Wednesday 20 June 2012

Women and International Development

Rachael McCallum

Source: UN Women.
The subject of empowering women is one which is frequently discussed in terms of the international development agenda. In this context, frequent in-depth analysis of development issues affecting women take place, which provide national and international bodies with critical input for enhanced attention to gender perspectives in regards to economic and development issues. 
This analysis is particularly important when looking at emerging development issues that have an impact on the role of women in the economy at all levels and indeed, when looking at the benefits accrued to women as a result of their effective participation in development, such as income, conditions of work, and decision-making. 
Women no doubt play a crucial role as agents and beneficiaries of international development, and are mobilised and integrated in the development agenda. The World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), the International Conference on Population and Development (1994), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), and the 2005 World Summit all acknowledged the pivotal and important role women play in development and in particular, in sustainable development. 
However, there are conditions under which women in the developing world have not been enable to enhance their capacity in promoting international development. Many democratic governments and institutions have yet to draft a policy that addresses the relation between the economy, the environment and their impact on society – and especially on women. As the UN Secretary-General‘s Report notes:
“The challenge of climate change is unlikely to be gender-neutral, as it increases the risk to the most vulnerable and less empowered social groups. In the formulation of global and national approaches, as well as in the strategic responses to specific sectors, gender awareness, substantive analysis and inclusive engagement will be necessary.”
Indeed, many development policies are "gender blind." Meaning that the planning and policy making processes has failed to appreciate that men and women have different societal roles and that in many cases, their needs and obstacles in terms of development are different. 
Gender disparities exist with respect to access to, and control of, a range of assets including land and credit lines, human capital assets including education and health, and social capital assets such as participation at various levels, legal rights and protection. Policies in these areas have not recognised the existing gender imbalances and as a result, have effectively constrained the participation of women in the development process.
Besides the policy environment, women have also been constrained by existing socio-cultural norms. There has been a tendency to use culture and tradition to undermine the position of women, which has had a negative impact in promoting international development. Socio-cultural factors continue to hinder gender equality in terms of access to, and use of, services and also contribute to situations such as inequitable allocation of food within the household, which leads to malnutrition notably among women and children. Gender- based violence also has important health, economical, political and environmental implications. For women to play a dynamic role in development, they themselves need to create an alternative culture that challenges existing socio-cultural norms and promotes full gender equity. 
The first step to making women full participants in international development lies in recognizing their value in national and international negotiations and policy making. Following this, we need to find concrete ways to integrate women into the planning, development and just as importantly, the execution of integrated strategies for future economic, political and social development. 
It is essential that governments and international organisations understand the role women can and should play in the democratic future of their countries and start integrating women in the civil service and private sector in large numbers in order to drive their economies forward and achieve a sustainable balance in all aspects of their economic, political, social and environmental security and development.
In recent years, there has been an increasing shift in the development discourse towards an increasing portfolio of development policies and rhetoric taking into account the role of women by applying gender-sensitive approaches and incorporating as well as actively promoting women’s involvement. The creation of UN Women in 2010 was an important step towards this end as in doing so, UN Member States took an historic step in accelerating the UN´s goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women.
However, women still remain, in many cases, largely untapped resources particularly in terms of emerging challenges in the international development field such as climate change. Despite progress, ‘We’ cannot afford to underestimate or neglect the role of women in building a sustainable future. It is important to remember that whilst Gender equality is the third Millennium Development Goal, it is vital to achieving progress in the other seven. Many observers realise that for international development to truly succeed, women need to be protected, engaged and empowered in all areas and at all levels in the development discourse and practice. 

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