This blog first appeared on Beyond BRICS.
There is a simple truth that the world ignores at its peril: poverty is sexist. These three words must be a rallying cry for the rest of the year, not only because girls and women living in the poorest countries are hit harder by poverty than boys and men, but also because when we challenge that truth, when we invest in girls and women first, everyone benefits. And this year is the year we need transformative change. Chancellor Angela Merkel in particular, who is hosting this year’s G7, has an historic chance to lead the world in agreeing that at least half of overseas aid goes to the poorest countries. And we will be cheering her on – and holding her accountable – every step of the way.
With new Global Goals for development – the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) – due in September, citizens must pressure their leaders to make sure this generation is the one to end extreme poverty. By investing in women and girls, we give ourselves the best chance of hitting the goals’ 2030 target. Melinda Gates has said, “If you want to make life better for a community, you should start by investing in its women and girls” – and the evidence is stacking up to prove it.
Our new campaign and report, launching at the Women of the World Event in London, demonstrates that putting girls and women at the heart of development can bring astounding economic and social impacts. We’re not alone. A letter signed by Meryl Streep, Sheryl Sandberg and Danai Gurira (among others) demands leaders heed our call for women to be prioritised in poverty alleviation. We all need to echo this.
In 2015 we can reboot development with girls and women as the catalysts of global progress. The SDGs must aim to deliver for those that are hardest to reach and those worst affected by extreme poverty. The success of those goals will depend on their being fully financed and on citizens being able to track them, from resources to results on the ground. Two powerful leaders can help make that happen.
Chairperson Dlamini-Zuma chairs the African Union Commission and has called for a women’s summit; G7 host Chancellor Merkel has also put women’s economic empowerment at the heart of her agenda. Chancellor Merkel in particular must prioritise:
1. Deliver on financing for development
Chancellor Merkel must seize the opportunity of the Financing for Development Conference in Ethiopia. Top of her list must be a strong outcome from the G7, with donor countries putting the poorest first. Merkel must lead by example and commit Germany to increasing the quality and quantity of aid towards 0.7 per cent of gross national income, and to direct at least half of its aid to least developed countries (LDCs) – and the other G7 countries should follow suit. The Addis Ababa conference will need all leaders to work together in partnership to boost revenues in developing countries that can be spent on vital services like health and education. Strengthening tax systems, inviting developing countries as equal partners for automatic exchange of information rules and agreeing parameters for delivering for the poorest people also need to be addressed in Addis.
2. Deliver a strong women’s initiative at the G7
The Chancellor must champion a transformation of women’s economic empowerment to tackle the barriers that exist for women in the poorest countries. Take agriculture: in sub-Saharan Africa, investments in this sector can bring 11 times more growth than other areas, yet (from the data we have) only 10-20 per cent of land is owned by women. Without their own property, women cannot build the economic independence to help them become agents of change. Investing in finance and technology for women, and proactively engaging women in training to become health care workers, can also help bolster health systems in those countries that often need to face the world’s deadliest diseases.
3. Put women and girls at the heart of the global goals
The next development agenda must embody three qualities. The SDGs must be focused, with clear indicators and targets so we can measure their progress. The goals must be fully financed and concentrate first and foremost on those who have the least. Finally, the goals must be followed, with reliable information that, in particular, closes the gender-gap on available data.
These policy goals are rooted in the need to change the everyday realities that constrain the potential for millions of daughters, sisters and mothers. Domestic duties often hamper the ability of girls and women to learn, earn and rise up in the economy simply through sheer lack of access, opportunity and time. Child marriage claims 40,000 girls under 18 every single day, quashing their independence and breaching their fundamental rights. Millions of girls and women – in all countries – face the threat of physical and sexual violence every day, often within their own intimate relationships.
But investing in women reaps results. Globally, providing female farmers with the same access to productive resources as male farmers could reduce the number of people living in chronic hunger by 100–150m. The global economy would benefit too: reducing differences in the employment rate between men and women by 2017 could generate an additional $1.6tn in global purchasing power. For all these reasons, we need to end extreme poverty, and our best chances of fighting that fight is through the prioritisation of girls and women. We will be working with partners around the world on this fight throughout 2015 and beyond, and we hope you will join us.