Enshrining gender equality for development in law – a step in the right direction

Gender inequality is a recognised challenge for all sectors that fall under the broad banner of development. It is not a new concept, with organisations such as the World Bank claiming to have been promoting gender equality in development since 1977. Despite long standing commitment from many development organisations, institutions and actors, the reality is that challenges remain.

The UK Government has recently made large steps in the right direction to overcome these challenges by passing the International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014. It promotes gender equality in the provision of both development assistance and humanitarian assistance to countries by the UK Government. It received universal support from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and received Royal Assent on 13 March. It is now an Act of Parliament (or to put it plainly – it is a law).

Gender equality and development – a strategic fit?

So how will the new law impact on the development landscape? Gender equality is already at the centre of many development strategies. On the macro scale, many development actors will be familiar with Millennium Development Goal 3, which aims to promote gender equality and empower women. Gender equality is also acknowledged as being key to achieving the other seven goals. Also relevant is Education for All Goal 5, which aims to achieve gender parity in education by 2005 and gender equality by 2015. On the micro scale, gender equality is often included as an integral part of many development focused operations, the actions of which are delivered on a day to day basis.

My concern is that until now, despite all the rhetoric, gender equality has yet to be given the prominence and consideration that it deserves within development. I believe that it is far too often included as an afterthought. How many times have we as development actors ensured we have ticked the ‘gender equality’ box for reports, or included examples of gender mainstreaming in log frames without really considering what we are trying to achieve or how we could do it better?

The impact of the new law

In my opinion, the introduction of the law brings the UK a step closer to achieving real change, rather than just paying lip service to gender equality. The law places a duty on the Government to include gender equality every time development and humanitarian funding is spent. This in turn will force the hand of all development actors working for or in partnership with the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) to consider this important issue for every penny that is spent.

In response to the new law, the Guardian’s deputy editor of the Guardian’s Global development website, Liz Ford, wrote that, “The new law is understood to be the first to place a commitment to reduce gender inequality on aid disbursements. Campaigners hope the UK legislation will encourage other donors to adopt similar measures”.

Georgina Aboud from the Institute of Development Studies commented, “This law is indeed an opportunity as long as it addresses the deep structural inequalities and moves away from just focusing on women to looking at the relationships and the power dynamics between men and women, boys and girls”.

Barbara Frost, WaterAid Chief Executive, said, “We are so pleased to see that considerations for gender equality will be included in the way UK plans its foreign aid programmes. These solutions are often as simple as including separate boys’ and girls’ toilets in a school to help girls finish their education, instead of dropping out at puberty. By considering these kinds of issues in the UK’s aid spending, help can be better targeted towards where it’s needed most, to reach the 768 million people worldwide without access to clean water and 2.5 billion without access to proper toilets.”

Time to brush up on your gender equality knowledge?

Many people working in development have a limited knowledge of the complexities of gender equality in development (I include myself in this group). I suggest that the adoption of this piece of legislation is regarded as an opportunity rather than a threat. What better time to read up on the issues?

While there are plenty of resources available I will list four in this blog. The first two offer general gender equality resources. The third is useful for those interested in education and development. Finally the fourth is for those interested in health and development.

1)      BRIDGE – A research and information programme. It supports gender advocacy and mainstreaming efforts by bridging the gaps between theory, policy and practice.

2)      The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) – This global research institute focuses on providing evidence of women’s contributions as well as the obstacles that prevent them from being economically strong and able to fully participate in society. Gender equality is an important theme covered.

3)      United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI)  – This partnership is committed to narrowing the gender gap in primary and secondary education. It also seeks to ensure that, by 2015, all children complete primary schooling, with girls and boys having equal access to free, quality education.

4)      World Health Organization (WHO) – As part of the current reform process, WHO has launched a new approach to promote and facilitate the institutional mainstreaming of gender, equity and human rights, building upon the progress that has already been made on these areas at all three levels of the organisation.

Gender equality and social media

For those who prefer social media to keep themselves informed, the following twitter accounts are well worth following if you want to learn more about gender equality in development:

And of course

  • @HEART_RES – Provides DFID and other development actors with evidence and expert advice for policymaking in health, nutrition and education.

While it will no doubt take time for the law to be introduced and be adhered to, I believe enshrining gender equality for development in law is a step in the right direction. As we wait for the law to be officially published, what better time for development actors to be looking to use this time to get to grips with the complex challenges of gender inequality.

Blog by Stephen Thompson, Research Officer with the Health & Education Advice & Resources Team (HEART)


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