Our Perspective

Questioning the ‘feminisation of development’ and the business logic

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A PARTICIPANT in A WOMEN ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT PROGRAMME IN UPPER EGYPT. Photo: HEEWOONG KIM/undp.

‘Feminisation of development’ is a fancy phrase referring to the recent trend of seeing women as both beneficiaries and agents of change in development. This has become a popular approach and many of our programmes such as micro-loans, or skills trainings for women fit into this category. This new role is bolstered by a so-called ‘smart business’ logic. Based on this view, women’s empowerment is not only a rights or equity issue, but is also a good investment. UNDP and other UN agencies have, to a degree, subscribed to this logic saying that empowering women leads to better health, education and development overall; and many  of our programmes proved to be quite effective in producing results. For instance, the Conditional Cash Transfers programme provided to mothers in Latin America reduced inequality by 21 percent in Brazil/Mexico and 15 percent in Chile. An initiative targeting ultra-poor female-headed households in Bangladesh raised income by 36 percent and food security by 42 percent. But despite such success, there is mounting opposition against this trend, surprisingly, from the feminist schools. Sylvia Chant, a prominent gender and development scholar, strongly argues against this approach stating: “Women are enlisted as foot soldiers to serve in battles whose aims... Read more

Engaging with parlamentarians on HIV and the law

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A DOCTOR PROVIDING HIV COUNSELING AND TESTING TO A WOMAN IN RUMBEK, LAKES STATE, SOUTH SUDAN. PHOTO: MARGUERITE NOWAK/ UNDP IN SOUTH SUDAN

I have been working for several years with policy- and law-makers to support a rights-based response to HIV and contribute to stemming the tide of the epidemic. This work often requires raising highly controversial and discomfiting issues such as class, sexuality, gender and stigmatized behaviors such as drug use. It also involves the most marginalized society groups– sex workers, transgender people, homosexual men and drug users. Often, parliamentarians are not fully informed of the complex factors that allow HIV to spread and thrive within communities, particularly the ways in which marginalization, disempowerment, stigma and discrimination contribute to making people vulnerable. But I have witnessed how individuals in positions of influence – lawmakers, judges, the police – can drive advancements in the law that protect those affected by HIV and benefit society at large. Concerted efforts at engaging parliamentarians on human rights issues can lead to tangible change, although it is often a slow and onerous process. We, at UNDP, play a pivotal role in engaging governments and building capacity of government actors on many development issues, including on HIV and the crucial need for rights-based legal approaches in addressing the epidemic. Our support of the Global Commission on HIV and the... Read more

Financing Post-2015: A quick run-down of the expert committee’s report

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Drip irrigation system introduced in the farmlands of Akmola region in Kazakhstan. Photo: UNDP in Kazakhstan

The UN’s inter-governmental committee of experts on sustainable development financing met for the last time this month to put the final touches to their much anticipated report on how the world should finance the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals – or SDGs. I’ve had the opportunity to attend many of the committee’s sessions, and they’ve had a mammoth task. So what have they come up with? You can read the full report here, but below is a quick heads-up. The range of issues they’ve had to cover is massive: from assessing how much cash is needed to finance sustainable development to thinking about where the cash could come from and where these funds should be directed. The report draws up a ‘menu of options’ for the financing of sustainable development. This allows policymakers in different countries to make choices as to what policies and financial instruments are most suited to them. That makes perfect sense of course; the strategy that will be best for a climate-vulnerable small island state such as the Maldives won’t necessarily be the same for a larger resource-rich country such as Kazakhstan. On the other hand, it could also lead governments to ‘cherry-pick’ among the ideas presented, and... Read more

Creating and sustaining ethical organizational culture

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When we speak of organizational culture, we are referring to the way people behave in the workplace, how they go about doing their work and the values that they demonstrate through their actions and decision-making. Organizational culture passes down from long serving staff to new hires and becomes embedded in how the organization operates. Thus, organizational culture is influenced and impacted not just by written regulations, rules and policies, but also by the unwritten code of ‘how we really do things around here.’ So, the organizational culture can be aligned with its stated values and policies (ethical), or it can be contradictory of those written statements (unethical). Very often, employees will do what they know is rewarded and will avoid doing what they know will be punished. To create and sustain an ethical organizational culture needs constant communication about the ethical values of the organization and ensuring that the behaviors of all leaders and staff members are aligned with those values. This requires going beyond just the written rules to reaching for the highest aspirational behavior. It means living the principles underpinning the values, even when there is no rule or where the written rule is unclear. An ethical organizational culture... Read more

Africa is transforming itself: How do we turn intentions into reality?

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Better investment in infrastructure could help Africa's transformation. Photo: Benoit Almeras Martino/UNDP DRC

Recently I attended an event from the Global Compact, a UN initiative to encourage businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies. Entitled "Advancing Partnerships and Responsible Business Leadership", it was held for the first time in Africa, bringing over 300 participants together from businesses, Global Compact networks, UN agencies and governments. Africa's economic transformation with various partners from China, Europe and the US was among the key topics discussed. But, while multinational companies do play a role, it is increasingly clear that African policy makers and business people are setting the continent’s agenda. Participants largely agreed that Africa’s transformation requires investment in better infrastructure, education, skills, jobs, policies and more. The WHAT was better articulated than the HOW. Africa is expected to be one of the world's fastest growing regions, with 4.8 percent growth in 2014 and over 5 percent in 2015, according to the recent African Economic Outlook 2014. However, this transformation goes well beyond economic growth. Development practitioners talk more and more about ‘inclusive growth’, agreeing that businesses should go beyond philanthropy and corporate social responsibility towards making their core activities better suited for societies and the environment.  As UNDP's Resident Coordinator in Ethiopia, Eugene Owusu stated: "Inclusive... Read more

A new global framework for disaster risk reduction

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Barbados: Members of the community doing practical exercises in disaster management. Photo: UNDP in Barbados & the OECS

It is well recognized that disasters are an impediment to the eradication of poverty, so it is no surprise that the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include indicators related to disaster risk reduction. However, while most attention is on the post-2015 development framework, momentum is also building towards a new framework for disaster risk reduction – a successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA). Adopted by 168 countries in 2005, the HFA pledges to reduce the impact of disasters through prevention, preparedness, and capacities for emergency response. Over the last nine years, the HFA has been instrumental in galvanizing global support for tackling disasters. And the results during this time have been significant. Countries in all regions have made progress and some have truly transformed the way they undertake development, mainstreaming risk reduction throughout institutions, policies and programmes. However, while a great deal of progress has been made, especially in disaster preparedness, other areas, such as risk-governance, still require a concerted push. In July, I had the opportunity to participate in the first preparation meeting for the successor of the HFA (dubbed ‘HFA2’), and its adoption in March 2015 at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Organized by UNISDR... Read more

Making sense of the world we live in: The development contribution

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South Sudanese refugees in a Refugee Settlement in Northern Uganda. Photo: F. NOY/ UNHCR

It’s hard to remember a time when more crises were jostling for space in the headline news, or when the world’s leading diplomats, like Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN Secretary General, were engaged in shuttle diplomacy on so many issues simultaneously. Top of mind by late last month were the conflicts in Gaza and eastern Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Mali, Nigeria. Meeting the costs of humanitarian relief is proving overwhelming. By the end of June this year, UN coordinated appeals for humanitarian crises had already reached $16.4 billion. This was before the latest conflict in Gaza began, and before a lot of the fighting in eastern Ukraine.  Could more be done to anticipate, prevent, or mitigate these traumatic events? The short answer is – yes and there is a compelling need to try to get ahead of the curve of future crises and disasters, to avert huge and costly development setbacks and lives lost.   Rough estimates suggest that for every dollar spent in disaster preparedness and mitigation, seven dollars will be saved when disaster strikes. It is also true that spending in fragile states which have been or still are immersed in conflict does... Read more

Building the house of development: We can get there

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Learning to adapt to climate change in Odisha, India where women are hit hardest by the extreme weather conditions. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/ UNDP India

As I think about the current challenges facing international development policy I find myself increasingly concerned about how we define development. We talk about “people-centered” development, but our goals still refer to society, economy and the environment as though these can be separated. To quote Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, African Development Bank Special Envoy on Gender : “Progress on key gender indicators – such as school enrollment and completion rates, maternal mortality, labour force participation, and asset ownership – also depends on investments in water, sanitation, transport, productive assets, and access to financial services.” My recent work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) taught me that, when we separate the social, the economic and the environmental, we hamper opportunity and creativity – and we may even be doing harm.  The IPCC process was committed to finding ways to express complexity and nuance by bringing together social, environmental and economic analysis. Yet currently we seem conservative rather than progressive. We need to take unprecedented action to tackle inequality at the international level, acknowledging that it is a global challenge and not just an issue for some countries or some people. Our approach must reflect countries’ unequal capacities to cope with climate change,... Read more

Development of, by, and for the people

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The UN joint programme on Youth Empowerment in Montenegro is trying to apply user-led design so that young people come up with solutions to problems they are facing. Photo: Christian Schwier/UN in Montenegro

Recently, I got a pretty awesome offer: Visit our country offices in Montenegro and Kosovo and see how they’d been doing development differently. Four weeks later I was in Pristina, then in Podgorica, and here is what I took away from my colleagues: 1. Keep momentum even in the face of disappointments and failures. New ideas require adjustments and refining. You probably heard how failure is just another stepping stone to success and how Walt Disney, Sidney Poitier, Albert Einstein all failed miserably at the start of their careers. Yet at the first sign of failure, most of us run and erase all tracks. Never be afraid to fail. 2. Don’t innovate for the sake of innovation. We have an edge over private sector companies that need to invest large sums in innovation: We have access. Access to a pool of technical expertise, good relationships with the governments hosting us, and the ability to convene people from all over the world, by virtue of our neutrality and impartiality. Innovation should only serve to complement this edge. 3. Dare to push the limits and do things differently: Innovation is not just about creating a Facebook page for our projects. In a recent campaign for social inclusion in Montenegro, the... Read more

Female genital mutilation: When a harmful traditional practice becomes a crime

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An artistic representation of FGM in Egypt. Photo: UNDP Egypt

Recently I visited Fayoum and Aswan, Egypt, and met with women, men and girls who are actively advocating against female genital mutilation (FGM). A father told me that when he understood that FGM had no religious basis, and was an inherited traditional habit, he actively started advocating against it. A female community activist I spoke to explained that until recently she had to meet families in secret to share her message against FGM, whereas now she is invited to speak openly. As evidenced by these testimonies, once people change their perceptions on FGM, they become staunch advocates against this harmful practice. The National Anti-FGM Day, on June 14th, was established in honor of 12-year-old Bodour Shaker, who died on the same date in 2007. In June 2013, 13-year-old Soheir El Batea suffered the same fate. As heartbreaking as these two tragedies are, their untimely deaths were not in vain. As a result of public mobilization, the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) was criminalized in 2008 and the first case is currently under prosecution. Data from the Demographic and Health Survey suggests that some improvements occurred over the last two decades. In 2008, among women aged 15-17, the FGM/Cutting prevalence rate... Read more

Saving our Tuna

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The tuna industry is using new and innovative technologies to increase their ability to catch fish.

I’ll never look at a tuna sandwich the same way again. A UNDP film project this past year has opened my eyes to the challenges of managing tuna. I never thought about the fact that half of the world’s tuna comes from the West and Central Pacific, and with them, a way of life for so many Pacific Islanders. I didn’t know, for instance, that the overall catch rate in the past ten years for Pacific tuna has more than doubled. I also didn’t know there are so many kinds of tuna. I thought tuna was tuna; it came in a can in either brine or oil. I learned that the industry is vast, varied and vital. While Skipjack tuna are still abundant, the prized Bluefin, found largely in the Atlantic and East Pacific, is already over-fished. The Big-eye and Yellow-fin are considered to be harvested close to their maximum yield. Fisheries in general account for roughly 80 percent of the exports and five percent of wage paying jobs for half of the 14 Pacific Island countries. The tuna industry is using new and innovative technologies to increase their ability to catch fish. Various floating “fish aggregating devices” attract fish in... Read more

Beijing+20: Time to fulfil the promise

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UN Women launches the year-long campaign, "Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!," to spark global dialogue and actions on women's right and gender equality. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

I was recently among a few thousand people at the public launch of a year-long UN Women campaign marking 20 years since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Women leaders, celebrities, officials and activists of all ages came together with musicians and performers in New York’s iconic Apollo Theater on 26 June to celebrate the landmark summit which made the slogan “women’s rights are human rights” universal. In 1995, as a graduate student volunteering with the New York-based Women’s Environment and Development Organization, I went to Beijing, one of more than 30,000 women’s advocates in the NGO Forum in Huairou. ‘Beijing’ symbolized the moment when, as feminist leader Charlotte Bunch put it, “all issues came together. Crossing borders and boundaries, race, culture, class, sexual orientation, age, diversity was key to women’s success in Beijing.” Women’s work and tireless advocacy were in large part behind the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with its 12 critical areas of concern. To date, it is the most comprehensive bill of women’s rights that women have won by consensus. Much has since changed for the world’s women and girls – in health, education, work, rights and opportunities. But celebrations of Beijing are tempered... Read more

Turning subsistence farmers into market suppliers in Africa

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Despite agriculture being a major source of income in Africa, smallholder farmers face many challenges. Photo: Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC

As I sat down for my first dinner in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after a bit more than one year since my last visit, I suddenly remembered that something is very wrong with food prices here. How can a simple margarita pizza with only cheese, tomato, oil and flour, be USD 20? How can local fish be USD 30? Admittedly I did not eat in the cheapest local restaurant, yet the prices are 4 to 5 times more expensive in comparison to similar dishes in Addis Ababa, where I live. Indeed, food in the DRC is at least twice as expensive as the average world food price for basic commodities. Why is that? A combination of poor farmer productivity, lack of infrastructure and a difficult business environment, mean that the cost of producing goods and taking them to markets is high, and imports are often more readily available or cheaper than local products. In 2008, Bralima, one of DRC’s leading brewers, sourced 16% of its rice from outside the country, due to its inability to source it from the local market. With 80 million ha of arable land and 90 percent of it not cultivated, DRC offers huge untapped... Read more

At UNDP, innovation for development

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The Council of Cattle Holders in Kazakhstan is using new technologies to revive traditional nomadic pasture management. Photo: UNDP in Kazakhstan

On June 19, in a building of the US Senate, our UNDP Washington Representation Office participated in an Innovation Fair organized by the UN Foundation. The event was a timely success as development organizations must seek to innovate to meet stakeholders’ expectations in a fast-changing environment. Among our partners, for example, USAID runs a Global Development Lab, UNICEF works with Silicon Valley’s technology start-ups and the US Global Development Council recently proposed new social impact funds and cash-on-delivery models. UNDP has inherited a solid tradition of game-changing ideas such as the Human Development Index and continues to leverage technical, social and managerial innovation throughout its programs and operations. In Sierra Leone, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNDP employs pioneering biometric voter registration techniques like fingerprint and eye scan, unique and unchangeable traits of a person, to prevent fraud and build trust in fair elections. Using mobile phone messaging, Tanzanian voters check their electoral registration status and polling station location whilst in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, text messages provide tsunami and earthquake warning. On a global level, taking advantage of internet and mobile phone technologies, UNDP is polling people’s opinions (more than 2 million so far) to vote... Read more

A sole woman at the negotiating table for peace

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SHADIA MARHABAN SPEAKS TO REPORTERS AFTER PARTICIPATING IN A CLOSED, MEETING OF THE SECURITY COUNCIL ON THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN MEDIATION AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION. PHOTO: UN

Almost ten years ago, I was part of a peace process that produced an agreement to end a 30-year bloody conflict between the Government of the Republic of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Then and now, women are rarely seen in this peace negotiation arena. They are not perceived as adequately prepared for tackling "tough" issues like peace and security. Despite recent international obligations to include women in peace processes, reality has not kept pace with rhetoric. My own presence, as a lone woman among "tough" men, who had been at the helm of the struggle for independence for decades, was unique. As a woman, and a mother of two children, I did not push to go to Helsinki for the peace talks, since it meant leaving my two small children. But as fate would have it, the official negotiators were arrested on the way to the airport and exiled to prison. By default, I then became formally part of the negotiations, as I was a field expert. I was treated with respect by the top leadership. I presented myself not as a woman on the team, but rather as a field expert whose expertise was important to the... Read more

How can we promote peace and development at the same time?

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A woman greets members of the Technical Support Committee of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework in Mugunga IDP camp near Goma, DR Congo. Photo: Sylvain Liechti/UN

The 2014 Global Peace Index, which was released last week, revealed that the world has become less peaceful every year since 2008. It also showed that the global economic impact of violence is USD 9.8 trillion – or 11.3 percent of global GDP. While many developing countries have made tremendous progress in reducing poverty over the last decade, these are depressing numbers. However, they reiterate that peace and stability – and the prevention of violent conflict — are inherently tied to sustainable development. A less peaceful world is a much more challenging place to fight inequality and want. Countries experiencing repeated cycles of violence face poverty at significantly higher rates. People in unstable and conflict-affected countries are more than twice as likely to be under-nourished as those in other developing countries; and children in conflict zones are more than three times less likely to be able to attend school, and twice as likely to die before the age of five. Nine out of 10 countries with the lowest human development index have experienced conflict within the past 20 years. We must double down on efforts to mitigate risk and prevent the loss of development investment when conflict strikes. Success today depends... Read more

Making education work: The governance conundrum

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Globally, 123 million youth (aged 15 to 24) lack basic reading and writing skills; 61 percent of them are young women. Photo: UNDP/Pakistan

Pakistan is one of the few countries that spend just around two percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on education. The actual development expenditure on education is another problem- on average, 82 percent of allocated funds are used on non-developmental items. In Pakistan, as in most developing countries, the impact of education investments is usually discussed in very simplistic terms. The measure of performance and the subsequent outcomes are seldom questioned. Good governance—setting up performance benchmarks, systems of monitoring and accountability, and budgeting and distribution formulae can considerably improve institutional effectiveness and results in the education system. Tracking expenditure and ensuring responsible spending are essential. So is the process through which budgets are prepared and distributed across different geographic areas. Is there a formula that accounts for education poverty? That guides resource allocation to different districts? An example from district Dera Bugti illustrates the severity of education inequality across the country. The district’s net enrolment ratio stands at 12 percent, survival rate and literacy rate are 9 percent and 16 percent, respectively. The highest corresponding figures in the country are of Islamabad, which are 76 percent and 89 percent. There are also gender-based disparities. The gender parity index for primary education in... Read more

Why women matter for peace

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Women and girls are uniquely and disproportionately affected by armed conflict and disaster. Photo: Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC

"It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern wars." These are not the words of a woman who has faced the violence and ferocity of conflict, but words of Major General Patrick Cammaert, who served as the Deputy Force Commander of the United Nations Mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The nature of modern conflicts has changed: almost 90 percent of casualties are civilian, of which the most vulnerable are women. As witnesses and victims to conflict, they are overlooked as participants to peace processes. They are too often sidelined in dialogues and negotiations on peace and security, arenas still seen by much of the world as the domain of men, with the association of guns, money and power. What is often disregarded is how much women know about conflict, and therefore how much they can contribute to peace. Women experience war differently than men. They are victims of sexual violence, often used as a systematic tool of war, which has lasting impact on their lives and the lives of their families and communities long after the war is over. Women can bring new understanding of a conflict, and with it,... Read more

Why troublemakers should work together: Ten thoughts on innovation and gender equality

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UNDP is fostering innovation to address complex problems in a new way. Photo: UNDP in Europe and CIS.

Pushing innovation and working for gender equality are a natural fit. Both necessitate the combination of causing trouble, looking at internal mechanisms, and working with non-traditional partners. Moreover, both have transformational potential. Inspired by UNDP’s current innovation agenda, we formulated some principles on innovation and gender equality. Our aim is not just to marry gender equality and innovation but to further bolster UNDP’s Guiding Principles for the Innovation Community. These 10 thoughts can hopefully provide meaningful food for thought when designing innovation initiatives around the world. 1. Start with your partners It’s been our experience that those most affected by society’s problems are often the ones who have the innovative solutions at hand. It is our job to unearth, enable and scale them. However, innovations, like everything else, are not gender-neutral. Who designs the latest gadget, website, or citizen feedback mechanism also plays a role in who will use it. Ensuring equal numbers of men and women are with us at the design table will help ensure everyone’s voice is heard. 2. What’s the bottleneck? A key component of finding innovative solutions is figuring out the problem, and then trying to find out the root causes. To do this, we must get out of... Read more

Can there be sustainable development without gender equality?

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Young mothers get health care education at a UNDP-sponsored clinic in Hakha Township, Chin State, Myanmar. Photo: Tom Cheatham for UNDP

Whenever we analyze a development strategy, the inevitable question arises:  Should the approach to gender equality be comprehensive across all sectors or should it be a separate issue and agenda? Experience tells us that both approaches are desirable: A concrete goal for gender equality as well as fundamental indicators and targets that require creation of gender policies. These policies should contain specific measures to address half of the population's need for education, health care, access to land and energy, etc. To date, this has been the most common approach across various UN groups, reaffirming the idea that a comprehensive and transformative approach is urgently needed in order to address structural barriers to gender equality and to lay a solid foundation for the future. The key now is to draw lessons learned from the experience of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and strengthen the tools that advanced gender equality in the desired areas. But what has been achieved by the MDGs with regard to gender equality? The answer is mixed: Gender parity has been achieved in primary education, but only 2 of 130 countries have achieved this goal at all levels of education. Progress has been made in access to employment. Globally, 40... Read more

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