Democratizing Financing for Sustainable Development: Gender Equality is the Key

Woman irrigarating
Teaser Image Caption
Woman irrigarating
Twenty years after global leaders convened for the Earth Summit, governments meet again at Rio+20 to explore new approaches to address many of the same unresolved problems of inequities, persisting poverty and ecological overexploitation. Unfortunately, too little has changed and ecological conditions have worsened. Without fundamental reforms and strict government regulations, the global economic paradigm remains incompatible with the care, precaution and inter-generational justice principles required to attain sustainable development goals.  The care economy – predominantly women’s unpaid work to support families and their livelihoods – remains largely excluded, hidden and undervalued from the economic sphere. It is treated as a given, a resource to be utilized, but not considered in economic policy making from the macro to the micro level.  This is similar to prevailing macroeconomic models and policies’ systematic externalization of environmental concerns.  Gender equality, women’s empowerment and adequate and predictable financial flows to support such policies therefore have to be at the core of any action plan coming out of Rio. Such a plan has to be based on a human rights and equity framework in accordance with existing international obligations and principles, including those elaborated in the Rio Declaration.

Sustainable development as a key concept of the first Earth Summit centred on the notion of intergenerational and societal justice, of care and precaution in dealing with each other and the earth, and is inconceivable without the inclusion of gender equality ideals into all aspects of development work. . Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration, particularly Rio Principle 20, explicitly recognized women as key actors for environmental protection and poverty eradication; Principle 10 affirmed their rights to participate in environmental and development policy decision making.  Post-Rio, at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, governments committed to an action plan by including the environment as a critical area of concern. During the 2000 Millennium Summit, they set specific (but separate) goals for both gender equality (MDG3) and environmental sustainability (MDG7), reflecting the emerging policy consensus that development and ecology, while clearly interlinked, are not gender-neutral and that achieving gender equality will require significant financial resources. However, while governments have committed themselves politically, they have yet to set specific financial benchmarks or to institute comprehensive tracking mechanisms. And without numbers, there is no accountability.

While there have been numerous efforts to provide global cost estimates for specific development areas, energy investments or climate change action, there have been few comprehensive efforts to calculate the costs of needed investments by the international community to advance gender equity. An analysis of gender-related development finance needs and existing shortfalls is further inhibited by the significant gaps remaining in the international and domestic collection of gender-disaggregated data, giving credence to the old adage: ‘what is not counted, does not count...’.  Yet, such data is the prerequisite to ensuring that international organizations and governments translate their promises into practical policies and programs, for example via gender-responsive budgeting efforts.

What governments do spend is often gender-biased and the few mechanisms tracking gender-focused development aid expenditure internationally that exist, such as the gender equality marker system by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) lack transparency and detail.   For example, using this marker, in 2009 and 2010 OECD countries reported that roughly $25 billion per year of their combined oversees development assistance (ODA) was having a ‘principal’ or ‘significant’ gender equality focus; this amounted to roughly 21 percent of all ODA in 2009 and 19 percent in 2010. Spending was mostly concentrated in traditionally ‘soft’ sectors such as health, education and population policies as opposed to gender-equitable allocations in the ‘hard’ sectors, such as economic infrastructures, business and financial services, environment, energy and industry, where the policy frameworks are set which impact women’s lives. Reporting is purely voluntary with no clear guidelines on how to classify ODA as gender-relevant. 

For global climate change action, the financing needs have been defined and calculated, pledges made (such as for US$ 30 billion in fast start finance from 2010-2012 to scale up to US$100 billion per year by 2020) and some tracking of public climate finance pledges and expenditures exists, if incomplete.  Yet, there are no regular or mandatory gender audits of public climate financing to account for whether it is spent in a gender-responsive way.  Up to now adaptation and mitigation project design and funding only insufficiently (and often as an afterthought) consider women’s specific knowledge, experiences and contributions in addressing climate change, for example in safeguarding the natural resources on which they depend more heavily than men for providing a livelihood for their families. A bias of climate change projects towards larger, capital-intensive projects instead of the low-tech, small-scale and community-based activities women typically engage in, aggravates this.

Gender-equitable climate action plans are urgently needed. In order to implement them, climate funding mechanisms must be more democratic and gender-responsive.  This will require improving climate funding mechanisms’ structure, composition and operations. Currently, dedicated climate financing mechanisms do not systematically address or integrate gender considerations—many mechanisms have started out largely gender-unaware. Although some improvements have been made, many more actions are necessary. For example, the Green Climate Fund is the first dedicated climate fund to include a gender perspective from the outset, containing key references to gender and women relevant to its mission, governance and operational modalities. The challenge is to ensure that these gender references—only the beginning of a gender mainstreaming approach for the Green Climate Fund—are operationalized into concrete measures and mechanisms.

Some of the other key actions to comprehensively make climate change funds more gender-responsive are needed such as developing gender-responsive funding guidelines and criteria for each funding window or instrument; achieving a gender-balance on all decision-making governing bodies and secretariats; ensuring funds’ staff has sufficient gender-expertise; stipulating the inclusion and use of gender indicators within a fund’s operational and allocation guidelines; requiring a mandatory gender analysis and gender budget for all project and programme proposals; integrating regular gender audits of all funding allocations; developing best practices with robust social, gender and environmental safeguards that comply with existing human and women’s rights conventions, labor standards and environmental laws; and redefining country-ownership beyond national governments to include a multitude of sub-national actors as a fund’s eligible counterparts. It is crucial to allow non-profit groups, including women’s organizations, to gain direct access to funding mechanisms, for example via a designated small grants facility or special funding programs for women, local communities and indigenous peoples.

Providing adequate and predictable financing resources for gender equality is crucial to achieving the visionary goals and political commitments on sustainable development, such as those that the international community is hoping to formulate at Rio+20. Knowing the specific interventions needed (via action plans, targets and benchmarks) and their costs as well as tracking available funding comprehensively will help close the gender accountability gap in development and climate change financing. Similarly, allowing for more participatory and gender-responsive decision-making within budget processes, financing mechanisms and allocation frameworks will include and address women as a key stakeholder group. Both could drive a fundamental shift in thinking: a double-mainstreaming of the economic development paradigm that internalizes, respects and accounts for the environment and for the life-sustaining contributions of the gendered care economy.

Click here for the pdf version of Democratizing Financing for Sustainable Development (4 pages, pdf, 469KB)


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© Victor Holt 

Liane Schalatek

is the Associate Director of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America. Her current work focuses primarily on climate, development and gender issues and their interconnections with special attention to climate change financing.