men both have and how can we create development programs and strategies that take both into account? While this may sound obvious, it is not how development is done.  Because women still face so many more barriers to being full participants in their countries’ development, a ‘gendered’ approach to development would most often involve a heavy focus on women. But it can also lead to a focus on men and boys: in some parts of the world like the Caribbean, for example, boys lag significantly behind girls in school completion rates, and gender integration would result in programs to rectify this imbalance.

The OECD’s gender initiative springs from the realization that investments in women make for smart and strategic economic policy. Some of these lessons are also being internalized within the U.S. aid establishment as part of its own internal reform. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), for example, has for the past several years had a strong gender policy, which is a core part of their approach and work worldwide. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) just last month appointed a Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, a newly created position which will bring a focus on gender to all of USAID’s work.

The State Department’s inaugural Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), which was unveiled in December 2010 as a comprehensive blueprint for how to do diplomacy and development better going forward, recognizes gender equality as one of the six core aid effectiveness principles that the U.S. must adhere to along with partnership, sustainability, cooperation, results and transparency. Many of these themes were also echoed at the OECD last week.

The challenge moving forward is to ensure that this new vision for U.S. assistance is backed by committed leadership, a strong mandate, and real resources and accountability, so that it translates into transformational change for women and communities on the ground.  Women strongly support this approach: one of the key findings of Women Thrive’s report Time to Listen: Global Women’s Views on U.S. Foreign Assistance, which polled local women’s organizations in developing countries, was strong support for international assistance focused on women’s empowerment programs where the entire community benefits.

As Secretary Clinton pointed out at the OECD, and reform advocates in the U.S. have noted as well, aid alone is not enough for development.  The new OECD framework recognizes the importance of promoting “sustainable and inclusive economic growth,” and of partnership between donor and host countries.  Promoting gender integration in U.S. assistance as part of its own reform, as well as supporting broad-based and inclusive economic policies in the countries it works in, are some of the best investments the U.S. can make. The stage has been set for a game-changing approach to gender, and it is important to seize this moment and ensure the poorest women and girls – and men and boys – truly benefit from U.S. efforts around the world.


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