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ODI – Expanding Frontiers in Gender and Development

Why is it taking so long for women’s equality to be achieved? I’m at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in central London and the sun is shining on a crisp spring morning. I’m here for an event about what we’ve achieved since International Women’s day was created 100 years ago and what’s left to do.

Life in the UK for a woman is unrecognisable compared to women’s position in 1911. And even in the developing world, change is happening to women’s lives faster and at a greater magnitude than ever before – women are living longer, are protected by strong constitutions and legislation, have greater economic independence.

But as each of the speakers make clear, there are still massive challenges to overcome and millions of women for whom equality is a pipe dream.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead spoke about her recent visits to soon to be independent South Sudan and to the battle grounds of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She reflected the importance of women’s role in building a new country literally from scratch in South Sudan. And she told us of hearing the harrowing stories of women who were recently raped by various warring factions in DRC.

Professor Maxine Molyneux of the University of London spoke about her research into ‘Conditional Cash Transfer’ (CCT) programmes – the new ‘big thing’ in international development – in Peru, Bolivia and Mexico. CCT programmes consist of providing poor women with cash payments on a regular basis on condition that their children attend school and health check-ups. Sounds great, women have more money to support their families and daily life is a little less of a struggle. But these programmes focus on women purely in their role as mothers – ignoring the rest of their lives – and the effect has been to reinforce women’s responsibilities as carers and not fundamentally address the causes of their poverty or inequality. Men are totally excluded, which has led in some cases to men providing lower levels of funds and feeling less responsible for their families.

We also heard from Dr Sajeda Amin from the Population Council, talking about the successes and challenges of running girls clubs in Bangladesh, in an attempt to encourage girls to stay in school and marry later, where many girls are married by the age of 16. And Nisreen Alami from the newly formed UN Women agency, talking about the expectations and challenges of ensuring the UN tackles gender equality more consistently and comprehensively.

But what struck me most from the event was Baroness Kinnock telling us about the doctor treating the women who have been raped. He wears a badge on the lapel of his white coat saying ‘Don’t stand idly by’ – and for me that’s what counts in the end. None of us should stand idly by, we must all join the fight for women’s rights and development everywhere in the world.

Post by Sue Turrell

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