Our Perspective

June 2014

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

Consumption and well-being: What are we missing?

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“The consumption boom” is concentrated in the upper echelons of society. Photo: Mauricio Martínez/ UNDP in El Salvador

Slavoj Zizek tells a joke that was popular in Eastern Europe in the sixties. A man enters a grocery store and yells, “Surely you don’t have any soap, right?” The shopkeeper replied halfheartedly: “No, sir, we’re the shop with no toilet paper; the shop with no soap is further ahead.” In Latin America, something similar is happening in discussions on progress and development, and we usually think we are the society that is “missing something”, or is “incomplete”. We are interested in exploring the particularities of what’s desperately needed, the necessary data that will enable us to better visualize our unsustainable pattern of consumption. In other words, to examine the aspects of multidimensional poverty that we still have not been able to define. A couple of weeks ago, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean published new data on consumption, spending and borrowing. The initial findings are as follows: “The consumption boom” is concentrated in the upper echelons of society. The richest 20 percent of Latin Americans accounted for roughly 50 percent of all household spending. The poorest 20 percent accounted for about 7 percent of total household spending. Furthermore, the findings show a transition in the nature of spending.... Read more

Square pegs, round holes, and the importance of asking the right questions

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A third of Bangladesh’s population is below the age of 25, and yet we know little about their expectations from elected representatives. Photo: UNDP in Bangladesh

Of course, I know what the word innovation means but, as a relatively new recruit to UNDP, I am curious about what it means for the organization. For the past year, I’ve been leading a project seeking to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Bangladesh and  wondered: Which innovation could we possibly devise that would redefine how effective parliaments are in a country? Just a few hours into an innovation workshop in Bangladesh, I realized I had been coming at this all wrong. The innovation our work with the parliament needs isn’t about tweaking existing programmes or devising new ones -it is about how we are defining the problem! The way we have been designing solutions to problems we perceived the citizens of Bangladesh were experiencing was flawed because we weren’t really asking them what the problem was in the first place. Instead of doing what we’ve been doing last year and the year before that eg. counting the amount of people being trained, of male/female participants and of public hearings held, we need to go back to the drawing board. Sure, we’ll do all the counting needed,  but we will also organize ‘itch workshops’  to find out what matters to citizens including... Read more

Land and property governance – a matter of development and human rights

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Access to land for women is a key development issue. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/ UNDP India

Although more than 115 nations recognize, in their legal frameworks, women’s equal rights to property and inheritance, in many countries women continue to face discrimination when it comes to land and property rights, Land plays a critical economic, environmental, social, cultural and political role in the development of states and people. Control of land and related natural resources is linked to power and identity, and can be a source of conflict and crisis. Land and natural resource management also lie at the core of ensuring environmental sustainability, including the maintenance of ecosystems and biodiversity. For indigenous and tribal communities, access to land and the protection of their traditional tenure practices are critical to their existence and identity. Failed land policies can also cause massive migration of workers from rural to urban areas. Having access to land and security of tenure provides a gateway to a range of economic, social, civil and political rights. Hence, when people, in particular indigenous communities, women, the rural poor or urban slum dwellers achieve secure access to land or property, they can start to enjoy a greater sense of economic security, improve their livelihoods, but importantly also, gain capacity, interest and influence in decision-making. We have... Read more

Measuring human progress in the 21st Century

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Workers at the at Santo Nino dumpsite in Tacloban, Philippines, six months after Haiyan. Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP Philippines

Few, if any, statistical constructs have had a greater influence on the modern world than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And 2014 marks the eightieth anniversary of its creation. As every economist knows, GDP summarizes total economic activity. It was developed by Simon Kuznets, a Russian-American economist and statistician, as a way to better understand the American economy during the great depression. Not only was Kuznets a brilliant economist (he went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1971), he was also an astute judge of humanity, or at least the potential for people to misuse numbers: when he introduced GDP to the US Congress he warned specifically against using it as a measure of wellbeing: “the welfare of a nation can”, he wrote, “scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income”. And this is because, as hopefully every economist also knows, it is easy to construct examples of undesirable social or environmental phenomena (crime sprees, oil slicks or hurricanes for instance) that can generate both an increase in GDP and a decrease in wellbeing. But despite Kuznets’s warnings, in both the US and many other countries, the pursuit of economic growth and a rising GDP quickly became a dominant mantra... Read more

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