Amid the much publicised participation by the Trinidad and Tobago at the United Nations Summit to review the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), somewhat overlooked locally was the announcement by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon for a USD 40 billion plan aimed at saving the lives of 16 million women and children over the next five years. The UN has placed this within the framework of a new organisation, UN Women, to focus on how redressing the needs of women.
While from our small-island perspectives, it may sound like a whooping sum, in effect, it represents less than a miniscule fraction (some 0.0015 percent) of the net income of G8 countries.
Not to be ungracious, even this can significantly dent gender imbalances, if properly managed to ensure that the funds do indeed reach the vulnerable communities and impact on their lives in ways that are meaningful and long term. It is up to the national countries to form and implement plans and programmes to make this happen.
I have heard much skepticism from several quarters - including local women - who should know better, about why the fuss, why women?
This plan came about because development experts and the UN, now awakening to the voices that have pointed out links between the financial, food and other crises, and the economic and other effects of exclusion, discrimination - whether by design or accident - against women who comprise some one half of the world’s population and therefore at least 50 percent of the world’ economic potential and potential for future prosperity of their children.
The experts now acknowledge that the economic and political empowerment of women remain critical for the eradication of poverty, economic growth and sustainable development, and for the wellbeing of families and communities. Better educated women have a better chance in the job market and in decision making at all levels. This benefits the entire society. When women own and control resources and decent and productive work, they can ensure their families and children have a better livelihood – better health care and education for their children which can break the cycle of poverty and deprivation. This pivotal role of women is clearly recognised by the advertising industry, for instance, which has been tailoring their advertising to capture the imagination of women with purchasing power in our societies. It is not rocket science. There is a simple logic in the fact that lifting women from poverty is key to generating economic growth and development and can lead to greater prosperity for all.
Yet, in many countries, women still face barriers to ownership of property, access to education and work opportunities, if not just in law and policies, but also in practices that remain entrenched and internalized which gives them unequally access to be represented in economic and political decision-making and are unable to share equally with men in the benefits of development. Furthermore, women seem to be harder hit by the onset of the world financial crisis.
UN MDG records show that in Trinidad and Tobago, the employment-to-population ratio of men is almost 50 percent (73.1%) to women (49.3) and trends of the last few years with the world financial crisis and economic recession show greater declines in the ratio for women to men. UN data also shows that while there is some progress towards the MDGs overall, and in T&T in some areas for which data exists, inequalities persist not only between women and men, but also between women in urban and rural areas and from different income levels. These are the gaps that action programmes to utilise the UN-40 billion dollar plan should seek to bridge.
According to the UN, in the developing world, women are more likely than men to work in vulnerable employment – either as ‘own-account ‘ (self-employed)workers or as contributing family workers -- characterised by low earnings and productivity and lack of security and benefits. While own-account work is male-dominated, women make up the majority of those who contribute family workers. In 2009, one in every four employed women in the developing regions worked as a contributing family worker, compared to only one in every nine employed men. For most of the areas that will indicate the degree of meeting development goals there were no specific data for T&T, but following are some of the data from the Millennium Development Goals – Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, progress chart 2010 prepared by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.