"Investing in gender equality: moving from rhetoric to reality” – Deputy Executive Director John Hendra

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Policy and Programme John Hendra at a side event on “What women get: promoting transparency and increasing accountability in financing for gender equality in the post-2015 agenda”, New York, 14 March 2014.

Date: Friday, March 14, 2014

[Check against delivery]

Thank you Zohra,

Distinguished panelists, colleagues,

Good afternoon!  I’d also like to thank everyone for coming to this side event late on Friday afternoon in what has been a very busy first week at CSW. And I’d like to especially thank our co-organizers for their support in convening this discussion: the Missions of the Netherlands, the Basque Mission, the OECD-DAC Gender-net and AWID.

Over the past couple of years we’ve seen a lot of interest in, and discussion about, investing in gender equality. Whether it’s girls’ education – now proven to be perhaps one of the best investments a society can make in terms of longer term impact on health and education outcomes, investment in women’s economic participation – which has a direct and proven impact on GDP, or investment in women’s participation in decision-making – which leads to better decision-making  by governments, and greater profitability in the private sector – the jury is not out, but the jury is very much in that investing in gender equality, women’s rights, and women’s empowerment is good not only for women, but also for their families, societies, and globally, for sustainable development.

Unfortunately, as Zohra has highlighted, the reality is yet to match the rhetoric.  As Patti will shortly outline, it’s clear that gender equality commitments and priorities are not always matched by adequate donor funding. The good news is that OECD-DAC donor investments in gender equality tripled from USD 8 billion in 2002 to USD 24 billion in 2012 – an increase from 27 per cent to 36 per cent of aid during that period. That’s aid which had gender equality as an objective. However, just 5 per cent of aid had gender equality as its primary objective.

What’s also clear is that funding is not always reaching those sectors where the evidence shows investment really pays off. In 2011-2012, just 3 per cent of funding in peace and security and 2 per cent in economic empowerment, was specifically dedicated to gender equality. What’s more, while donor investments in gender equality, education and health have increased significantly, investment in women’s economic empowerment has actually stagnated since 2007-2008 as a percentage of overall aid in the economic and productive sectors. Support for family planning has also declined since the mid-1990s. Furthermore, it’s a very small core group of donors that fund gender equality in a substantive way.

As we know, the financial and economic crises, and austerity measures adopted in many countries have had a significant impact on government expenditure worldwide. Both developed and developing countries have experienced significant reductions in budget revenues as a result of the financial crisis – in developing countries this drop is estimated at $140 billion in lost revenue. As a result, many countries are undertaking significant spending cuts in pension systems, health systems, and expenditures on social benefits.

Women, particularly poor women, have borne the brunt of the fallout from the crisis, and recovery efforts focused on austerity. Women have been disproportionately affected by austerity measures and public sector job cuts, and in countries where recovery is occurring, men’s jobs are returning at a faster rate than women’s.  Between 2007 and 2012 the gender gap in employment increased by 0.5 percentage points, eliminating 13 million jobs for women, a trend expected to persist until 2017.

Austerity measures and budget cuts impact women in at least three major ways. First, because women are more often in precarious employment, with fewer assets, and are therefore more dependent on public social services. Second, as the main unpaid care workers, women are disproportionately affected when social services and support are reduced as the responsibility for care shifts even further onto their shoulders. And third, as the majority of front line workers in social services, cuts in public sector jobs inevitably affect women more.

What’s also of serious concern is that budget cuts are impacting gender equality organizations and services. Austerity has curtailed services designed to end violence against women and support victims of violence. For example, in the UK funding to VAW services from local authorities was cut by 31 per cent from 2010-2011 to 2011-2012. In Greece austerity measures have stopped local government funding for women’s shelters. And as our colleague from AWID, Nerea, will highlight shortly, the rising interest in women and girls is not translating into more resources for women’s rights organizations. 

All of us – donors, Governments, and the United Nations system – have an obligation to realize our commitments to gender equality, women’s rights, and women’s empowerment. In the face of the financial crisis and fiscal constraint, we have to work together to make scarce resources go further, to better deliver for women and girls. This means how we spend our money, and what we choose to invest in, is even more important than ever.

Boosting efforts to strengthen accountability for financing for gender equality is key – including by tracking and reporting on gender equality investments.

It’s critical that we now build on what we’ve learned over the past decade supporting 65 countries to undertake gender-responsive planning and budgeting. Gender-responsive budgeting helps to shed light on what government spending cuts mean for women and girls, as well as to identify measures to address inequalities through government expenditure.

UN Women currently works in 15 countries to support governments to increase accountability, by strengthening and improving systems for tracking gender equality allocations, and ensuring national gender equality priorities and commitments are translated into results for women on the ground.

As a result of this work we’ve seen significant increases in gender equality investments in a number of countries. For example, in Nepal the Government increased gender-responsive budget allocations from USD 877 million in 2012 to USD 1.13 billion in 2013, accounting for 21.75 per cent of the total budget. This example shows the importance of gender-responsive budgeting as a mechanism to increase government investment in gender equality.

The United Nations system also has a responsibility in this regard. As reporting under the UN system-wide Action Plan  (UN SWAP) on Gender Mainstreaming shows, only a fifth of the 55 entities and agencies that reported in 2013 are currently using a gender marker to track resource allocation for gender, and only a handful have in place a benchmark for resource allocation for gender equality and women’s empowerment. This needs to change.

Looking forward, it’s really critical that we increase investment in gender equality both to support MDG acceleration, and to ensure adequate investment in any new gender equality commitments made in the post-2015 development agenda. And this investment must include, but also go beyond traditional ODA, to encompass increased Government commitment and expenditure, as well as private sector funding, and new partnerships to drive key commitments forward.

In short, donors, Governments, and the UN system need to now put their money where their mouth is: track and report on their gender equality investments, use gender-responsive budgeting and planning at the national and sub-regional level, and diversify the resource base for gender equality.

So I hope that in today’s discussion we can further explore ways to track and report on gender-related expenditure in the new post-2015 development framework. Because as Litha Musyimi-Ogana of the African Union Commission said yesterday, we don’t just need a stand-alone goal, we also need stand-alone money for gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment to realize our gender equality commitments and make a real difference for women and girls. Thank you!