CSW: women's empowerment or just smart economics?

Jane Gabriel
23 February 2008

Half way to 2015, the shortfall in funding necessary to achieve Millennium Development Goal Three "to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women" is already $8.6 billion and is expected to grow to $23.8 billion. The picture of financing for women's empowerment is a bleak one. The second Fundher report by AWID into funding for women's rights work makes depressing reading (it's a brilliant piece of work and worth reading if you can face the bad news). More than a thousand women's rights organisations were surveyed around the world and more than half reported a drop in income since 2000. Two thirds had incomes of less than $50k a year and one third has less than $10k.

When Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace prize micro-credit was being hailed as the ‘silver bullet' for empowering the poorest women, so looking at the IGO/UN schedule I'm struck by the fact that only one of the 68 scheduled events refers to micro-credit and there is no reference to it at all in the draft Agreed Conclusions that representatives from 45 countries will spend the next two weeks trying to agree on. No longer the panacea for reducing poverty, it seems that micro-finance is out and macro-finance is in.

The background report of this year's Expert Group says there is "growing evidence that gender inequality is ‘bad economics' so the language this year is of corporate social responsibility, social enterprises, endowments, planned giving and financial investments: a session by the World Bank talks of women's empowerment as "smart economics". So what does this really mean for gender equality and women's empowerment? Is there such a thing as economic empowerment without political empowerment? If women really had power would they be talking about empowerment in an economic framework or in a social justice framework? I'll be finding out over the next ten days....

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