Financing for Development Conference: what will it do for women’s economic empowerment? (Answer: potentially quite a lot...)

by 24th Jul 2015
Veronica, a micro-entrepreneur in the Philippines, in her small shop from which she also runs a ginger-tea-making business Veronica, a micro-entrepreneur in the Philippines, in her small shop from which she also runs a ginger-tea-making business

The Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa last week (13-16 July) got rather tepid and mixed reviews. Surprisingly, for a conference on financing, the outcome document contains very few numbers, and many NGOs are unhappy about the lack of funding commitments (including CARE), lack of a commitment to a new intergovernmental tax body, and a concern about the prominence of private financing (Oxfam, CAFOD, Christian Aid).

However, as a number of commentators have concluded, the outcome document is at least good enough to keep the 2015 process rolling as it heads towards final negotiation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris Climate Change Conference.

As a UK-based policy advisor working on women’s economic empowerment, I am more positive about the outcome document and view it as a solid base to build on for women’s economic empowerment.

1. 0.7% trumps the critiques

From the UK perspective, any critique of the document’s statements on international development cooperation is immediately met by the UK’s commitment to the 0.7% target which the document once again calls on all ODA providers to achieve. However we also recognise that the number of donors who do meet the target is clearly far too small and a lot more needs to be done. From a narrow women’s economic empowerment perspective, clearly some areas (eg gender attitudes) are hard nuts to crack and often private investment shies away from that.

2. Rights-based language on gender equality

The document has a very welcome strong statement to “ensure gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment”. Too many official documents mainly frame women’s economic empowerment  as an economic opportunity: this document (whilst sometimes a little inconsistent) does emphasise in a number of places the importance of achieving women’s rights (paras 1, 6, 41, 79, 90) and addresses gender-based violence (para 6).

3. Financial inclusion is included

We welcome the commitment on financial inclusion, one of the most effective interventions for women’s economic opportunity across a wide range of national and local circumstances. This commitment appears in a number of places across the document (paras 16, 38, 39, 41, 43). A minor disappointment is that the document does not adequately recognise the opportunity to capture up to USD 100 billion in additional funding for developing countries by bringing the savings of the poorest into the formal financial sector, an opportunity implicit in any commitment to financial inclusion. However, given the overall commitment to financial inclusion, we believe that this is additional resource mobilisation which will flow through to countries anyway.

4. Micro-enterprises are recognised

Again, a strong theme running through the document is the acknowledgement of the separate category of micro-enterprises. Women are more often working in the informal economy as micro-entrepreneurs by necessity, and in low return sectors, than men are.  Therefore the many references to “micro, small and medium enterprise” (paras 16, 35, 43, 45, 81, 88) and the recognition of the “diversity of the private sector, ranging from micro-enterprises to cooperatives to multinationals” is essential to ensure that changes to regulation and the business-enabling environment do not only respond to the narrow focus of the large, well-capitalised and well-represented national and international companies.

5. Decent jobs for all

Women predominate in more precarious, casualised and less regulated employment so the strong theme of decent jobs for all (paras 1, 16, 37, 41, 79), with direct reference to labour rights and the ILO’s labour standards, is welcome.

6. Fragile and conflict-affected states

Women are economic shock absorbers and crises all too frequently result in women finding themselves in a situation of lower economic control combined with increased economic responsibility.  There are numerous references to countries in conflict or post-conflict situations (paras 4, 8, 45, 46, 66, 78, 115) – although it is almost entirely in the context of the special situations of “least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, small island developing States, African countries, and countries in conflict and post-conflict situations”, leading one to suspect that certainly in the economic development sphere, the Financing for Development Conference, like many other development events/actors, does not have a clear approach to thinking through the special challenges faced in fragile and conflict-affected states. This is certainly something we would own up to at CARE, but we are working on it!  

7. But the unpaid care burden is missing

Finally, there is a major issue missing, looked at from the point of view of women’s economic empowerment, and that is women’s unpaid care burden which operates as a major obstacle to women playing a full and equal role in the economy. Given its importance to solving the issue of “the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies” (SDG 5.4), all of which make financial demands on states, we would have expected 39 pages and 134 paragraphs to explicitly address the topic at some point. We are of course very pleased that in the current draft, SDG 5.4 seeks to “recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work”, and are keen to stress the importance of the issue in achieving gender equality.

What now remains is for those of us in NGOs working on women’s economic empowerment to build on these commitments, identify what they mean in the context of particular countries, particular companies, and particular objectives, and hold public and private players to account for delivering against them.

Gerry Boyle

Gerry led CARE International UK’s policy analysis and advocacy around value chains and dignified work. He originally joined CARE as the Senior Policy Adviser on Private Sector Engagement. With the advent of our new Global Programme Strategy which put a particular emphasis on women’s economic empowerment, his focus changed a little.

Gerry co-chaired the Bond Private Sector Working Group. Immediately before he joined CARE he worked for Oxfam as Head of Business Relations for about three years, but the vast majority of his career was spent as a management consultant including being a consulting Partner at Deloitte, where for a time he led Deloitte UK’s Consumer Business consulting practice, serving many major multinationals. Gerry's original degree was in Law from Oxford University, and in 2008 when he left Deloitte he did an MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy at LSE.

One good thing I've read

Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom. It provides a framework for many people’s modern understanding of what is development, based on a profoundly human-centred approach rather than anything instrumental. And to check whether one personally is doing enough to fight poverty, I recommend Peter Singer’s The life you can save: Acting now to end world poverty – it’s very clear and easy to read but very challenging! Finally, Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans: Rich nations, poor policies, and the threat to the developing world is a very readable guide to economic development which argues strongly against many of the prevailing orthodoxies.

Twitter: @gerryboyle10