In three short weeks, the United Nations Working Group drafting the world development goals will finalize a list that will guide spending, planning, reforms, programs, and reporting all over the globe for the next fifteen years.
Women’s economic empowerment was on that list at one time. In the twelve meetings the Working Group has held, the mention of women has been reduced down to items that, while important, give women themselves no agency and ask no accountability from governments.
For instance, one item promises “equal employment opportunities.” Making “equal opportunity” available can be done without any accountability for outcomes. You can make a speech declaring everybody has equal opportunity and then never hire a single woman. (Universities do it all the time.) It is not enough just to make “opportunity” available—governments need to be made accountable for actually achieving change, not just making promises. We now know that equal education does not translate into equal employment, for instance.
“Equal pay for equal work,” also on the list, has been included in the laws of most countries for many years—and yet it has not been achieved anywhere. Instead of promising something already covered by a law most governments have refused to enforce, it would be better to set a goal like “full public disclosure of pay scales disaggregated by gender.” Forcing sex discrimination out into the open would be more effective than relying on a resolution that lacks credibility because governments have already laughed it off for 50 years.
The current draft also refers to equal control over resources and equal chances for leadership. These goals are unlikely to be achieved without firm provision for economic inclusion: equal property rights, equal access to credit and financial services, equal inheritance laws, and so forth. There is a $285 billion credit gap for women business owners–exactly how are women going to have equal control over resources when banks refuse them capital?
There is a LOT of stuff on the current list about reducing violence against women. Again, we know that one of the best ways to reduce violence is to give women control over their own money. With their own money, they can leave an abusive home. With their own bank account, they can avoid being robbed on payday. And so forth.
Without economic empowerment, vague generalities and rights principles are often inactionable. Women around the world need an international agenda that makes governments accountable for achieving equality and gives women the agency to claim their rights.
There is a petition circulating that will be forwarded to the Working Group. Please sign it and help get this important item for women on the list of goals. Please get the word out as #DoubleXPetition.