Global progress on gender equality has been slow and insufficient. 20 years ago, The Beijing Platform for Action, a global framework for women’s rights, laid out 12 critical areas to address to bring about gender equality. While some progress has been made in education, political participation, and labor participation, in terms of economic progress (i.e employment conditions, wage parity, and growth opportunities) progress has been minimal. Many countries still lack legislation that specifically addresses discrimination against women.
The Millennium Development Goals have sought to address some of these issues. Through focus on these goals, gender parity in primary school enrollment is being achieved in developing countries and women’s political participation is on the rise. But more can and should be done, especially for women in least developed countries who live life at a greater disadvantage across all gender indicators.
2015 is a crucial year for bringing women to the forefront of development discussions. It is the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Declaration. The new Sustainable Development Goals – to be agreed upon in September – should go a long way to addressing issues of gender inequality for women and girls. However, in order for them to be effective and change to occur, governments will have to harness political will that is buttressed by dedicated financial commitments.
Globally, official development assistance (ODA) remains a necessary source of financing, especially for least developed countries which have little ability to attract other forms of financing. Yet historically, donor funding towards gender equality has been consistently low. According to the UN Secretary General’s Report, there has been regular under investment in this area. Where ODA has been spent on gender equality activities, it has often emphasized health, education and governance with a minimal emphasis on economic sectors (i.e business).
The Financing for Development (FfD) conference held last week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia made clear the importance of investing in women and girls as a tool to fight against global poverty. Simply put, financing matters for development, and for women, because it provides the means of implementation to achieve the global goals. It is how we can get things done. Policies and agreements are only well- intentioned recommendations until budgets and financial disbursements make them a reality.
The Addis Ababa Action Agenda, agreed upon at FfD, aims to address legislative and administrative barriers experienced by women and also urges countries to track and report financing for women. While the Agenda lacked concrete commitments and targets on financing for women, as other international bodies like the African Union have done, the conference itself gave rise to the introduction of different initiatives aimed at addressing the issue. A case in point, the Global Financing Facility was launched by the UN, World Bank and others to mobilize finance for women’s maternal health and child mortality. The Addis Ababa Action Plan on Transformative Finance for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment also promises to increase investments towards gender equality and women’s empowerment in the areas of data and monitoring, partnerships for women, creating enabling environments for economic empowerment, and tracking international and domestic resources for equality. These initiatives pave the way for the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Post- 2015 Summit and the upcoming Global Leaders’ Commitment Forum on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment meeting, both in September, which will finalize the Sustainable Development Goals and hopefully secure greater commitments for women.
In the post 2015 context, the oft-repeated mantra that ‘investing in women is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do’ is regularly used as a call to action to move women’s empowerment and gender equality forward. More tangible commitments and sincere accountability at critical forums like the FfD conference, UNGA, and the upcoming global leaders meeting are necessary to fulfill this mantra and revive progress. The world’s women need more, and now is the time for action.