Global Financial Crisis or Global Financial Opportunity?

Kirsten Cordell reports on the debate about the impact of the financial crisis on women.

"I was abroad when the global finical crisis struck and thus keenly aware of its reverberating and devastating effects. I assumed the news for financing gender equitable programming would prove equally bleak."

Kristen Cordell
6 March 2009

I was abroad when the global finical crisis struck and thus keenly aware of its reverberating and devastating effects. I assumed the news for financing gender equitable programming would prove equally bleak. While my knowledge of global finance is limited, I assumed that a tightening in the developed world would decrease development dollars abroad- meaning less money and opportunities for women.  Events early on during the CSW seemed to hold up my assumptions- Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights reflected that the “negative effects of the financial crisis will be felt disproportionably in developing and least developed countries, the poorest of the world's poor.” She sighted the vulnerability of women to losses in employment, shelter and food and the likelihood that the girl child would forfeit education to assist her family in the home.

However, at the CSW workshop “Financial Crisis: Policy Options and Priorities”, Barbra Adams of the Global Policy Forum brought context to the discussion with a reminder that issues of gender inequality greatly preceded the finical crisis. Creating options for addressing fiscal inequality has been an ongoing issue of concern- illustrated by the fact that ‘Financing for Development’ was a priority theme at the 52nd CSW. That being said, the panel suggested that the global financial crisis was actually an opportunity for national governments to create more ‘fiscal space’ for women through raising and spending of public funding on programs that effect them. Panelists suggested that national governments are now willing to pump money into social development as a means for revving the economy- and social development money is likely to promote and advance women.

The crisis as opportunity lens made me consider my own work on post conflict countries such as Afghanistan- during which I had found that the instability and lack of economic institutions within the post conflict phase provided a window of opportunity to promote gender equality (which would aid in stabilizing society.) Studies from the Nadereh Chamlou at the World Bank and Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations prove that women’s economic participation raises economic development, crucial to overall development and stabilization, by decreasing the dependency ratio- as it correlates with decreasing birth rates. Women are also significantly more likely than men to reinvest their earnings in items which benefit the family.  Finally, the presence of women in institutions- such as fiscal and administrative bureaucracies- is associated with decreases in corruption, something greatly needed in the wake of a greed driven fiscal meltdown.

Risks to women during this crisis are indeed high- however in shifting our frame of reference we shed light on a great opportunity for change. As nation states and international organizations respond to this crisis, we should organize and lobby for renewed and increased investments in women and girls at the national and international level (including during the high level meeting on the topic at the UNHQ in June.) As Rachel Mayanja, U.N. Special Adviser on Gender, pointed out- investing in women and girls is “not only good for them, but also for men and boys;” perhaps it will also be good the world as a whole.

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