Empowering women is key to improving food security and resilience in West Africa

women-processing-fishRichard Clarke, Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat

Food insecurity remains unacceptably high in West Africa. According to the Food Crisis Prevention Network, nearly 9.5 million people in the region required food assistance as well as measures to protect their livelihoods and combat malnutrition between June and August 2016, despite significant improvements since the 1990s. FAO data also shows that changing trends have seen women representing approximately 50% of the agricultural labour force on the African continent, while IFAD estimates that women contribute 89% of agricultural employment in Sahelian countries. Thus, women’s contributions to food systems across West Africa have both widespread implications and prospects for food security and resilience in the region, a subject upon which Donatella Gnisci has written a paper for the OECD/SWAC West African Papers Series.

With equality and empowerment issues featuring strongly on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly through Sustainable Development Goal 5, never has there been a more pertinent time to stimulate policy debate on this subject.

Developing a greater understanding of the subject must always be the first step in the process of policy analysis and design. This latest West African Paper informs the debate by describing the ways in which women participate in the four broad activities of the region’s food system before making its own policy recommendations.

Women are involved in all areas of food production, whether staple foods, cash crops or livestock. Men and women often work side-by-side, but cropping patterns and task allocation are often gender specific with subsequent impacts on crop selection, harvesting and consumption decisions, as observed in Côte D’Ivoire. However, access to land, inputs, credit and training (amongst other productive resources) reveals ingrained gender inequalities that put women at a disadvantage in managing their land. These disparities are exacerbated when education levels differ between genders, as shown in productivity gap differentials in Niger, which has been shown by the AfDB to have a huge impact on national economies.

Women are involved in processing activities across all three broad categories of food: cereals and vegetables, fish and meat. Tasks vary from cleaning and grinding, to salting and fermenting, to cooking and marketing. These post-harvest activities attract both female labour and entrepreneurship in West Africa, motivated by both a lack of alternative employment opportunities and potentially profitable markets. Notably, the fish processing industry in the Casamance region of Senegal is 90% controlled by women with hired labour predominantly male. This has led to the formation of women’s networks in many parts of the region, who, amongst other roles, are seeking to address the insufficient access to capital, technologies and training that remain barriers to greater female participation in the sector, relative to those faced by men.

Women continue to be the pivot of local food distribution systems and often have monopolies on street-food vending as in Ghana and Niger, with preparing and selling food second only to agricultural production as a source of income for women working in the region’s food system. Distribution is in fact often done in conjunction with these activities. The rise of supermarkets in the region can create substantial business opportunities for women in the sector, but only if they can meet the quality and consistency standards of suppliers. This is a challenge for female farmers and entrepreneurs in particular who are often at a disadvantage in their access to distribution networks and management experience in comparison to their male counterparts.

Consumption and nutrition
In West African societies, women and girls have predominant roles in preparing food for their dependents as part of their non-remunerated roles in the community. Women need not only the purchasing power to improve their community’s diets, but also the education to prepare nutritious foods. This is suggested to be the case in Senegal relative to Mali, which has much lower levels of stunting in children despite having a similar level of GDP. Furthermore, tailored health services must be provided to support women who are regularly laden with heavy workloads but put the nutrition needs of their dependents before their own. The risks of this are heightened when women’s bodies are weakened by early or serial pregnancies and from the strains of child-raising, common across the region.

In West Africa, positive steps have been taken by regional organisations such as ECOWAS, UEMOA and CILSS to strengthen the capacities of national ministries working on gender equality. However, greater empowerment of women at all levels of society associated with activities throughout the region’s food system is required if malnutrition rates are to be reduced and resilience of communities strengthened. This necessitates a broadening in scope of current activities to the implementation of multi-sector policies that influence gender relations at household, societal and political levels. In turn, a virtuous circle of empowerment and greater participation of women throughout the regional food system can be generated. Strengthening women’s networks to provide the services required to aid their empowerment appears to be a positive short-run step.

However, tackling gender inequalities at every level and across every sector is required if real empowerment is to be realised. This struggle must not only be a women’s struggle, but a societal one too, embodied in community activities and public policy.

Useful links

The main sector of economic activity in West Africa consists of feeding its population

Moving beyond agriculture: It’s food that matters!

Sahel and West Africa Club Forum: Resilience and Food Security in West Africa

Safe and secure, from London to Lahore and everywhere in between!

IWDHeather Allen, independent consultant on sustainable transport, climate change and gender

March 8th – International Women’s Day – gives us a good reason to reflect on progress on the variety of women’s issues that are hindering equality. Being safe and secure is a basic human value, yet personal security is still a major issue everywhere. In a woman’s world there are also more subtle links between personal security, public space and transport that I have been looking into more closely having just finished a review of published literature on this subject, to be published soon on the website of the FIA Foundation.

Many studies show that all over the world women use all forms of public transport (formal and informal, including minibus services, shared taxis etc) more than men and, more importantly, they usually rely on it more than men as they have fewer or no other mobility choices. Yet they are also more worried about using it, as their personal security is frequently compromised, and it appears that this may be getting worse rather than better.

Incidents often take place in public places, especially as women travel to and from places of education or to and from work. It comes as no surprise that it especially seems to occur on public transport, and not only in the developing world. To avoid this, women tend to use strategies that mean either they decide not to travel or they seriously change their travel habits. This impacts their access to opportunities, and ultimately their quality of life.

Harassment is a complex subject, and not made any easier by the subjective nature of how individuals interpret what might be considered harassment. In some cultures this is directed by social norms whilst in others it may be religious, faith or even income-based. We are not just talking about violence here, but rather behaviours that are unwanted, uninvited or that cause fear. Fear of it happening is as bad as what actually happens and it affects different women in different ways, making it difficult to apply scientific theory to understand why and how this happens. Collecting data on this is also made more difficult as the information can be spread across a number of security agencies, so much of the information can be considered anecdotal, unless it is obviously of a criminal nature.

Harassment would seem to be on the increase despite the high estimated level of non-reporting of incidents that were found internationally. In New York it is estimated that 96 per cent of sexual harassment and 86 per cent of sexual assault on the subway goes unreported; in Baku, Azerbaijan, none of the 162 out of 200 women who reported having been sexually harassed on the metro reported it to the appropriate authority. In Egypt, only 2.4 per cent of the 83 per cent of Egyptian women and 7.5 per cent of the 98 per cent of foreign women living or travelling in Egypt who had experienced sexual harassment in a public place reported it.

There is little documented evidence that women have either reduced their mobility horizons or changed their travel patterns entirely because of concerns over personal security. But we do know that all forms of harassment affect women deeply and reduce their confidence, and that they implement strategies to reduce the risk of this, which ultimately impacts their ability to move freely in public places. If this is directly associated with their transport options, it is also likely to affect their decisions to take up educational opportunities, join the labour market and influences the kinds of jobs they pursue.

In addition, if women pass on a negative value judgement to their children, those boys and girls will grow up thinking that public transport is unsafe. It is likely that this will become “a belief” as they grow into adulthood and as soon as they can, they will prefer to buy or share a car, motorbike or scooter – creating a vicious downward spiral of increased congestion even if every vehicle is cleaner than today!

So where does that lead us? Certainly farther away from where we want to be in terms of equal opportunities and sustainable development. Excluding women from being active in the labour market, for any reason should be considered to be out of order in today’s world. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that if women in every country were to play an identical role to men in markets, as much as $28 trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025. If this exclusion or reduced opportunity is due to transport inequalities, we can do something about it, but only if we shift it to being a development rather than a security issue.

Both aspects are interdependent – the more active women are in the labour market the more they are able to demand safe and secure transport, while the less empowered they are the more socially exclusive transport becomes. Putting them in separate carriages may be a temporary solution, but it also underpins the concept that women should be kept apart and not be given equal rights.

By addressing both ends of this equation we can create a win, win, win situation – addressing equity, economic empowerment and improving quality of life. But we need to make sure that people do not think that harassment is unavoidable or acceptable, or that they will not be caught. Let’s start today in respect of women everywhere!

Useful links

This article is based on work supported by the FIA Foundation. I would like to express my thanks to the FIA Foundation for its foresight and vision in supporting this research. The full report and executive summary can be downloaded here.

You are invited to attend a free FIA Foundation webinar on March 21st 14 -17h GMT. Details are available from Caroline Flynn ([email protected]).

At the upcoming International Transport Forum’s 2016 Annual Summit, 18-20 May 2016, Leipzig, Germany, there will be a debate on “Women in Transport: Mind the (gender) gap”.

OECD Gender Portal

Women in transport

and truck drivers, and CEOs, and...
and truck drivers, and CEOs, and…

Magdalena Olczak-Rancitelli, International Transport Forum

The role of women in the transport sector is something that needs to be addressed. Women account for only 17.5% of the workforce in EU urban public transport for example, and hold less than 10% of technical and operational jobs. In the United States, women comprise only 15% of transport and related occupations and only 4.6% of commercial truck drivers are women.

Changing these numbers to achieve inclusivity and gender balance in the transport sector is a very ambitious agenda. What is transport-specific about the gender issues? What are the catalysts for change? How can different stakeholders support this aim?

These questions were at the heart of a debate during the recent International Transport Forum’s 2015 Annual Summit in Leipzig, Germany. Under the theme of “Women Shaping Mobility for a Connected World, transport ministers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, civil society and academics shared their experiences and good practices, and emphasised the message that a strong transport system depends on a vibrant and diverse workforce which includes women and men.

Closing the gender gap in the transport sector is a priority for many governments. “People should succeed because of their training, ability and commitment. Transportation will always be a major factor for all nations around the world. We will need all skilled individuals to operate and manage our networks”, highlighted the Canadian Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt, for whom promoting women’s leadership is of paramount importance. Half of the senior executives in the Canadian Ministry of Transport are women, and similarly, gender parity has been achieved across the boards under the Minister’s responsibility.

For Susan Kurland, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Aviation and International Affairs, “Women bring a unique perspective to the issues facing a modernising global transportation system. When women are given an equal opportunity to succeed in transportation careers they unlock new pathways for growth and profitability.” This reflects the strong engagement of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), at the highest level, to attract, retain, and advance the careers of women in the sector. The Department aims to build an economically compelling case by leveraging a growing body of research that outlines bottom-line benefits to transport systems that have greater numbers of women.

The USDOT is fully engaged in these endeavours at national level, and also international level, where it leads APEC’s Women in Transportation (WiT) initiative to increase women’s economic engagement in the transport sector throughout the region. A four-pillar approach is taken to achieve this: ensuring access to education, creating access to jobs, increasing retention, and providing a path to leadership. A data framework is being developed in the context of this initiative to enhance opportunities for women’s employment in the sector, as well as to improve the sector’s infrastructure and services to women as consumers. The results of the survey will be presented at the APEC WiT Forum and Transportation Ministerial in October 2015, in Cebu, Philippines.

But not only women are supporting stronger presence of women in the transport sector. New Zealand’s Minister of Transport Simon Bridges indicated that his government promotes parity on boards: 30 % of board members of key transport agencies in New Zealand are women. Similarly, Tunisia’s Minister of Transport, Mahmoud Ben Romdhane saw value in having more women as part of the workforce at all levels in transport, including at board level, and indicated he was proud to announce that he has appointed women as CEOs of two major transport companies – Tunisair and the national rail company SNCFT.

Also in the corporate world, leadership and role models are needed. Women in senior management positions can impact board dynamics and broaden a company’s knowledge as well as raising its profile. The effect of more women on boards can also trickle down to management and other levels in the hierarchy.

Jessica Jung, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility of Bombardier Transportation,
pointed out that in order to increase the number of women in the male-dominated transport industry, it is crucial to set specific targets, develop road maps to reach these, and implement regular monitoring. Setting targets in the recruitment process is also important. To avoid cognitive biases, Bombardier decided to ensure that a balanced gender mix of candidates is invited to the final interview round.

More women means bringing more talent to transport and a broader view conducive to innovation. For Robin Chase – founder of Zipcar, Veniam, and the author of the recently published book “Peers Inc” – diversity is vital for creativity. Robin provided the example of Lyft, a car sharing company, intended to be a more woman-friendly option than taking taxis. For Lyft, where 60% of passengers and 30% of drivers are female, gender diversity in decision making is critical to the company’s experience-based growth strategy. Fourteen of Lyft’s 30 executives at director level and above are women, and these include leaders in engineering and operations.

Women’s skills and perceptions are central to addressing different gender requirements in access to transport and mobility, as well as to safety and security. Silvia Maffii, Professor of Transport Planning at Milan Polytechnic, and co-author of the CIVITAS policy paper “Gender equality and mobility: mind the gap!” showed how women and men use transport modes differently. Often, these differences have not been taken into consideration in transport planning, neglecting problems of accessibility and safety and thus limiting women’s social participation.

Moreover, neglecting women’s preferences of transport and mobility may also limit women’s economic participation. A recent analysis carried out by US researchers shows a negative correlation between commuting time and women’s participation in the labour force. An increase of 1 minute in commuting time in metropolitan areas is associated with an approximately 0.3 percentage point decline in the women’s labour force participation – reflecting women’s mobility patterns: they do not simply commute but do a lot of additional travel.

Gender sensitive mobility planning should be also seen as an opportunity to promote urban sustainability. A study from Malmö shows that women choose sustainable alternatives to a greater extent than men. Men use cars for 48% of their transport needs, while for women the figure is 34 %. If men started travelling like women, CO2 emissions would go down by 31%, particle emissions would decrease by 21%, nitrogen emissions by 25%, and the noise level would go down by 1 decibel. Reduced negative effects on the environment, accidents and noise imply annual savings of 300 million kronor (32 million euros).

This debate proved how rich the issue of women in transport is and that the enhanced participation of women, with their unique skills and perceptions, is an opportunity that the sector cannot ignore. Next year’s Annual Summit, “Green and Inclusive Transport”, will certainly be an occasion to continue this multi-stakeholder dialogue. So, mark your agenda: 18-20 May 2016, Leipzig, Germany!

Useful links

Help shape APEC’s WiT data framework by contributing your views as private sector stakeholders: responses via survey.

Networking Breakfast “Women Shaping Mobility for a Connected World”, International Transport Forum’s 2015 Annual Summit in Leipzig

OECD work on gender

Key data on gender equality

Why technology matters for advancing women’s financial inclusion

The bank can go to her

In preparation for the 2015 Global Forum on Development, which will focus on how access to financing can contribute to inclusive social and economic development, the OECD Development Centre, the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the Better than Cash Alliance have developed a series of articles exploring the key issues and dimensions of financial inclusion. Today’s post from Beth Porter and Nancy Widjaja of UNCDF and Keiko Nowacka of the OECD Development Centre highlights gender differences in financial inclusion.

Women play multiple economic roles within society. They are consumers, business owners, farmers, employees and entrepreneurs. Regardless of what they do or where they live, women are dependent on market systems and they need access to finance to manage their livelihoods.

The gap between women and men in access to formal financial services is great. In developing economies, women are 20 percent less likely than men to have a bank account and 17 percent less likely to have borrowed from a formal institution in the past year. This disparity, particularly within the population at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid, has knock-on effects: women’s inability to access finance also impedes them tapping into market opportunities, thus widening the gender gap.

Legal frameworks and cultural norms condition market dynamics and may limit the space in which women can operate and interact. OECD analysis has shown that in many countries (in the Middle East and North Africa region, for example), legal and customary frameworks insist on male signatures for women to open bank accounts. Moreover, women are typically found to have lower awareness and knowledge than men about financial matters, and have lower confidence than men about their financial skills. This can present significant challenges to women in making decisions about their income or assets.

To close the gender gap in financial inclusion — and to expand women’s overall level of access — policymakers and financial services providers need to understand what women value when it comes to financial products and services. In a variety of settings, the answers given by women are strikingly similar: convenient, reliable, secure, private. When these attributes are taken into consideration, the benefits to women — in terms of greater economic participation and empowerment as well as greater account ownership and asset accumulation — are significant.

There is also great value in drawing lessons from informal financial systems in order for financial service providers to cater to women’s financial needs and preferences, as women are often found within this sphere. Because of collateral and other requirements imposed by formal financial institutions, informal services such as microcredit represent an easier source of revenue for women, who are less likely to own land or assets. In the 2014 edition of the OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), two-thirds of the countries surveyed had discriminatory laws or practices that restrict women’s access to land, assets and financial services.

Correspondingly, commercial viability must be part of the business proposition to target women and in order to be able to cope with growing demand and be sustainable. This is particularly important, as financial service providers still perceive women as a higher risk, less profitable client group — despite the fact that women in many contexts have been proven to be reliable clients.

The use of digital financial services has the potential to address women’s preferences in new and exciting ways, as well as to reduce the cost and time of service delivery. In Malawi, for example, with UNCDF support, Women’s World Banking and NBS Bank designed the Papfupi Savings Account to give “mtima myaa” or “peace of mind” to its clients. It does so by using mobile phones in rural areas as a transaction point to make deposits and withdrawals, and with the help of the mobile sales team, clients can even open an account in ten minutes from anywhere. The product conveys information simply and visually so that the customer does not need to be literate.

In Niger, evidence from the social cash transfer programme demonstrates that the greater privacy and control of mobile transfers compared to manual cash transfers shifts intra-household decision-making in favour of women.

In Kenya, the arrival of mobile money transfers increased women’s economic empowerment in rural areas by making it easier to request remittances from their husbands who migrated to urban areas for work.

In India, trust was a particularly important issue for women, especially when dealing with unfamiliar mobile technology. In these settings, agents played an essential role in training and supporting women in their use of the technology.

Digital financial services can be offered in many forms including Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), point of sale terminals, cards (pre-loaded or debit), and, particularly promising for women, mobile phones. However, the “digital divide” between women and men cannot be ignored. In many contexts, women have less access and are less adept in the use of technology. For example, the large gaps in mobile subscriptions (there are some 300 million fewer women subscribers than men worldwide) and ownership (women in developing countries are 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men) means that if digital financial services are going to deliver on their promise to women, these gaps in awareness, access and use of technological devices need to be taken into consideration.

Take, for example, the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) in Pakistan. It was thought that mobile phones would be a low-cost and convenient way for women in remote areas to interact with a bank. The reality was that many of the women neither had a phone nor knew how to use it. This experience and others like it point to the importance of ensuring that the product is simple and easy to use, and that adequate customer support or training is provided — particularly for illiterate women who have little experience with technology, financial services or both.

Governments also have an essential role by creating an enabling regulatory environment, establishing an appropriate financial consumer protection framework and catalysing a digital ecosystem. They also have a responsibility to remove discriminatory practices and laws for women’s access to finance.

The links between financial inclusion — particularly for women — and broader development goals is increasingly being recognised on the global stage. Greater inclusion has a strong potential to push the frontiers of markets. Addressing the demand and supply issues of financial inclusion for women could offer pathways to new and additional market opportunities that eventually lead to the growth of economies as a whole, not only for women. Indeed, the latest draft of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals features financial inclusion as a key enabler to multiple goals. The links between financial inclusion, digitisation and the global growth agenda are priorities for the Turkish G20 Presidency.

Digital financial services have the potential to close the access and usage gap between men and women. Deliberate efforts on the part of governments and providers can help put the tools in the hands of the women ready to use them.

Useful Links

OECD work on financial education

OECD work on gender

International Gateway for Financial Education (IGFE)

OECD Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI)

World Bank Financial Inclusion Data

Tackling gender differences in financial literacy

Today’s post is contributed by Chiara Monticone and Flore-Anne Messy of the OECD’s Financial Affairs Division

International Women’s Day traditionally attracts media attention to differences between men and women, such as the number of women on company boards, income gaps, and so on. However, awareness of gender differences in financial literacy and of their potential implications has remained quite low even though policy makers now recognise financial literacy as an essential life-skill, and financial education has become an important policy priority as a complement to financial consumer protection, inclusion and prudential regulation. The G20 Mexican Presidency for example has called on the OECD to develop High Level Principles on National Strategy for Financial Education that are expected to be approved by G20 leaders in June 2012.

A new working paper from the OECD’s Financial Affairs Division, Empowering Women through Financial Awareness and Education, reveals that women perform worse than men on tests of financial knowledge on average. For instance, in the US, while 60-70% of men can correctly answer questions about calculating interest or about inflation and risk diversification, only 50-60% of women can do so.

Moreover, women tend to be less confident about their financial skills than men in several domains. For instance, a study conducted in Australia reveals that women are generally as confident as men in their ability with everyday money management, including budgeting, saving, dealing with credit and managing debt, but that they are less confident than men when it comes to more complex issues like investing, understanding financial language and planning for retirement.

Evidence on vulnerable sub-populations suggests that women at either end of the age spectrum, low-income women, and widows may be more vulnerable to the negative consequences of low levels of financial literacy than other women, or men in the same subgroups.

This is worrying because lower levels of financial literacy can reduce women’s active participation within the economy, as well as effective personal and household financial management. Greater financial literacy could enable women to be better equipped to access and choose appropriate financial services , as well as to develop and manage entrepreneurial activities. Moreover, as women tend both to live longer and earn less than men, they are more likely to face poverty or financial hardship later in life.

All this is amplified by the fact that public policies in many countries have shifted a range of financial risks and related decisions to individual consumers. In addition, women’s lower financial literacy can reduce  their economic power within the household, and the transmission of knowledge to the next generation.

A survey of authorities in developed and emerging economies reveals that some of them – including Australia, India, Lebanon, New Zealand, Poland, Turkey, the UK and the US – acknowledge the need to address the financial literacy of women and girls, and have implemented financial education programmes targeting them.

However, there is scope for improvement. Gender differences in financial literacy and behaviour  should be explored further, to gain a deeper understanding of the specific aspects of financial literacy that might negatively affect the financial wellbeing of women, and design better targeted policy interventions. For instance, more needs to be learnt about why women’s levels of financial literacy are lower than men’s.

The OECD International Network on Financial Education (INFE) is working to address these issues by collecting and analysing internationally comparable data using the OECD/INFE Financial Literacy Core Questionnaire for adults and the 2012 PISA Financial Literacy international option for 15 year olds; identifying and comparing  effective financial education programmes; and  developing high-level policy analysis.

Useful links

OECD work on financial education

OECD work on gender

International Gateway for Financial Education (IGFE)


Nobel Peace Prize: Fighting for the victims

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Emilia Pires, Timor Leste Minister of Finance and co-chair of the International Dialogue in Monrovia

I saw Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, co-laureate of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in Liberia’s capital Monrovia earlier in the year at this conference on peacebuilding and statebuilding. She shares the prize with another Liberian, peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni journalist Tawakul Karman.

The Nobel committee honoured them in recognition of what they’ve done of course, but also to draw attention to the place of women more generally in conflict and post-conflict situations. Talking to women at the Monrovia conference, I understood the reality behind the jargon I at least tended to dismiss in development reports about the need for “gender mainstreaming”.

What that means is this for instance. Your husband or son goes off, maybe for years, to fight. When he comes back, he’s psychotic, ready to kill the neighbours, or even you or the children, over some trivial disagreement.  He might have become an alcoholic or a drug addict.  And it’s up to you to cope. No help from the numerous programmes for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration for former combatants.

And while the men were off fighting, women looked after not only their own homes and families, but the refugees as well.  In the case of Liberia, that meant not only people fleeing the Liberian civil war, but thousands from neighbouring countries too. Again, with little or no help.

The Nobel prize draws attention to the fact that women and girls are often the main victims of war. At the start of the year, The Economist published a table showing the number of women raped during conflicts, including over 500,000 in Rwanda in 1994 and 20,000 in Bosnia in 1992-95. These figures are probably underestimates, given the lack of means to collect data and the shame and blame attached to being raped. You may remember the case of the Saudi rape victim sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison.

Rape and violence against women and girls aren’t the only problems peacebuilding has to tackle. Writing in The Guardian, OECD’s Donata Garrasi, Co-ordinator of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, put it like this.

Imagine your children cannot go to school because of fear of being attacked and that the only people who’ll protect you from an armed gang are the members of another armed gang.

Imagine living in a country with a wealth of natural resources, but you are poor and unemployed.

Imagine most teachers, doctors, judges have fled the country.

Imagine your country receives lots of international assistance, but results are nowhere to be seen.

The Monrovia conference was a step towards finding the answers. Closing that meeting, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf pointed out that: “The challenges are huge, but they’re not bigger than the challenges we’ve faced in the past”.

Useful links

International engagement in fragile states: can’t we do better?

OECD work on conflict and fragility

OECD work on gender


More power to your grannies

50A logo.PNG

If you want a solar engineer, get a granny. That was the message of Sanjit “Bunker” Roy, founder of India’s Barefoot College at a session on women’s economic empowerment at the OECD’s 50th Anniversary Forum.

Mr. Roy explained that there was little benefit in training men from rural villages — “men are untrainable, they are restless and compulsively mobile,” he said. “There’s no point in training them, because when they get a certificate they leave the village.” So, his Barefoot College instead trains grandmothers – women who have usually never left their home village and have little wish to do so. “Grandmothers come screaming onto the plane,” he told the audience, “they hate leaving their lives behind.”

But if the journey is painful, it’s also worthwhile, especially for the home villages of the women. As Mr. Roy explained, the college has trained hundreds of women from India and further afield, including 200 women from across Africa. “Through sign language, not through the written word, we trained these women to be solar engineers,” he said.

Once they return home, they’re keen to pass on their knowledge – another characteristic that distinguishes them from the male counterparts: “If you train a man, he doesn’t want to pass on his knowledge for fear of losing his job,” said Mr. Roy. For the village, electricity can be transformative. Solar lamps mean there’s light for midwives when they’re delivering babies. Access to power also means there’s more for people to do once night falls, which helps cut down the birth rate

Mr. Roy’s reflections were just part of a fascinating discussion on empowering women, and the impact that has more widely for societies. Melanne S. Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, argued that there was no better way to drive economic growth than women’s economic empowerment. “Women who run small and mediums enterprises are growth accelerators,” she said.

From North Africa, Nizar Baraka, a minister from the Moroccan government, said events in the region this year showed there was a real demand for recognition of people’s dignity – and, “in order to have dignity we need gender equality”. That meant ensuring women had access to employment, he said, and the opportunities to create their own enterprises. In the Middle East and North African region, he said, women accounted for only about 10% of entrepreneurs, compared with 30% in OECD countries. But, he said, progress was being made, with the creation of a range of “incubators” and mentoring programmes to encourage women to set up their own businesses.

Useful links

OECD Gender Initiative