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Women’s economic empowerment – it’s about money and more…

8 March 2011

8 March is International Women’s Day. This year, we mark the occasion with a series of blog posts about initiatives to strengthen gender equality worldwide. In this post, Patti O’Neill, co-ordinator of the OECD DAC Network on Gender Equality, writes about gender-equality focussed aid in the economic and productive sectors.

“We stress that investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect on productivity, efficiency and sustained economic growth.” (para. 54 of Keeping the promise:  United to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

At last year’s Millennium Summit, investing in women’s and girls’ rights was front and centre – the breakthrough strategy for achieving all the Millennium Development Goals.  Even though it is often said that investing in gender equality yields some of the highest returns of all development efforts, are women central to the aid provided by OECD member countries to the economic and productive sectors?

The Secretariat of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee has just published an analysis based on the aid statistics reported by its 24 members. See the analysis and dynamic graphics here.

In the years 2007 to 2009 the gender equality focussed aid by DAC members to the economic and productive sectors amounted to an average of USD 5.4 billion per year. The largest proportion (USD 2.4 billion or 44% of the total) went to agriculture and rural development.  Aid focussed on achieving gender equality also targeted banking/business, public financial management and urban development.

Sector distribution of aid targeting gender equality in the economic and productive sectors

DAC members’ commitments, 2007-09, %

The emphasis on women’s empowerment in aid to agriculture recognises women’s central role in providing food to their families and communities.  Donors also know that improving women’s agricultural productivity increases household income, resulting in both economic growth and poverty reduction.  However, a closer examination of the aid figures reveals that very little aid is focussed on women’s access to innovation such as seeds, equipment and adapted tools.  This is clearly an area where donors can increase their investments.   

The report Aid in support of women’s economic empowerment also found that there is plenty of scope for donors to increase their gender equality focussed investments in the transport, energy, trade and employment sectors. 

Over the coming year, women’s economic empowerment will move higher on the OECD agenda.  The Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs is leading an OECD-wide project on gender equality and the three critical “Es” – employment, education and entrepreneurship. 

At the same time the World Bank is devoting its 2012 World Development Report to gender equality and development.   This influential report will explore how gender equality can contribute to economic growth, as well as assess the extent to which sustained economic growth contributes to increases in gender equality.

Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, and produce 50 percent of the food, yet earn only 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property.  Whether the issue is improving education in the developing world, or fighting global climate change, or addressing nearly any other challenge we face, empowering women is a critical part of the equation. Former President Bill Clinton addressing the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (September 2009)

Useful links:

OECD work on gender


OECD Development Assistance Committee work on gender

OECD Development Centre work on gender

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