A Complex Thing! Are measures of complexity an end in themselves to address extreme poverty?

CARE MOZToday’s post is from Emmanuel Asomba, a consultant working on poverty reduction, human development and systematic reviews of development polices and programs.

The most prominent goal of development has been to eradicate extreme poverty. Both literally and figuratively this goal has been part of a prescriptive stroll over the past two decades, moving in a linear fashion. However, along the way, it has become clear that poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon changing across context, thus requiring multiple correspondence analysis and interventions. This is far more amenable to adaptive solutions in social change. It underlies a different vision to address, among others, the interactions between inequality and poverty, primarily to share approaches in different domains, and ultimately to enhance the interconnectedness between institutions to balance social outcomes.

With a number of components, such as behaviors and organizational parameters, needed for development to work, it is important to capture the variability of desired outcomes to adapt social and economic interventions. Proclaiming that social protection programs and job promotion have to “accommodate specificities” is not enough. The transition is to consider how aggregation happens, widening the scope of change by reviewing the relationships between cause and effect to discern how emergent practices can blend to improve rights-based/social justice platforms. This view stresses how change can unfold across converging organizational contexts.

To alter the balance more effectively, interconnections among intervention designs can boost the possibility of generating multidimensional development systems. The idea is to bring about empowerment and cooperation across several sectors and stakeholders, all of them identifying and differentiating the causes of change to come up with more than mere technical fixes. For instance, the ultimate objective of the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) has been to promote sustainable development across the board. The broad effort of the development community consistent with the post-2015 agenda is to avoid fragmentation. This can be most apparent if human development, food security, access to education, health care, etc, can scale up, increasing relationships, operationalization, transparency and compliance across life-cycle development approaches. These elements are states of matter stemming from observations and applications of qualitative differences in social systems.

Extreme poverty and inequality are complex issues; we have good reasons to think that integrating a mix of alternatives in programming is a constructive route to support the expansion of “ecosystems” or networks of change. This outlook is a way to set the focus on context and variation (see Tony Pike). As a step forward we can test the viability of diverse approaches through the tweaking and sequencing of activities to achieve robust feedback systems.

In the world of complexity as outlined by the DAC Network on Gender Equality, the pragmatic case of Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) shows how we can reconcile opinions to combat the isolation caused by extreme poverty, and consequently the deprivation feeding women’s unequal control of assets and income. By emphasizing the improvement of standards of living, especially for low-income women, this concept can approach social-economic programs from a systems-perspective, i.e., adapting and iterating solutions to build local expertise and knowledge to reduce their vulnerability. In tandem with consistent policies, principles of equal rights and equity can help map new conceptions of relationships and interactions between various actors, thus shifting measures of initiatives and ownership in gender relations.

The transition moves away from simplifications, adapting organizational levels and flexibility in interventions. This approach contrasts with conventional approaches to programming by capitalizing among other things on the existence of different feedback loops to recalibrate for instance, women’s bargaining power, or their mobility. So, the idea of cause and effect is brought under new light with pathway models telling the stories of key outcomes and relationships that can generate change or be measured.

An illustration of this complexity paradigm is the way CARE shifted its corporate processes and strategy to grapple with gender equality for its agricultural portfolio targeting high-poverty households in Latin America and Africa. A critical juncture was the need to streamline operational links through gender-sensitive policies as part of the Women Empowerment in Agriculture (WEA) framework. Primarily set to encourage the role of women and girls in leadership by using adaptive paths, the emphasis was on an organization-wide change process to build a collective approach on individual rights. CARE called for the understanding of ecosystems of equal rights to adjust their poverty profiles and policy interventions.

A case in point is the implementation in 2008 of their Income Smoothing through Agricultural Marketing Interventions (ISAMI) in Uganda, involving male decision-makers in supporting women across agricultural networks. Seen through a multidimensional lens, this initiative threw a strong light on the pertinence of joint distribution of disadvantages to address women’s participation in household and community-level decision-making. By engaging local groups to address the nature of the gender division of labor, time poverty, or the gender control of labor and products of labor, this project triggered the emergence of implicit causal pathways that led to robust strategic programmatic shifts.

It evolved around three dimensions and sub-dimensions of women’s empowerment in collective marketing, namely, agency, relations and structure. Out of them came forth, a responsive logic model. It broadened feedback loops on connections and practices (cause-effect chains), thus completing CARE’s multidimensional approach with poverty income measures. The true explanation is that these parameters mapped-out a resilience ecology (Circle of Learning) changing old patterns out of emerging practices (gendered allocation of resources) regulating women’s decision influence in household, market accessibility, or the pursuit and acceptance of accountability.

Global development has to move away from linear restrictions treating complex problems in separation. Fulfilling this objective is likely to create significant advances to meet the challenges of extreme poverty. The extension of multiple perspectives can target inherent complexities, making experimentation and learning mainstream adaptive policy tools.

Useful links

The Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) from the OECD Development Centre is an innovative measure of underlying discrimination against women for over 100 countries. While other indices measure gender inequalities in outcomes such as education and employment, SIGI helps policymakers and researchers understand what drives these outcomes. SIGI captures and quantifies discriminatory social institutions, including early marriage, discriminatory inheritance practices, violence against women, son bias, restrictions on access to public space and restricted access to productive resources.

Applications of complexity science for public policy OECD Global Science Forum

OECD work on gender equality and development

Why Finland isn’t fragile – and three reasons for linking gender equality to statebuilding in the post-2015 framework

Click to see OECD Wikigender
Click to see OECD Wikigender

Today’s post is by Diana Koester, a consultant working with the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF).

On Thursday, 26th September, the UN’s Conference Room 1 was packed with over 25 ministers from around the world. They had accepted an invitation by the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) and UN Women to discuss “women’s economic empowerment for peacebuilding” only a day after the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Special Event on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

You may wonder why that’s especially worth noting. After all, outside of this event the UNGA week heard pleas for related causes: a post-MDG framework that would “make the 21st century the century of women” and a post-MDG framework that would “make the 21st century the century of peace”. And these pleas echoed the proposals for respective standalone goals that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his High-Level Panel had already expressed in their visions for the post-2015 development framework.

What makes the PBC/UN Women event especially worth noting is that discussions of the post-MDG approach to building peaceful and effective states have typically proceeded as though the century of women and the century of peace would take place in parallel worlds. There has been little emphasis on the specific links between these goals and their achievement.

We need to work to bridge this gap by emphasizing women’s important role – and challenges – in peacebuilding and statebuilding, as well as the need for targeted and integrated responses in the post-2015 approach to institutions and conflict.  There are at least three good reasons why.

First, statebuilding in fragile and conflict-affected situations can provide critical opportunities to pursue gender equality. Empowering the world’s women requires special efforts to tackle the severe and specific challenges women face in fragile situations. Sexual and domestic violence, economic marginalisation, and exclusion from the decisions that determine women’s futures help explain why fragile and conflict-affected states have made relatively slow progress on the MDGs overall, but also have notably lagged on most of the gender-specific MDG areas.

The good news is that post-conflict situations also offer immense opportunities to “build back better”, for example by supporting women’s participation in peace negotiations, constitution-making and emerging political processes. In this context it is interesting to note that about one-third of the countries with 30% or more women in parliament are also countries that have experienced conflict, fragility or recent transitions to democracy. Taking the example of Rwanda and Burundi, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support Judy Cheng-Hopkins highlighted during the PBC/UN Women event how such increased participation can in turn lead to better outcomes for women, thus transforming vicious into virtuous circles.

Second, gender equality is not only “smart economics” – it’s also smart peacebuilding and statebuilding. The fundamental aim of statebuilding should be a state that is legitimate, responsive and accountable to all. Tackling the marginalisation of women and girls is a precondition for realising this vision.

What’s more, women’s empowerment can help achieve internationally agreed peacebuilding and statebuilding goals. “Women’s political participation is associated with lower levels of corruption, more inclusive decision-making, greater investment in social services, job creation for women, and family welfare”, the new Executive Director of UN-Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka pointed out.  In like manner, PBC Chair and Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusić recalled the strong evidence that “women’s access to land and productive assets, to jobs and markets, results in improvements in family well-being, community stability and poverty reduction.”

In other words, gender equality goes beyond “smart economics”. It can strengthen key pillars of peace. Reflecting on his own country the day before the PBC event, Finland’s Foreign Minister, H.E. Mr. Erkki Tuomioja, affirmed these links: “If I was asked to give one specific reason why Finland is rated in the index of failed states as the least failed state in the world, I would answer that it is gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

Finally, the post-2015 framework offers a historic opportunity to realize women’s rights in fragile states and make smarter peacebuilding and statebuilding the norm. Current approaches tend to neglect women’s potential and priorities. “Let’s face it”, Cheng-Hopkins proposed, “women play peacebuilding roles every day (…) Sadly though, when negotiations get serious, when stakes get high and when money shows up, women are pushed into the background.“ The OECD INCAF’s forthcoming policy paper on Gender and Statebuilding aims to address this gap by offering a set of specific recommendations to help donors integrate a gender perspective into their work on statebuilding.

The post-2015 framework is one of the key opportunities the new INCAF publication highlights in this regard. In the words of the President of the UNGA, John W. Ashe, this is a “historic opportunity to define development.” The post-MDGs can therefore also be a historic opportunity to make women’s full participation in peacebuilding and statebuilding the norm and the PBC declaration’s call for “further measures to improve women’s participation during all stages of peace processes” a reality. We can and must seize it.

Useful links

OECD work on gender equality and development

OECD work on conflict and stability

OECD work on gender

Born a girl: bad karma?

international women's dayThe ILO estimates that at least 2.45 million trafficking victims are currently working in exploitative conditions worldwide, and that another 1.2 million are trafficked annually, both across and within national borders. Of these, up to 80% are women and girls according to the UN.

A widely-quoted UN estimate says that human trafficking and slavery is the third most lucrative illicit business in the world after arms and drug trafficking, although the UN doesn’t actually give any source for this claim. That could be because of the inherent difficulty in obtaining data on criminal activity or because the estimate includes other activities like taking money to smuggle illegal immigrants into a country. The US Department of State definition of trafficking is “all of the criminal conduct involved in forced labor and sex trafficking, essentially the conduct involved in reducing or holding someone in compelled service.”

Why does it still happen, and why are women the main victims? Economics, culture and tradition are all to blame.

Economically, you can look at it on the global or local level. Trafficking and the modern slave trade are driven by the same factors that encourage other aspects of globalisation such as increased mobility, cheaper travel and the ease of organising international networks. They are also reinforced by economic misery and absence or removal of social protection in countries opening up to the international economy, and the illusions engendered by images of a better life elsewhere on satellite television and other easily accessible mass media.

It sounds cynical, but you can also look at trafficking of women in terms of supply and demand factors, as the World Bank does here. For instance, on the demand side, employers want cheap labour, and not just in the sex industry. In 2004, the Council of Europe drew attention to the fact that domestic slaves are predominantly female and usually work in private households, starting out as migrant workers, au pairs or “mail-order brides”.

The supply of women and girls is maintained by poverty (some UN estimates say that nearly 70% of the world’s poor are women) and lack of opportunity. But social norms that consider women as inferior play a role too. Religion is one of these, and the World Bank report linked to above says that one of the factors pushing women into prostitution in the Mekong region is that under Theravada Buddhism, “women and girls are thought to be unable to achieve enlightenment. Thus, while men can show gratitude and respect to their parents by becoming monks and pursuing the spiritual life, many girls feel that they must make sacrifices for the benefit of their families, villages and their own karma.”

In addition, as this short guide published by the OECD points out, trafficking often emerges where many human rights violations are prevalent already. The most common violations are the right to personal autonomy, the right not to be held in slavery or servitude, the right to liberty and security of person, the right to be free from cruel or inhumane treatment, the right to safe and healthy working conditions and the freedom of movement. Governments can be guilty too, even towards people who have escaped from trafficking. Policies often give priority to detention, prosecution and expulsion of trafficked persons for offences related to their status, including violation of immigration laws, prostitution or begging. Victims may be treated as “disposable witnesses” whose sole value is their ability to assist in prosecuting traffickers.

What can be done?

The 2003 “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons” is the leading international instrument. It goes beyond trafficking for forced prostitution and takes into account other forms, including forced domestic work and commercial marriage. These aren’t just problems in developing countries. The slaves referred to by the Council of Europe were working in its member countries. Earlier this week, the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit reported that a two-year-old girl was among the victims it helped last year.

The 2003 Protocol recommends that governments allow victims of trafficking to remain in the destination country, temporarily or permanently. Governments should also ensure their safety and protect their privacy and identity. It also recommends that governments establish legal measures to award victims compensation.

At national level, efforts in source countries to tackle poverty and lack of rights would strike at the root of the problem, but a number of measures can have more immediate impacts, such as awareness-raising campaigns, given that many victims are deceived into migrating. Given the importance of poverty in fuelling trafficking, funding to start small businesses could help women.

Destination countries can contribute to such programmes. They can also help victims by protecting them even if they are not prepared to help the authorities investigating the trafficking networks, and not deporting them back to the country they were trafficked from.

Useful links

A Women’s Day Challenge, article on the educationtoday blog by Barbara Ischinger, OECD Director for Education and Skills

OECD work on gender

OECD work on gender equality and development

Evaluation of the International Organization for Migration and its Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking  

Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Regional conference to combat child trafficking

OECD Week Paris, May 22-24: From Indignation and Inequality to Inclusion and Integrity

Recovering from the crisis is about returning to economic growth that can sustainably deliver better lives in all senses of the word – jobs for today and the education and skills for the jobs of tomorrow, healthy environment, and equal opportunities.

Economic growth is the foundation stone, but the crisis taught us that it has to be the right kind of growth. In many countries, people are rising up – indignant about inequalities and what they see as a lack of transparency and accountability from their governments and institutions. They are calling for new approaches that focus on growth, fairness and inclusion and address corruption, the rising cost of living and social spending cuts.

Expectations are high for international organizations such as the OECD to help governments in their efforts to find sustainable solutions. It’s a daunting task, but one we can attain if governments and citizens work together. OECD Week 2012 in Paris is a key moment for achieving this and comes on the heels of the success of the OECD’s 50th Anniversary last year.

What happens during OECD Week?

OECD Week combines the annual OECD Ministerial Meeting and Forum. The Forum, a public event, brings together ministers, business, labour, civil society and academia to share policies and ideas. It feeds into the Ministerial Meeting, where government leaders and ministers discuss issues on the global agenda. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Ali Babacan, will chair this year’s Ministerial, supported by vice-chairs Chile and Poland.

Highlights of the week include the semi-annual OECD Economic Outlook, as well as three major new reports – the Skills Strategy to ensure that today’s children and young adults are well equipped for tomorrow, the final report of the Gender Initiative and the Development Strategy.

The Forum – 22-23 May
Politicians, business leaders, academics and civil society will discuss and debate ways to shift from indignation and inequality to inclusion and integrity. With record numbers of young people looking for jobs, the middle class squeezed out of the system, financial regulation failures, and faith in governments and other institutions waning, how best to restore trust and integrity in the system and find innovative paths for more sustainable, equitable and greener growth?

Which policies are delivering better lives? The OECD’s Better Life Index, launched in 2011, offers people a chance to say what matters most to them – education, jobs, a nice home, clean air, money – and see how their country measures up. An updated version of the Index, to be released at Forum 2012, includes new dimensions for gender and inequality as well as two new countries, Brazil and Russia.

The Ministerial – 23-24 May
Ministers will focus on policies for a sustainable – jobs-rich, green and equitable – economic recovery. In this context, they will discuss ways to encourage people to learn and maintain skills – the global currency of the 21st century – and encourage gender equality so women can fulfil their potential. As the economy of one country depends on the economy of all, ministers will also discuss the benefits of a more open trading system and look to strengthen partnerships with developing countries and their relationship with the Middle East and North African region.

Wikigender turns three years old today

8 March is the centenary of 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, Estelle Loiseau from the OECD Development Centre describes the OECD’s Wikigender project.

Today, Wikigender celebrates its third birthday. Launched on International Women’s Day by the OECD Development Centre three years ago, this web 2.0 knowledge sharing platform focusing on gender equality issues has become a global reference point.

Originally set up to bring the debate on gender equality closer to individuals by fostering opportunities for data sharing on measures of gender equality, Wikigender has now become a lively virtual space where academics, gender experts, policy makers, statisticians, economists, development practitioners and students can actively participate and contribute to the platform on a variety of gender equality issues. (more…)

How to create an international movement for gender equality

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, Jenny Hedman from the OECD DAC Network on Gender Equality talks to colleagues from the Netherlands about their fund for women’s organisations.

A few years ago, when the Dutch learned that funding for organisations supporting women’s rights was declining internationally, they decided to do something about it. “We felt more action was needed to achieve equality between men and women” explains Robert Dijksterhuis, who leads work on gender equality at the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs. An additional reason to make an extra effort was that gender equality and women’s empowerment is one of the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that world leaders have set out to achieve by 2015. (more…)