Unlocking the Power of Women

By Katja Iversen
NEW YORK, May 15 2019 – This June, thousands will flock to Vancouver for a global dialogue on how to accelerate progress for girls and women under the banner of power, progress and change.

At the Women Deliver 2019 Conference, the largest in the world for gender equality, delegates will come together to unlock power at three levels: individual, structural, and collective. They will plan for action around how to pull these levers to drive gender parity, especially with regard to women’s economic empowerment.

And not a day too soon. Just last December, the World Economic Forum reported that while the global gender gap is slowly narrowing, the economic participation and opportunity gap stands at 58 percent. Put simply, it will take around 202 years for women to reach economic equality.

The costs of inequality are all of ours to bear. The World Bank estimates that nations leave as much as $160 trillion on the table when women don’t fully participate in national economies.

And we also know the opposite to be true. Research shows that women reinvest more of their income in their families, including in their children’s health and education, than men do—creating a ripple effect that benefits present and future generations.

All this raises an urgent question for decision-makers: If equal economic opportunity is a clear economic and social win for all, why wait 202 years to reap its benefits?

Fortunately, we do not have to wait, provided we take action. The economic gender gap is deep rooted and long standing, which means we have had some years to cook up and test out solutions. The results?

We have learned that if we leverage the power of individuals, structures, and movements to push for girls’ and women’s equal economic participation, we get ourselves a step closer to a gender equal world—along with its dividends.

At the individual level, women around the world are resilient economic agents, overcoming gender-based roadblocks to economic security for themselves and their families every day. Policies and investments that increase their agency over career and finances could go a long way to boost women’s economic empowerment.

And what does a woman with individual agency over career and finances look like? First, she must have access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including modern contraception and safe abortion—because when a girl or woman can decide whether and when to have children, the chance that she will finish school, get and keep a job, and participate in the economy is much greater.

She also has access to free quality education, including at the secondary and tertiary level. And she has a legal right to resources, including but not limited to the right to access, control, own, and inherit land and capital.

At the structural level, we have also seen tangible progress when governments and corporations move beyond lofty statements on gender equality and reflect their commitments in their budgets and policies.

In 2017, Canada launched its Feminist International Assistance Policy, which targets gender equality in the global fight against poverty. Gender budgeting of this sort—or the practice of earmarking money towards policies that are explicitly mindful of their impact on girls and women – is gaining momentum globally.

Today, gender assessments inform policy decisions and funding allocations in countries like Finland, Ethiopia, and Ecuador.

Corporations have also taken steps to leverage their structural power to lift women up. Global giants like Procter & Gamble, for example, have implementedpay equality across all levels, from junior-level employees to top executives.

Unilever and Nike are showing their strength as in changing the gender narrative through their Unstereotyping and Dream Crazier campaigns. Merck offers flexible work locations, job sharing, compressed workweeks, and back-up childcare.

Companies investing in family-friendly, gender-responsive policies have been rewarded with high returns on their investments, including better worker attendance and increased productivity.

Finally, in an era when women-led and women-focused movements are shaking up the status quo, we have seen the ‘power of the many’ rise to demand work environments and conditions where women can thrive. Movements such as MeToo, #BalancetonPorc, Ni Una Menos, and many others have exposed the magnitude of sexual harassment, misogyny, and gender-based violence in workplaces globally.

Through critical debates, these movements have sparked energy and action to end harassment in the workplace, pay women their fair share, and push for family-friendly policies that allow half the workforce equal rights and opportunity as both workers and earners.

Meanwhile, projects like Girls Who Code, W2E2, and Samasource—and initiatives like International Day of Women and Girls in Science—have surfaced globally to secure a place for women in the future of work. This call to action to nurture female talent in Science, Technology, Education and Math (STEM) is vital, since the fields expecting the most growth are known for low female representation.

For example, girls and women make up only 22% of the AI workforce, lag behind men in digital fluency, and are less likely to study science, technology, engineering, and math. This comes with serious consequences for women’s ability to enter, remain, and advance in the workforce of today and tomorrow.

Every day, women all over the world show that they can build informal and formal businesses out of limited capital and resources. The benefits of investing in their access and control over economic opportunity are immense.

The reforms to help women get there are very much on the table—our job is now to create the momentum to scale them up.

This year’s Women Deliver conference will ask participants to reflect on how they can and will use their power for good. The world will be watching. How will you use yours?

*The original article appeared in Finance and Development published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)

Global Hunger Is Threatening Families Because of Climate Change

Droughts are not new to East Africa. However, abnormally high temperatures in the region are linked to climate change and proving deadly for livelihoods and livestock. Credit: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 15 2019 – There is barely a corner of human life that will not be affected by climate change, and some of its impacts are already being felt. Consider this, 821 million people are now hungry and over 150 million children stunted, putting the hunger eradication goal, SDG 2, at risk.

Today 15 May, is the United Nations International Day of Families and the theme for this year is, ‘Families and Climate Action’.

The wellbeing of families is central to healthy societies, but is threatened by climate change, especially in the poorest parts of the world.

Across the world what we understand by ‘family’ takes many forms, but it remains the fundamental unit of society. It is where from our earliest days we learn to share, to love, to reason, to consider others, to stand up for ourselves and to take responsibility.

But families face challenges on many fronts and – particularly in the developing world – climate change is perhaps the greatest of these as it is exacerbating hunger and food insecurity.

The focus on families and climate has most resonance in Africa, where it is estimated that climate change could reduce yields from rain-fed agriculture by 50 percent by 2020, jeopardizing the welfare of seven in ten people who depend on farming for a living.

“Environment is the foundation of development,” said Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta when he launched the government’s 1.8 billion tree-planting campaign in May 2018.

When crops are wiped out by flood or drought, families are robbed of livelihoods and food security. Parents who are already financially vulnerable then struggle to meet the costs of housing, feeding and schooling their children, and of paying for medicines when they are sick.

The greatest killers of children – malnutrition, diarrhoeal disease and malaria – will worsen because of climate change. Children living in developing countries face the greatest risks of all, not always because climate change effects will be worse there than in other countries, but because poverty limits their ability to respond.

Nowhere is this truer than in Bangladesh, with its overwhelmingly young population and almost unparalleled vulnerability to the repercussions of a changing climate. A recent report by UNICEF looked at the impact of climate change on families and children in Bangladesh.

“Climate change is deepening the environmental threat faced by families in Bangladesh’s poorest communities, leaving them unable to keep their children properly housed, fed, healthy and educated,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, who visited Bangladesh in early March 2019.

Increased competition for dwindling natural resources results in political instability, social upheaval, conflicts, forced migration and displacements and once again, children are the main victims. Forced from their homes, many are denied an education, further denting their prospects and threatening social and economic development in some of the poorest areas of the world.

An FAO study says that almost 57% of Kenya’s population lives in poverty, particularly female headed households who are largely reliant on climate-sensitive economic activities including rain fed subsistence or smallholder agriculture.

With Kenya’s considerable advances in mobile technology penetration, important information can be delivered to agricultural actors along the value chain, including weather information and availability and prices of inputs.

With proper investments and policy, Kenya’s youth can spur the transformation of agriculture from subsistence, hit-or-miss propositions to robust commercial operations that can withstand the effects of climate change.

Africa’s biggest threat from climate change will remain the inter-generational downward spiral into deeper poverty that is brought on by decreased farm yields.

Increasing resilience to climate-related shocks in Africa’s agriculture will result in a rise in farm productivity. It will mean women, who make up the largest share of the continent’s small-holder farmers, will have better incomes. Women allocate more of their income to food, health and education for their families, therefore it would also translate into greater gains for children and future generations.

Ending hunger and poverty is the prime mission of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and will demand dramatic shifts in what and how we consume, and above all it will demand cooperation and collaboration on a regional and global scale.

It will not be easy, but for the sake of every family, everywhere, we cannot fail.

A version of this article originally appeared in Reuters