UN Women’s new report: Transforming economies, realising rights


On Monday, the UN Women’s new flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-16: Transforming Economies Realising Rights, was released in London.

TProgress 2015 ENGLISH cover-155widthhe publication argues that the current economic framework is not working for women and has ‘shifted power relations in ways that undermine the enjoyment of human rights and the building of sustainable livelihoods’. Usefully, it goes on to provide some very concrete examples of what governments (and donors and even INGO’s) can do to tackle these challenges (for more on this see the infographic on pg 10 of the executive summary).

What stands out in this report is the way it looks at economic policy through a human rights lens. The authors highlight that for ‘substantive equality’ (which considers the lived experience of women and girls beyond their ‘legal equality’) social and economic policy cannot be seen as two separate streams but rather, need to work in tandem (there’s another great infographic on pg 19 of the executive summary mapping out these connections).

“Typically, the role of economic policies is seen primarily in terms of promoting economic growth, while social policies are supposed to address its ‘causalities’ by redressing poverty and disadvantage and reducing inequality. But macroeconomic policies can pursue a broader set of goals, including gender equality and social justice. Conversely, well-designed social policies can enhance macroeconomic growth and post-crisis recovery through redistributive measures that increase employment, productivity and aggregate demand.”

The report also goes beyond ‘women’s economic empowerment’ and highlights the centrality of ‘women’s economic rights’ or ‘economic justice’ in tackling the structural constraints faced by women. During the panel discussion, one practical suggestion towards this was for donor governments to look at deploying gender and inclusion experts into various ‘economic’ ministries (Trade & Industry, Economic Development, Labour etc.) where some of these structural constraints might be most entrenched.

At CAFOD we believe that the goal of ‘development’ should never be economic growth. Rather, economic growth must be kept in its proper place as a means to an end – with the ‘end’, or the goal being tackling poverty and promoting human development. As we have highlighted elsewhere, for growth to be truly ‘inclusive’ it needs to have broader objectives than increasing income and GDP and must translate into gains in human development and increased well-being for the most marginalised. This report emphasises this point profoundly by shining light onto the issues faced by one of the most marginalised groups, women, and showing the route towards tangible and practical equality.

The report goes on to highlight three important areas

“Ultimately, the aim is to create a virtuous cycle through the generation of decent work and gender-responsive social protection and social services, alongside enabling macroeconomic policies that prioritise investment in human being and the fulfillment of social objectives.”

This report has important lessons for those donors and governments around the world grappling with the useful question of what is inclusive growth and how best to achieve it?

DFID country offices, for example are now developing their Inclusive Growth Diagnostics. As the opportunities and constraints for inclusive growth are analysed, it would be centrally important to consider the factors of decent work, social policies and the macroeconomic environment and how these work together to transform economies and realise women’s economic and social rights. Given the DFID’s priority on women and girls, this report could be particularly useful.

Food for thoughts for all of us and definitely worth a read.

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