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Gender Equality, Economy, and Empowerment

Kristen Cordell looks at a novel approach to addressing gender equailty through development.
Kristen Cordell
11 March 2009
"Forget China, India and the Internet- economic growth is driven by Women"

The World Bank

In my earlier posts I have discussed my fundamental issues with the amount of data collection and systematic information gathering that goes on at the UN. As a solution, I recommended that the UN work in coordination with varied partners to advance their own capacity for measuring success at gender equality. It turns out one such project is underway right under my nose- and I wanted to bring it to the forefront of your attention as well.

Operating under the proven fact that empowering women through economy brings stability, prosperity and development to a nation, the World Bank Group, the OECD, UNIFEM and the International Center for Research on Women have launched a series of five community-level interventions (termed results-based initiatives or RBIs) in Liberia, Kenya, Egypt, Laos and Afghanistan. They discussed the RBIs and their respective projects in a CSW forum entitled "Gender Equality and Women's Economic Empowerment." There are two primary things that make the RBIs a very novel approach to engendering development projects. The first is that is that the RBIs will focus on including quality measures of gender impact at the outset through incremental documentation and performance and rigorous evaluation of findings. Secondly, under the recognition that gender equity is a multi-level and multi-dimensional issue, RBIs work across sectors on the Micro (individual and household) and Meso (community) levels to make a difference at the Macro (national) level.

In support of the RBIs the aforementioned organizations are also working to effectively facilitate better development funding of gender issues through creative fiscal incentives for such. The case for incentives based programming is that it succeeds where mandates for action have failed. That is, simply requiring gender equity through policy has not proven successful in the long term- however, rewarding gender equality programming through fiscal incentives motivates action. At the Bank such incentives are operationalized in an action plan that includes better institutional collaboration and donor networks, coordination between foreign sector leaders to expand private sector development and ranking that is doing the best business for women. The project is likely to succeed where others have failed, as high profile examples (including the Adolescent Girls Initiative) have garnered both attention and resources (two crucial pieces of the formula for success).

Incentives are key. The program reminded me of a case study I worked on as part of a larger study of women and nation building in Afghanistan: the National Solidarity Project, a World Bank funded program that distributes resources to communities that met the prerequisites of development projects that included the presence of women. With its explicit gender-related goals and the visible presence of foreign implementers, this program could be expected to generate resistance. But the experience of the NGOs who implemented this program shows that while it was not necessarily easy to obtain the participation of women, it was not in any instance a "deal-breaker" or even a major source of discord. Rather, an ongoing interactive process in which obstacles and local concerns were continuously met with discourse and novel solutions garnered local support.

Incentives like those offered in RBI projects can be very useful and powerful in even the most precarious of circumstances. The contribution they could make towards advancing gender equity through reliable data is a very exciting development, especially in moving forward toward the Millennium Development Goals.

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