What women get: promoting transparency and accountability in financing for gender equality and women’s rights

Remarks by John Hendra, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director Policy and Programme, UN Women, at the Development Cooperation Forum Side Event on 10 July, 2014.

Date: Thursday, July 10, 2014

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Thank you Begona, Minister Gatete, Anthony, Nerea, and Patti, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It’s great to be on this panel on “what women get” and how we can all drive forward our commitment to promote transparency and accountability in financing for gender equality and the human rights of women and girls.

This side event follows on from a recent discussion in Mexico at the High-Level Meeting on the Global Partnership for Effective Development. And as we saw in Mexico, there’s a growing groundswell of interest and support for increased resources and accountability for investment in gender equality and women’s rights.  

And this is critically important, because as we know, there continues to be a significant disconnect between the commitments made to gender equality and the human rights of women and girls, and actions.  And this represents an accountability deficit for women and girls.

And as we also know, a major reason for the gap between what is said, and what is done, is the simply inadequate level of financing for gender equality and women’s empowerment.  You get what you pay for - and in the case of development, you get what you fund - and we are simply not getting enough for gender equality.

In that context, we all know that even stronger political will and action is needed to achieve gender equality and women’s rights. Member States have recognized the importance of investing in gender equality and women’s empowerment, including at this year’s 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) where the Agreed Conclusions called on governments to increase and ensure the effectiveness of financial resources in all sectors to achieve gender equality, women’s empowerment and the human rights of women and girls, and for increased priority to be given to gender equality in official development assistance.

As the CSW 58 Agreed Conclusions stress, commitments must be matched with robust resources to translate promises into meaningful results for women and girls. And that’s why it’s very welcome to see countries making great strides in their efforts to address gender inequality.

Because as we have seen in the discussions among Member States at CSW and in the Open Working Group, there is growing recognition that investing in gender equality pays off, whether it’s in girls’ education - which has proven longer term impacts on health and education outcomes, or increased participation in decision-making which leads to better decision-making by governments and greater profitability in the private sector.

Yet despite the evidence, investments remain inadequate. As the recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD-DAC) analysis of funding for gender equality has shown, which I’m sure Patti will share, while funding for gender equality increased between 2002 and 2012, in some sectors such as economic empowerment, it has stalled, and in others such as women peace and security, women’s leadership, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, it remains very low.

What’s more, the financial and economic crises, and austerity measures adopted in developed and developing countries alike, have reduced government expenditure including on the very social protection and social services that, as we know, are so vital to support women’s participation and empowerment.  In many cases these budget cuts are directly impacting gender equality organizations and services.

The commitments made at Busan, and in particular the gender equality indicator, are all the more important in this context. Because tracking and reporting on gender expenditure is essential if we are going to ensure transparency, and accountability, for the commitments made to women and girls.  And it’s all the more critical in hard financial times.

At UN Women, we’ve been working very closely with our partners, including OECD-DAC to support countries to measure and report on the gender equality indicator, and to build a robust understanding of the extent to which developing countries have systems in place to track, and make public, allocations for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

As the Secretary-General’s report on development cooperation highlights, countries are making greater efforts to track Official Development Assistance (ODA) allocations to gender equality.  We were very pleased to see that in the 2014 monitoring report, 35 countries voluntarily reported on the indicator, double the number of (17) countries that piloted the indicator.  Of these countries, 12 have a system in place to track and make public allocations on gender equality.  And four additional countries have systems in place for tracking gender equality allocations - but don’t yet make these public.

UN Women also welcomes the inclusion in the communique of the High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, of strong language on gender equality, and I quote … “including by tracking and making public resource allocations for gender equality and women’s empowerment, as critical steps toward enhanced mutual accountability.”

But much more remains to be done to reach the target of all developing countries tracking their investments in gender equality.  As the Secretary-General’s 2014 report on development cooperation highlights, “tracking systems to identify commitments to direct investments in women and girls, and gender-sensitive monitoring and accountability need to be strengthened and underpinned by rigorous impact evaluations.”

That’s why UN Women and our partners are working to strengthen accountability systems for more effective and efficient financing for gender equality.  Our experience over more than a decade in 65 countries has shown the importance of gender-responsive budgeting as a tool for strengthening government accountability, that can shed light on the impact of government spending cuts on women and girls, and help identify measures to address inequalities. 

In Nepal, for example, 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 overall budget. Gender equality allocations have increased by 15-16 per cent as a proportion of the total budget annually over the past three years.

And as Anthony has said, we also strongly welcome and support the establishment of a Community of Practice of Finance Ministers, which will provide a forum for south-south cooperation and knowledge exchange within and across regions.

The recently released 2014 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) report shows that development assistance rebounded in 2013, to $134.8 billion, the highest level ever. This is good news, and we want to see more of these resources going to gender equality and women’s empowerment, in particular in underfunded areas like economic empowerment, decision-making and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).

Indeed, as we look forward to a new generation of sustainable development goals, and as Member States are negotiating not only the goals and targets, but also the means of implementation, including financing for the new agenda, we need to really accelerate our collective efforts to increase investment in gender equality. 

And that’s why UN Women is advocating for inclusion of a specific commitment to increase financing for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the human rights of women and girls in the most recent Open Working Group draft.   Because while it’s great to see the strong commitment to a standalone goal for gender equality, as was said at CSW 58, we also need “standalone money”!

All of us share a responsibility to ensure that commitments to gender equality are implemented and deliver real results for women and girls.  A universal commitment to achieve increased and effective financing for gender equality is essential. This must be at the heart of the new post-2015 development agenda.  UN Women stands ready to work with all of you to ensure just that.

Thank you.