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CGD’s work on gender focuses policies in aid, development finance, trade, migration and peacekeeping that will improve women’s economic empowerment worldwide.
Greater equality drives big gains in health, education, employment, and improved livelihoods—for individuals, their families, and their communities. However, in many parts of the world, women and girls, and other marginalized groups including LGBT people, still face legal, economic, and political constraints that prevent them from participating fully and equally in society. CGD uses evidence to show how governments, donor institutions, and the private sector can help create conditions in low- and middle-income countries that allow all people to thrive.
This week marked a controversial anniversary in the US—that of the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that women have the right to an abortion. Add in the anniversary of the Women’s March, recent revelations of sexual harassment by men in high-profile roles, and controversial policy moves on access to family planning services, and it seems that the issue of women's empowerment and reproductive rights is more politically charged than ever.
Today we hear from a country that's taken a strong stand in favor of women by creating a feminist international assistance policy. Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, visited CGD to speak at our recent conference on family planning and women’s economic empowerment, and joined me on the podcast to discuss Canada’s new policy.
“From now on, at least 15 percent of our bilateral contributions must be for women-targeted projects,” Bibeau tells me in the podcast, adding that almost all the others are requred to have a women’s empowerment component.
The new policy underscores the importance of focusing on women and family planning in global development efforts. For many girls around the world, Bibeau says, early pregnancy comes with gender-based violence and reduced access to education. “If we want to empower women economically, we have to take care of the girls,” Bibeau says. More on that in the clip below.
At a time when other countries are pulling back support for family planning services, Canada is proud of its new policy. “This is our strong belief and we do not shy away and we talk about it honestly with evidence to support our policy, our priorities,” Bibeau says. “We really intend to be bold on the importance of women's empowerment, including sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
In my presentation I gave a preview of ongoing work with colleagues here at CGD to define and measure an unobservable variable likely to affect women’s empowerment: the “reproductive ecosystem.” We define it as some combination of social norms, economic realities, laws and customs, and access to contraception that in developing countries affects girls’ and women’s “agency” on reproductive matters, and invites or not women to plan whether and when they will have children.
The reproductive ecosystem includes elements of both demand for contraception on the part of individual women (Is it socially acceptable to delay marriage and childbearing?), and supply (Is there a health clinic with contraceptive products nearby?). I think of it as something that a 10-year-old girl can “see” about the world she inhabits, with respect to her future roles in the family, community, and society—roles that for all women, whether they have children or not, are affected by the social expectation that they can.
Our objective is to develop a measure of the reproductive ecosystem across developing countries and over time (since about 1990), and ask whether differences across countries and changes within countries can be associated (subsequently) with women’s empowerment. For example, does a law prohibiting marriage before age 18 affect current or subsequent changes in girls’ education and women’s participation in the formal, paid labor force?
As a summary measure of the social context that matters peculiarly for women, the reproductive ecosystem helps define what the 10-year-old girl—whether in New York, Cairo, Bogota, or Dakar—can imagine about her future, and in addition what her parents and her community can imagine. What combination of children and “career” (or own-earnings) is open to her? How close is that imagined future to the one her brother can imagine? How does that affect her own and her parents’ decisions about investing in her future?
In the United States, the “power of the pill” was mostly about supply of a new technology
In the United States, the reproductive ecosystem changed dramatically in the late 1960s with the introduction of the contraceptive pill. Take-up of the pill grew rapidly in the 1970s, and an increase in women’s enrollment in professional education followed suit almost immediately (see chart). Jay Lindo, in this conference presentation (a tour de force, IMHO) referring to his own and others’ work using US data over the last five decades (“power of the pill” studies), explained how economists have used data on variation in access and cost to contraception (and abortion) to tease out causality—from greater access to greater empowerment of women—including higher wages decades later.
But over the last 30-40 years the pill and other modern contraceptive methods have been introduced in the developing world, where women have less education on average than women in the US in the late 1960s and were and still are, on average, poorer. The conditions for rapid uptake of contraception were not and have not been as propitious as in the US. New and better contraception is not like a new vaccine, almost universally taken up to avoid disease and death, or even like the mobile phone. Fertility and family are deeply sensitive subjects in every society; the decision to use contraception is heavily mediated not only by education and income, but by religion, prevailing social norms, and culture—and of course, the status or “rights” of women to make choices in the first place. Causality from supply of a new technology that matters for women to women’s empowerment is harder to assess.
Two papers presented at the conference may be among the first to do so rigorously, using household survey and other data from Malaysia and Colombia. In Malaysia, the authors use the natural experiment of differential access over time in different communities to show that greater (earlier) access is associated with greater schooling for girls. They emphasize the “indirect” or “incentive” effect at the community level; in communities where family planning became a known option, girls stayed in school longer, independent of whether their own mothers used contraception.
How can we address the same question across many developing countries and over time? Have elements of the “reproductive ecosystem” (on both the demand and supply side of use of contraception) that have varied over time and across countries mediated the effect of access to contraception on country and time-specific measures of women’s empowerment?
Measuring and validating the concept of “reproductive ecosystem”
To characterize the reproductive ecosystem in any one place at any one point in time (across many developing countries over the last three decades), we are putting together data from multiple sources, including: attitude data about women’s roles from the World Values Survey, e.g. whether a university education is more important for boys than girls, or if men have more of a right to scarce jobs than women; Demographic and Health survey data at the country level (and urban/rural within countries) on the social acceptance of contraception, e.g. the prevalence of “opposition” to contraception that women report; and data on observable country-year behavior of adult women, e.g. the percentage of women who work outside the home for wage or salary income. Other possibilities suggested by conference participants include laws that affect women’s ability to own property, at least on paper; prevalence of female genital mutilation; and measures of media access to alternative lifestyles of women (the famous example being that of soap operas in Brazil).
One way to validate any connection from these societal/country variables to women’s empowerment is to focus on women’s apparent decisions to time pregnancies, including to delay marriage, to delay their first birth, and to use contraception before they have any births at all—something I proposed 30 years ago (!) in this article and as was the case for women in their 20s in the United States in the early 1970s. These variables are more likely to reflect women’s “agency” in reproductive behavior than do traditional variables such as overall use of contraception or average number of children. The issue for women may not in fact be how many children to have—which has been the focus of efforts to improve access to contraception for decades—but when, if ever, to get pregnant. (For a tantalizing indication that these decisions have been changing in the developing world, compare slides 10 and 12 of my colleague Rachel Silverman’s conference presentation.) The US story indicates that starting in the 1970s, young women were confident, taking the contraceptive pill, that they could combine sex (and even marriage) with a partner with going to law or medical school—assured they could put off pregnancy, and that professional education made sense for them; they could imagine combining children and career with lower risk and higher return. As in the case of an indirect effect in Malaysia, we can surmise that in the 1970s admissions committees of medical and law schools also became more willing to admit women—knowing that women had control over the timing of any pregnancies both while in school and during any resulting career. The key point is that women can be empowered simply by the prevalence of contraception, independent of their own immediate choices.
From a modelling point of view, we are attacking two questions. First, what indicators of the reproductive ecosystem measured at the country level (including the demand side and the supply side, both of which affect the total cost of women choosing to plan births) affect measures of whether women are timing (including delaying) births at that time in that place? Second: with lags of about 15 years, is there an observable association across countries and/or over time between differences in “reproductive ecosystems” and differences in measures of women’s empowerment?
Why is this work potentially policy relevant? Compared to 30 years ago, greater access to modern contraception is clearly associated with greater use (with modern method usage now as high as 63 percent in Kenya, 54 percent in Bangladesh, and 48 percent in India)—and probably to some extent with lower fertility (with the total fertility rate 3.9 per woman in Kenya, 2.1 in Bangladesh, and 2.4 in India (WDI)). But whether and why greater access is associated (or not) with increases in women’s empowerment is less clear—and if not why not? We have compelling evidence in the Malaysia case that at the community level, greater access to contraception can be causally linked to the likelihood that girls will stay longer in school. But would that be equally true in India and Senegal? What else besides “access” feeds through to measures of women’s empowerment? And over what time periods? It may be that in some settings it is patriarchy itself that matters. It may be that the next best investment for empowering women (and ultimately for development itself) is a direct effort to change aspects of what we are calling the reproductive ecosystem. Undoing laws and customs affecting property rights for women, in a virtuous circle, might itself undo the patriarchy that discourages girls from delaying marriage to finish secondary school and earning an independent living—and by undoing patriarchy, fuels growth and development.
Meanwhile, we are looking for whatever indicators are out there of the reproductive ecosystem, while exploring the potential of what is, as always, limited data to test our alternative models of reproduction and empowerment across societies. We have data challenges and statistical/econometric challenges. We welcome your suggestions (comment below) on data that would help us represent the reproductive ecosystem—and help create a better future for today’s 10-year-old girls across the developing world.
UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson recently announced that the British aid budget will be directed toward projects that promote British interests. The announcement follows a lot of criticism in some media of UK aid spending, which has had a negative effect on public opinion. So how does the UK Department for International Development’s new chief economist think that view can be changed?
“If you look at polls of why people are skeptical of giving aid, it's because they think it doesn't work,” Rachel Glennerster tells me in this week’s podcast. “If you can show that this is really changing people’s lives for the better, then that is a key part of building the case for aid.”
One of the ways that aid is working, she says, is by helping girls stay in school—and family planning plays a key role in that. “You have this really important window in adolescents’ lives when there are all these different decisions that are being made, some of which the adolescent girl has power over, some she doesn’t,” Glennerster says. “This is a critical time for women to invest in their own skills, and having kids in that period can really disrupt that investment.”
Glennerster presented some of her research on family planning at a CGD conference on the topic late last year—you can watch it on the event page. To hear more about what drew Glennerster to DFID and what she plans to bring to the table, check out the clip below.
Happy New Year, and welcome to 2018 from all of us at CGD.
Here at CGD, we’re always working on new ideas to stay on top of the rapidly changing global development landscape. Whether it’s examining new technologies with the potential to alleviate poverty, presenting innovative ways to finance global health, assessing changing leadership at international institutions, or working to maximize results in resource-constrained environments, CGD’s experts are at the forefront of practical policy solutions to reduce global poverty and inequality.
Watch our video to hear from our experts directly, and get an in-depth look below at their thoughts on the 2018 global development landscape:
The role of international cooperation
“We’re in a difficult time for development policy. People feel as if we’re in competition with the developing world, and I think we have to get back to recognizing that we have shared problems that we need to solve together. The premise of international development cooperation—now rightly enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals—is that we are in this together: we all benefit from shared prosperity, openness, trade, security, values, rights, and justice. We are in danger of seeing the world as zero sum—in which improvements in some parts of the world are wrongly believed to be at the expense of success elsewhere. If we allow this idea to take root, it will undermine support for development cooperation, and take us in directions that erode global cooperation and the institutions that protect and sustain our shared security and prosperity.”
The effect of transitioning away from aid: asking the right questions
“I think 2018 is going to have to be about countries transitioning away from aid, and as a result it’s going to have to be about how we invest limited resources to get the best return for that investment. What happens to social spending commitments towards global health priority areas such as vaccinations and infectious diseases, as Ministries of Finance are increasingly asked to allocate their own domestic resources to replace diminishing donor funds? How do national health insurance funds procure pharmaceutical products and other health commodities as LMICs leave purchasing clubs such as Gavi and GFATM whilst having to deal with the growing burden of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer? How can technological and organisational innovation address the gap left by departing global purchasing arrangements?
What are the role and responsibilities of norm setting agencies such as the WHO in shaping resource allocation at national level as countries commit to and implement universal coverage for their populations? When are aspirational targets as the ones set through standard treatment guidelines, disease specific norms or the Essential Medicines List, justified and when do they distort local spending priorities and aggravate inequalities?”
New leadership, limited funding: an opportunity for global health aid
“In 2018, I’m looking forward to seeing economists more deeply embedded in all things global health. First, Peter Sands takes the helm as new executive director at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria where the focus needs to be value for money—more impact, more rigorously measured, for the same or less money. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also a requirement for a portion of future DFID funding. To get this done, better economics should be deployed to inform resource allocation within programs, implement rigorous performance verification and evaluation approaches, and select most cost-effective diagnostics, drugs, and devices for purchase.
Second, at the World Health Organization (WHO), newly elected Dr. Tedros is finalizing his General Program of Work, a 2019-2023 plan that governs the rest of his tenure as Director-General. Faced with many demands and conflicting priorities from its member countries, WHO leadership could benefit from a chief economist (more on this here and here). The goal? To help prioritize demands amid scarce funding, to promote value for money in all policies, and to make the critical link with ministries of finance.
Third, with US tax reform passed, global health aid—like the rest of discretionary spending in the US budget—may face cuts, despite bipartisan support. In the UK, there’s also an uncertain outlook. It’s a clear case of ‘hope for the best, plan for the worst.’ And that’s where the dismal science can contribute: planning for these uncertainties and contingencies, and maybe finding some opportunities for efficiencies along the way. Look to recent work on aid transitions, priority-setting, domestic resource mobilization, innovative financing, value for money, fiscal policies for health, financing global public goods, and our forthcoming work on rationalizing future global health procurement should provide some fodder for policymakers to consider.”
“In 2018, I’m very much looking forward to continuing to explore China’s emergence as a leading development actor. Increasingly, this will mean defining a leading role on international policy commensurate with China's role as a leading development financier globally. In settings like Davos and institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, Chinese officials will inevitably be more prominent in 2018 and will just as inevitably come under increasing pressure to align Chinese policy on issues like sustainable lending with international norms. All of this will likely occur against a backdrop of US retrenchment in these multilateral fora.”
“I’m really excited about the relationship between technology and development, and to begin to examine how we can master the challenges that come with integrating a set of powerful new technologies and ensuring that they deliver the best options for poor people everywhere. Technological innovation has been a driving force of development and this continues to be the case. The current revolution in digital technology, big data, robotics, and artificial intelligence holds enormous promise to deliver development services more effectively and efficiently. However, these forces will need to be harnessed to ensure that the benefits flow to all segments of society in the developing world and the ‘losers’ from this transition are supported in ways that are economically, socially, and politically sustainable. This is a fertile and urgent area for conceptual and empirical research to underpin better policymaking by developing country leaders and the international community.”
“In 2018, I’m excited about expanding our research on the policies that will most effectively help refugees and migrants integrate into their host communities. At a challenging time for migrants and refugees, we are focused on analyzing and generating solutions that can simultaneously advance outcomes for refugees, migrants, and host communities. One of our main projects will highlight policies and programs that benefit sending and receiving communities, as well as emerging innovations such as the Global Skill Partnership. Building on our work on refugee compacts, we'll expand our work on how to achieve impact with new financing mechanisms that support developing countries, which host 86 percent of the world's refugees, to deliver services to refugees and citizens. A key part of this will be research on how to increase refugees' access to labor markets and more deeply engage the private sector, so refugees can become self-reliant by finding jobs and starting businesses—and spurring local markets in the process.
Latin America’s elections: choosing the right leadership to restore peace and prosperity
“In 2018, we will witness a huge cycle of presidential elections in Latin America. My big hope for the year is that the citizenship chooses the right leadership to be able to face the upcoming challenges. The recent elections in Chile (December) and Honduras (November) will be followed by six Presidential elections in 2018: Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, Paraguay and, potentially, Venezuela. This highly charged electoral cycle comes at a time when populations’ discontent with the results of democracy is on the rise as reported by the reputable poll Latinobarometro. This change in attitude follows the significant deterioration in Latin America’s economic and institutional quality indicators in recent years, reflecting both the end of the period of super high prices of commodities exported by the region and the outburst of corruption and crime in many countries. In this environment, the risk of electing populist (notably in Mexico) or authoritarian leaders (notably in Brazil) is high. Populism and authoritarianism are not strange to Latin American history and their disastrous results on economic and social prosperity are extensively documented (with Venezuela’s recent experience being the latest example). The incoming elections will test whether Latin Americans can avoid repeating the painful mistakes of the past and will choose governments able and willing to put in place the needed reforms to restore economic growth and sustainably enforce the rule of law.”
“In 2018, what I would like to see is the gender gap in financial services reduced. The gender gap in financial services is stuck at a 7 percent gap globally and a 9 percent gap in developing economies. According to the latest data, while the number of bank account holders has increased globally between 2011 and 2014, the gender gap has not shrunk. In 2018 we can do better. So far, a lot more attention has been paid to particular constraints women face in accessing financial services, than to what women actually want from financial products. Focusing on women potential clients as a distinct market segment is a first step. Second, in addition to “know your customer requirements,” the industry should have “know your bank standards” as well, and examine potential gender biases, explicit and implicit, in the delivery of financial services. Banks should examine and correct internal gender biases. Encouraging signs include the commitment of development agencies (including an 8-agency gender data partnership coordinated by Data2X and GBA) and some banks to invest in data, both supply and demand-side, and in testing innovative financial products and delivery systems to increase women’s access to financial services (including experimental evaluation work we at CGD and partners are completing this year). These and other partnerships should help shrink the gap in the short term, especially if large private sector banks globally also act.”
What will you remember about 2017? The growing crisis of displacement? The US pulling out of the Paris agreement and reinstating the global gag rule on family planning? Or that other countries reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris agreement, that Canada launched a feminist international assistance policy, that Saudi Arabia finally let women drive?
CGD experts have offered analysis and ideas all year, but now it's time to look forward.
What's going to happen in the world of development in 2018? Will we finally understand how to deal equitably with refugees and migrants? Or how technological progress can work for developing countries? Or what the impact of year two of the Trump Administration will be?
Today’s podcast, our final episode of 2017, raises these questions and many more as a multitude of CGD scholars share their insights and hopes for the year ahead. You can preview their responses in the video below.
Thanks for listening. Join us again next year for more episodes of the CGD Podcast.
The Canadian government has made some impressive steps towards prioritizing gender and women’s rights in international relations. I’m hoping that’s a sign of momentum towards even bigger steps in the New Year—using the full range of tools from trade and migration policy through investment and aid.
In just the past few months, the Canadian government has made:
A number of commitments around women peace and security, including the “Elsie Initiative,” which will provide training, support, and financial incentives to increase the proportion of women in UN peacekeeping operations.
An updated trade deal with Chile that includes a gender chapter referencing existing gender equality commitments made by both countries, creating a trade and gender committee to foster initiatives to ensure women benefit equally from trade, and a proposal to the WTO Working Party on Domestic Regulation that members do not discriminate against individuals on the basis of gender in the context of licensing requirements, licensing procedures, qualification requirements, or procedures.
A commitment to support 1,200 largely Yazidi women and girls alongside male family members fleeing violence in Northern Iraq.
A new Feminist International Assistance Policy which places a strong emphasis on—and reallocates funding towards—gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. Not least, that has involved a 3-year commitment of $650 million towards family planning and reproductive health as well as a $150 million 5-year fund for women’s rights organizations.
And there’s evidence of more to come—not least of which, Canada’s plan to focus the upcoming G7 meeting in Charlevoix on gender equality at home and abroad. This is good news—and suggests there might be potential to build on a strong start with even more.
Improving gender equality across the board
The government says that gender chapters in trade agreements will be standard going forward. That’s great news, but it would be better to see them have more bite, and to have elements included in the binding parts of the treaty. In particular, Canada could make a commitment to use trade deals (and continue pushing at the WTO) to tackle gender apartheid in the workplace. Seventy-nine countries restrict the kind of jobs women can do purely on the grounds they are women. Fifteen countries say men can stop their wives getting a job. These kinds of restrictions mean that women have fewer opportunities to benefit from global exchange than do men, and they stand in contravention of Article 11 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)—to which Canada is party alongside 109 other countries. Canadian trade officials could highlight removal of gender apartheid laws as areas for pre-ratification reform.
Canada’s migration policy could both benefit the country and some of the world’s most discriminated-against women with a tweak in the system. Worldwide, women want to migrate equally with men. Women from gender-unequal countries are particularly keen to move, but the extra barriers they face means that fewer actually manage to leave. About 45 percent of all immigrants to Canada are women, but from countries that put specific legal barriers in the way of women emigrants, the female share drops to 36 percent. Given the extra barriers these women face, the ones who manage to leave are likely to be particularly able and motivated—and so of high value to Canada. And given the increasing evidence of “social remittances”—migrants repatriating not just money but attitudes to their home countries—increased women’s migration will be a force for change in sending countries. That suggests a triple win for the migrants, Canada, and sending countries from a policy of favoring women emigrants from gender-unequal countries. The change would be simple to introduce given that Canada already uses a points system for immigration decision: just add a few points for women from the selected group of gender-unequal countries.
Regarding investment, Canada is about to set up its own Development Finance Institution— to support private investments in developing countries. Along with the rest of the World, Canada itself has a real problem with gender equality in private sector management. Women hold less than nine percent of the five highest-paid jobs in each of Canada’s 100 largest listed companies. One (more) reason that’s a problem is that women-managed firms hire considerably more women staff. So if Canada wanted to maximize the impact of its DFI on women’s economic empowerment worldwide, it would search out women-run companies to support—perhaps even offering preferential terms. It should also prioritize investments that help overcome barriers to women’s entrepreneurship—partnering with financial institutions to promote women’s financial inclusion, for example. At the same time, Canada should ensure that it doesn’t support gender-unequal investments. Given the number of countries worldwide have laws that specifically discriminate against women’s participation in the workforce, and the fact such laws are associated with considerably lower female labor force participation, companies receiving DFI support should be encouraged to mitigate the impact of local discriminatory legislation to the extent possible within the host country’s domestic laws by following a code of conduct regarding women’s employment and reporting data on employment by gender. If the government wanted to go further and help the Canadian private sector as a whole become a world leader in gender equality it could encourage the same code of conduct and mandate the same reporting on all Canada-based multinationals. And it could also take the emerging idea of supplier diversity goals for Canadian government procurement global—setting goals for aid and other overseas procurement, and encouraging multilateral institutions like the UN and World Bank to follow suit.
While aid resources are moving towards prioritizing women and girls, Canada’s overall aid budget fell by 4.4 percent last year. ODA as a proportion of GDP is now at 0.26 percent—that’s considerably below the OECD average. Better aid is at least if not more important than more aid. And shifting resources towards programs like family planning where there is a strong evidence base of effectiveness is likely moving towards better aid. But girls and women also benefit when Canada provides resources for quality education, vaccines, access to productive assets, gender-responsive infrastructure to reduce unpaid care work burdens, or (even) budget support. An improved feminist international assistance policy would involve both better and more ODA.
A global partnership
Finally, the Canadian government could use its global leadership position on gender to support international partnership. Women’s economic empowerment is an area where all countries (and firms) have a long way to go, with developing countries often ahead of (at least some) OECD countries: 32 percent of firms included in the World Bank’s enterprise surveys of East Asia and the Pacific are managed by women compared to 15 percent in high income OECD countries, for example. That suggests there are lessons to be learned across income divides in both directions. A global partnership of business and political leaders could make and track commitments on how they will help level the playing field for women in the economy, as well as sharing what has worked.
I’m excited to see Canada’s burgeoning leadership on gender in international relations. From this side of the border, it is hard not to be a little jealous. But it would be great if the New Year brought even more to be jealous about.
On December 7, 2017, Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, Government of Canada, gave a keynote address at the the third annual Birdsall House Conference on Women, "Reproductive Choices to Life Chances: The Links between Contraception and Women’s Economic Empowerment."
Although family planning programs can improve women’s welfare directly through changes in realized fertility, they may also have important incentive effects by increasing parents’ investments in girls not yet fertile. We study these potential incentive effects, finding that family planning may have raised raise girls’ educational attainment substantially. We also find that these early investments are linked to gains in women’s paid labor at prime working ages and to greater support for women’s elderly parents (a marker for women’s bargaining power within the household). Notably, these incentive effects may be larger than the direct effects of family planning alone.