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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.
There is longstanding debate about the contribution of family planning programs to fertility decline. Studying the staggered introduction of family planning across Malaysia during the 1960s and 1970s, we find modest responses in fertility behavior. Overall, Malaysia’s total fertility rate declined by about one quarter birth under family planning, explaining only about 10 percent of the national fertility decline between 1960 and 1988. Our findings are consistent with growing evidence that global fertility decline is predominantly due to underlying changes in the demand for children.
Researchers from many academic institutions and think tanks have studied the relationship between contraception and women's economic empowerment. In both the developing and developed world, the evidence suggests that access to contraception is not only correlated with but can even cause women’s economic empowerment and drive economic growth.
Women are overrepresented in the informal sector worldwide, often stuck in dangerous, insecure, low-paid jobs. Waste picking in particular is a highly vulnerable and risky form of informal employment. In 1995, India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) organized women waste pickers in Ahmedabad into a cooperative to improve their working conditions and livelihoods. Over time, this informal arrangement evolved into Gitanjali – a women-owned and -run social enterprise, that produces a full range of stationery products for large multinational corporations, including Staples, IBM, and Goldman Sachs. What difference has Gitanjali made to the lives and opportunities of women waste pickers in India? What are the implications for women’s social enterprises in other countries? What are the challenges that remain to be overcome? The Center for Global Development is delighted to bring together some of the key private sector partners that helped Gitanjali generate social value, along with practitioners from the public sector and multilateral financial institutions, for a robust discussion about job options for poor women in low paid, informal occupations, including a model entrepreneurship venture. The event will be informed by the CGD report, The Gitanjali Cooperative: A Social Enterprise in the Making. Copies of the report’s executive summary will be provided. Light refreshments will be available.
This Thursday December 7, CGD will host a group of economists and policymakers to discuss global evidence on the causal relationship between access to contraception and women’s economic empowerment (RSVP here).
Many will ask, “What’s new here? Wasn’t it already obvious that the ability to plan births was an essential part of expanding women’s life choices?” Intuitively, of course. But the empirical evidence was mostly circumstantial—correlation and not causation. And based on those correlations, some experts even argued that “development is the best contraception,” implying that contraceptive availability was not itself a key intervention to drive changes in fertility and economic outcomes.
The relative weakness of the evidence of family planning as a driver of women’s economic outcomes also played out in the more specialized field of women’s economic empowerment. Our own Roadmap for Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment with Data2X examined 136 empirical evaluations of different interventions’ effectiveness vis-à-vis these outcomes, but did not include family planning as a driver of change. And the recent Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative set up at the World Bank (with major support from the US and other governments) makes no mention of access to family planning as a barrier to the increased access of women to finance, markets, and networks that are its stated goals. Indeed, even as that fund was launching, the US administration submitted a FY2018 budget to Congress that proposed the elimination of family planning funding.
Yet we now have a body of work from a range of countries that can trace a direct line between access to family planning and women’s increased schooling, labor force participation, occupational choice, and wages, using the most rigorous economic methods to isolate the effect of the availability of contraception from other trends. And that body of work is now global. I’m excited to be part of this conference that puts together many of the experts and the rigorous evidence available. I’m also excited that we will release a new paper by CGD nonresident fellow Grant Miller and coauthors, as well as a wrap-up brief by Rachel Silverman to build the field further (watch this space). We’ll be joined by key policymakers—one of the co-creators of Canada’s new feminist development policy, Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, as well as former Malawian president Dr. Joyce Banda. And we’ll discuss the “so what” too—what does the evidence mean for policies and programs at home and abroad?
This conference is named for Nancy Birdsall, CGD’s founding president. In 1987, Nancy wrote about posited causal connections between access to contraception and women’s outcomes here. It took until today to have a body of work to discuss.
There is still much to do. Can women’s economic empowerment in low- and middle-income countries lead to the same kinds of macroeconomic impact as we see in the US? (Did you know that better occupational choices for women explain about a fifth of US economic growth since 1960? I didn’t before this conference. Here’s the link.) To know, we’ll need to invest more and learn more while doing.
This event, co-sponsored by CGD, Data2X and IDRC, marks the launch of a new book, Measuring Women’s Economic Empowerment: Lessons from South America. Co-Editor Susana Martinez-Restrepo presents main findings from field work in Colombia, Peru and Uruguay. A panel discussion with some of the leading experts on the topic follows the launch.
On December 7th, academics, private sector representatives, and policymakers turn to an issue that affects women in rich and poor countries alike: the ability to make informed, voluntary, and autonomous choices about childbearing, and the implications of reproductive choice as a lever to expand women’s economic and life prospects. Until recently, there has been a lack of rigorous empirical evidence on the links between contraceptive access and women’s economic empowerment in low- and middle-income countries. The 2017 Birdsall House Conference features new findings on this relationship alongside existing evidence from the United States.
Under managing director Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has become a champion for gender equality. This note examines how much the IMF’s dialogue with its member countries has changed as a result of the labeling of gender as a "macrocritical" issue. In short, there has been increased attention to the issue as reflected in word counts and discussion of women’s labor force participation, but there is still a long way to go.
On October 4, CGD convened a private roundtable on women and financial technology in development alongside Monica Brand Engel, co-founding partner of Quona Capital (which invests in financial technology solutions in the developing world), and Wendy Jagerson Teleki of the International Finance Corporation. An engaged set of participants from MDBs, government, civil society, and the private sector joined Engel and Teleki in exchanging ideas on how to increase women’s representation in financial technology (or “fintech” for short) leadership and improve access to financial services for women. Because the discussion was under Chatham House Rules, we won’t quote anyone, but a number of valuable points on and ideas for a better path forward emerged.
Globally, business remains depressingly gender-unbalanced. The World Bank’s enterprise surveys suggest that only about 20 percent of medium and large firm managers worldwide are women (and the figure isn’t much different in rich countries). Two particularly unequal sectors are finance and technology. The IMF suggests only 2 percent of bank CEOs are women, and a recent analysis of global patents suggests that only 15 percent of patents involve a woman inventor, with the share even lower in IT. So perhaps it is unsurprising that fintech companies are in a pretty grim place when it comes to employing women—especially in leadership. More than one discussant suggested that they frequently came across company boards in the sector without a single woman, and that they were the single woman on a number of boards. Why do so few women hold positions of power in fintech, and what can we do to change this bleak picture?
One participant suggested we know the macro case for greater women’s economic empowerment in terms of economic impact and development progress, and we know the micro case in terms of improved provision of services and outcomes for individual women and families in terms of earning, learning, and health outcomes; but company leaders need more, and more specifics, on the meso case—the business case for gender equity that includes better returns to shareholders, for example.
The discussion covered both better provision of financial services to women and better representation of women in firms that provide financial services—with the clear understanding that the topics are linked. Firms that recognized the benefits of a diverse client base were more likely to understand the value of having women in leadership—and vice-versa.
On the provision of financial services, a growing number of companies are recognizing the value of developing banking products with women customers in mind. And there were a lot of studies and examples to point to around the business case for those services. But it takes more than anecdotes, however convincing; banks frequently need engaged, long-term support to roll out new products for their markets (and there is a role for smart design of accompanying women’s empowerment projects including high quality business management and jobs skills training).
On greater women’s representation in fintech leadership, a recent Harvard Business Review survey based on US experience suggested limited or mixed impact of diversity training, hiring tests, and grievance systems, but better results from targeted recruitment. In the discussion, there was some skepticism towards enforcing board quotas, but on the other hand, there is evidence that the impact of quotas in discriminatory environments can often be to replace mediocre men with better women.
Mirroring the survey results, participants discussed the benefit of firms going the extra mile to find women for positions—leaving jobs open until a qualified woman applied, using ownership interest to place women on boards of directors, and targeted job searches using personal networks and contacts. And the discussion highlighted the importance of actively building pipelines—looking out for women to fill positions from intern on up. Again, while some participants felt mandating female board membership as a condition for investment was a step too far, positively judging companies with diverse boards as part of an investment decision could have both a financial and development impact.
And, especially given how few women there are in the sector today, men need to step up. Mentoring a pipeline of women employees shouldn’t be a burden that women in an organization carry alone. Men should be thinking about opportunities to better serve women clients. Men should be searching their networks for women candidates and recognizing and countering the role their own and others’ biases play in hiring and HR decisions.
On that note, it was a disappointment that there were so few men in the room for the discussion. At about 90 percent women, the roundtable saw even worse gender parity than at the average CGD event on gender. It was yet another indication of how far fintech—and the business community more generally—has to go towards equally involving and empowering women and men. And, in a sector known for its innovation and forward-thinking, a huge opportunity exists to transform the way we do business for profound social (and economic) impact.