Think Again: Women, Jobs and International Development

A review of the LCID & SOAS Labour debate on ‘Gender, International Development & UK Aid’ by Charlie Samuda

Economic development is as much about social justice as it is about the pounds and dollars that one country sends to another. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the debate about the role of gender in Britain’s overseas development policy.  For that reason LCID and SOAS Labour brought together a panel of NGO and policy experts on March 15th to debate this very issue.

The panel was made up of; Deborah Jamieson – CEO of End Domestic Violence, Amy Whalley of UNICEF, Katy Woods from the White Ribbon Alliance, Kruti Buch from the Asian Foundation for Philanthropy and Claire Hickson, policy expert and former DFID adviser.

There was a clear consensus that for the UK’s policy approach to be a serious one it must see the role of women in developing countries as central to justice and growth. Many developing economies are based on a marginalised (and grossly underpaid) female workface – such as the 65-80% of African farmers who are women. Moreover increasing female economic opportunities is not just some secondary social goal that developing countries can aim for after reaching a certain level of development. Rather it *is* the strategy achieving that growth. Statistics mentioned by two of the panellists illustrate this well; an increase in the female workforce by 10% in India could boost GDP growth by up to 8% and closing the gender pay gap in African agriculture would lift 12-17% of the local population above the poverty line. Boosting the role of the private sector was identified as just one way to expand the number of economic choices available to communities in developing countries.

A second issue echoed by all panellists was that ‘getting it’ on gender and development is about far more than ‘women-and-jobs’. Women need sustainable and safe work opportunities and the barriers to safe female economic participation in the developing world are as varied as they are severe. Domestic violence, affecting 1 in 3 females, is the biggest global killer of women between the ages of 15-24. In India (the 4th most dangerous country in which to be female) lack of access to proper toilets is a key reason so many Indian girls drop out of school between the ages of 12-13.

UK policy makers need to stop looking at ‘the women issue’ in development and instead see the multifaceted impact that different social and economic circumstances have as blockers to equality. The question that was repeatedly asked was, ‘where is the leadership on this issue from the current government?’. To take maternal health as one example; this was an issue that Labour in office pushed heavily on at multilateral summits. According to the White Ribbon Alliance, today that focus is lacking from the Coalition. To take another example raised at the event, leadership is badly needed from the UK to ensure that children are a key focus at the next G8 and Rio summits. Away from Westminster it was agreed that stronger cooperation and coalitions of NGOs are needed to ensure that these issues get the attention they deserve.

It was great to see that the event brought together experts, campaigners, students and policy professionals along with many people who might not identify as ‘Labour’ – after all that is exactly what LCID is all about.

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