Some delightful writing from my colleague Richard Gower on the weird (and destructive) world of ‘high frequency traders’ and the need for a Robin Hood Tax to calm them down:
“Welcome to the future. Machines, trading hundreds or even thousands of times a second, now dominate stock trading on both sides of the Atlantic. They buy and sell according to pre-programmed algorithms that range from simple ‘if this happens, then sell’ commands to more sinister programs that attempt to deceive other machines for their own benefit. Other malevolent algorithms flood exchange servers with information, slowing down their systems to ensure that they get their trade in before others can. Meanwhile ‘The Disruptor’ algorithm manipulates markets to disadvantage the regular traders who don’t use high frequency technology. This isn’t science fiction: this is how markets operate now.
On today’s stock exchanges speed is everything, and the human mind cannot compete with modern computing; nor can it control it. Expert opinion suggests that the tangled web of automated trades and feedback loops that now dominates share trading is far from stable. And experience bears this out. Every so often several algorithms unite in a spiral of selling (or buying), throwing stock prices into chaos: witness the flash crash of May 2010. This is simply the most devastating example yet of an increasingly regular phenomenon: The Financial Times found evidence of algorithms running amok at least three times in a six month period in 2010; and the financial press regularly report the use of malevolent algorithms which damage the market for short-term gain. Computer driven trading is turning the stock market into a 21st Century Wild West where hold-ups occur at lightning speed, and the regulatory sheriffs have only just woken up to the new bandits in town.”
Firstly, it’s not actually the final report, but a 7 page ‘technical note’ on the key financing proposals. The report itself is going to talk much more about innovation systems. But the financial content in the technical note is fascinating. Some highlights:
A big focus on ‘domestic resource mobilization’ – poor countries raising their own revenues by improving their tax systems and getting more from extractive industries (oil, gas, mining). Gates argues for an extension of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative both to include more developing countries, and to introduce disclosure requirements in extractive companies’ home countries (along the lines of the US Dodd-Frank legislation).
As you’d expect, Gates argues that rich countries have to stick to their aid promises and that their ‘fiscal books cannot be balanced off the backs of the poor’.
On new sources of revenue, he puts potential cash from an FTT at $48bn a year (if introduced across the G20) or $9bn (major European economies only) and argues for ‘a substantial allocation for development’, presumably in response to the European Commission’s desire to grab all the income to fund its own operations.
But he also advocates two other cash cows: expanding the tax on tobacco to the WHO target of 70% of the pack price, which he reckons would raise a colossal $170bn a year (not clear from the text if this is the additional revenue, or includes the tax already being raised on tobacco). A ‘Solidarity Tobacco Contribution’, which he puts at $9bn a year, would then be allocated to global health initiatives.
His third revenue proposal is on climate change, where he supports World Bank and IMF (and Oxfam) proposals to fund adaptation costs with new taxes on shipping and aviation fuels , which he says could raise $30bn a year from shipping and a bit less from aviation.
Another sensible suggestion is tapping into the estimated $350bn a year in remittances from migrant workers, by driving down transaction costs and encouraging pro-poor investments through things like ‘diaspora bonds’ aimed at overseas workers and entrepreneurs.
Finally, he puts the amount of money now held by ‘Sovereign Wealth Funds’ built up by China, Abu Dhabi and others at an eye-popping $4 trillion and rising, and wonders how that could be harnessed for infrastructure or other essential investments (perhaps using conventional aid to make such investments more attractive to the SWFs).
Comprehensive, and very interesting, not least because of the identity of the author. Does Bill Gates’ protagonism mark a further shift of the big philanthropreneurs (and their foundations) from an insistence on sticking to the relatively straightforward world of ‘stuff’ (vaccines, infrastructure, seeds, microfinance) to the more complex business of influencing systems and policies, which are every bit as crucial to development? Hope so.
Every NGO (and probably most other organizations) has its iconic success stories, the ones that make your job feel both feasible and worthwhile. One of Oxfam’s is the ‘We Can’ campaign in South Asia, an extraordinary viral campaign on violence against women (VAW – sorry, another acronym) launched in late 2004, that at the last count had signed up 3.2 million women and men to be ‘change makers’ – advocating for an end to VAW in their homes and communities. It aims to reach 50 million people (via 5 million change makers), a symbolic target equal to the estimated number of South Asia’s ‘missing women’.
What’s different about We Can (apart from its extraordinary scale) is that it is not about policies, laws, constitutions or lobbying the authorities – it aims to change attitudes and beliefs about gender roles at community level. And it’s viral. Each change maker talks to their friends and neighbours, and seeks to persuade them to sign up too.
I’ve just been reading a fascinating new analysis of the reasons underlying the campaign’s success, which explores the process of change undergone by those involved, based on in-depth interviews with 44 We Can activists. Here’s a flavour:
It’s all about power: Both ‘power within’ (first quote) and ‘power with’ (second quote)
“To me change is the killing of fear. For example, someone may know how to sing but will not sing. Someone or something needs to kindle the fire in you and kill the fear that stops you from changing. I have killed the fear of talking and that is a change for me.” Selvaranjani Mukkaiah, Change Maker, Badulla, Sri Lanka
“I also learned that if I position myself as someone who has changed herself, I have maximum impact. So I tell people, I am not here to change you, that is not in my power. But I can tell you how I have changed, and how it has changed my life…” Shaheena Javed, Change Maker, Kolkata, India
It’s South-North: The methodology originated from a Ugandan NGO, ‘Raising Voices’, was adapted and scaled up in South Asia, and has since spread to Canada, Holland, and Indonesia (more on the way).
It’s about ideas (‘VAW is wrong’) rather than specific actions: Change Makers improvise, intervening with families and neighbours in cases of violence, talking with peers about violence, encouraging families and neighbours to educate girls and allow them greater mobility, acting to stop harassment of girls in public spaces and, for male Change Makers, playing a more active role in household chores.
It uses a broad definition of VAW: ‘The full range of attitudes and practices which hold women back – for example, restricted access to education, to mobility outside the home, no economic independence or decision-making power, early marriage, forced sex, no control over conception and so on.’
Personal history is critical to how people get involved: “Women and men, with a history of family violence often – but not always – described an initial change event in emotional terms, while people of both sexes with a supportive family and background of social activism were more inclined to describe change as a rational experience.”
It involves as many men as women: One surprise has been the number of men signing up as change makers (almost half of those who recorded their gender – keep clicking on the table to expand), and their moving accounts of the impact of We Can on their lives.
A progressive background helps: Although there are numerous stories of people with appalling personal stories who have been inspired to join We Can, “Many of the men and women interviewed described them¬selves as having had progressive and/or supportive parents, good schooling or higher education, and/or prior to involve¬ment with the Campaign, were part of networks and commu¬nity organizations working on a range of social and political issues, including women’s rights and violence against women.”
Why did people join the campaign? Beyond a personal experience of violence (e.g. between their parents), key factors include inspirational individuals (friends, a respected figure and/or We Can activists) and the sense of belonging to a movement. However, would-be activists face real obstacles – threats, ostracism or mockery at the hands of family, neighbours or friends. The pressure often comes via a spouse, whose initial support can be undermined when he is mocked for ‘not controlling your wife’.
Activists find the most effective technique is not haranguing, but telling personal stories:
“Saying that only I was right and everyone must do what I say was not going to get me anywhere. But if I explained different options to people, leaving them to choose, they would be influenced more quickly. I also learnt that if I position myself as someone who has changed herself, I have the maximum impact.” Shaheena Javed, India (pictured).
What motivates people to stay engaged?
1. Increases in self-confidence and self-belief, a sense of empowerment, effectiveness and more control over their lives – which make up the concept of ‘self-efficacy’;
2. Practical benefits, especially for women, such as increased access to education, increased mobility, more contacts and interactions with others, more participation in decision-making;
3. Increased knowledge and greater awareness especially about women’s rights;
4. Improvements in their family relationships, with parents, siblings, spouses, often expressed as a reduction in conflict and arguments, or shared decision-making, shared housework, and more mutual respect;
5. Achievement of higher status and respect in the community as well as amongst their own family members and peers, often expressed in terms of being listened to in important community fora, having their advice, support or skills sought, and being regarded as people able to intervene in family disputes;
6. Observable changes in their family members and/or peers, in their communities, and in the social or professional groups of which they are a part, such as their organizations, religious groups, schools and hospitals.
Fascinating, and very important as NGOs increasingly seek to change public attitudes and beliefs, rather than simply lobby governments to pass or implement specific laws and policies. For starters, Oxfam needs to think about what the GROW campaign can learn from this.
And here’s a two minute flavour of the campaign from a Bangladeshi We Can activist with the wonderful name of Beauty Ara.
“There is good news. Developing countries are getting less dependent on aid. Over the last decade [aid dependency] has fallen on average by a third in the poorest countries. In Ghana aid dependency fell from 47% to 27%, in Mozambique from 74% to 58% and in Vietnam from 22% to 13%. Although aid levels increased, economic growth and the countries’ ability to mobilise their own resources increased faster.
For Rwanda, real aid has helped transform the country. Aid as a percentage of government spending dropped from 85% in 2000 to 45% in 2010. “We have shown donors that when we are in the driving seat – deciding how to allocate aid money ourselves – we spend donor money more effectively. Donors have responded to the results we have delivered by giving us more and more say over how we use their aid,” Ronald Nkusi, Director of the External Finance Unit in the Finance Ministry, Rwanda.
To ensure aid helps to reduce their dependency on it, developing countries are implementing systems to hold donors accountable. In Rwanda a traffic light system scores donors on factors such as how much they use the country’s own finance systems, and use of budget support for procurement and governance. Developing country governments are also becoming more accountable to their own people, rather than donors. In Ghana ActionAid supports a community in the village of Mampehia to track the school budget, which is financed out of Ghana’s national budget, which in turn is substantially boosted by budget support aid.
Another key factor in the improving situation is that many countries have boosted their tax revenue by between 4 and 8% of GNI in recent years. Donors can support this process by giving more real aid, which allows developing countries to make their own decisions. In Ghana donors have pooled a third of all aid to the country in a flexible programme which reduced the cost of mobilising resources.
Donors can also be transparent and accountable themselves, by publishing details of their work in an internationally agreed form, and they can give aid which supports domestic resource mobilisation. In a very clear example, aid from the UK supported Rwanda to quadruple its own taxes between 1998 and 2006.”
The report examines the way success stories such as South Korea, Botswana and Taiwan used aid to achieve economic take off, and in turn reduce their aid dependence, and sees similar approaches working now (assertive recipient governments with a clear national strategy, making aid donors fall into line rather than impose the latest developmental fads).
It then goes on to rank the aid quality of different donors, estimating how much of their spend constitutes what ActionAid calls ‘real’ (i.e. good quality) aid. Ireland and the UK come out top, with Greece and France at the bottom of the class. Here’s where the ‘bad aid’ goes:
Overall, hats off to AA for the focus on improving aid quality, positive message, and acknowledgement that reducing aid dependency is a vital task (and one that aid itself should aim to facilitate). [h/t Jonathan Tench]
‘Over 80 percent of cardiovascular deaths, 90 percent of deaths from respiratory disease, and 67 percent of all cancers occur in developing countries. Rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure in the developing world are also skyrocketing. By 2008, 29 percent of deaths under the age of 60 in low- and middle-income countries were caused by non-communicable diseases, compared to13 percent in the developed world’. The Council for Foreign Relations reviews the rise of non-communicable diseases in poor countries. More from the Economist (including this graphic, which puts the economic burden on developing countries at $7.3 trillion over the next 15 year) and the results of last week’s high level UN meeting on such ‘lifestyle diseases’ are here.
OK, this has nothing to do with development, but the most amazing mimic in the bird world does camera shutters, car alarms, chain saws and kookaburras. You’ve got to hear this. [h/t Grandiloquent Bloviator]
Al Jazeera coverage of the land grabs paper I posted on last week, with Oxfam’s Kate Geary going head to head with the New Forests Company over its Uganda land deal (glad it wasn’t me – I really hate the adversarial slots, even if they do make good telly).
I experienced an odd and simultaneous sensation of déjà vu, role reversal and schadenfreude when reading a recent briefing from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Here is their description of current events in Europe, under the title ‘Various countries in the Eurozone need deep adjustments to achieve the established targets for fiscal sustainability’. The graph shows fiscal deficits on the left (anything to the left of the first vertical line is outside the Eurozone’s self-imposed limits) and total debt on the right (anything to the right of the second vertical line).
Here’s a rough translation of a paragraph from the ECLAC report (not available in English yet, but Spanish version here).
‘Fiscal challenges and public debt could lead to the industrialized economies entering into a lost decade…. political leaders will be doubly stressed: on one hand, by medium term demands and day to day electoral pressures, and on the other, by the global impacts of their decisions and the effects of these on the next elections.’
Meanwhile, Latin America’s economy is steaming ahead, with 4.7% growth predicted for this year (3.6% in per capita terms). Unemployment is falling, and more jobs are beign created in the formal sector (usually a sign of better wages and conditions). It’s not all rosy of course, but it sounds a lot more positive than Europe right now.
It’s almost thirty years since Latin America entered its own debt crisis, and entered its own ‘lost decade’ of economic collapse, rising poverty and painful structural adjustment (often imposed by the IMF and World Bank in return for bail-outs) of the sort now being demanded of Greece and Ireland. Opinions differ about whether the subsequent recovery is because of, or in spite of, that ‘adjustment’. I wrote a book in the mid-90s, Silent Revolution: the Rise and Crisis of Market Economics in Latin America, (subsequently updated, cover below – looks a bit like Athens……), that strongly argued the latter case. Maybe time for a European version? [h/t Eduardo Caceres]
First the big number: the Land Matrix Partnership, a coalition of NGOs, academics and donors, has come up with a ceiling figure of 227m hectares (the size of Western Europe, 10x the UK) for the total area affected over the last 10 years. Big pinch of salt required – finding out exactly how much land has changed hands is incredibly difficult due to the lack of transparency and secrecy that often surrounds the deals. The 227 million figure is based on information on land deals from a whole range of different sources including government reports, academic research, company websites, international finance institutions media reports and the few contracts that are publicly available. My understanding is that this builds on the methodology used by other players like the World Bank, which came up with a 56m hectare figure in 2009, for deals over the 11 months to August 2009.
Due to all the different sources, with different company names and subsidiaries used, and different levels of information provided, there is bound to be some double counting or proposals that never materialised, (but also, no doubt, a bunch of deals we didn’t catch). So we are working through it all and cross-checking the data, but with over 2000 land deals this takes time. We’re up to 67 million hectares so far. I’ll keep you posted on where we get to.…
The case studies each contain different experiences and lessons. In Uganda, over 20,000 people have been evicted, many (and we talked to several hundred of them) claiming it was done violently, to make way for a forestry project of the UK-based New Forests Company. The evictions were carried out by the government (although locals claimed they recognized NFC employees). NFC is saying the villagers were illegally on the land, they have received no reports of the use of violence, and take refuge in two independent endorsements of one of the plantations – certification by the Forestry Stewardship Council and a field assessment by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.
This raises important issues for even the best-intentioned investors – in many developing countries systems of formal and customary law coexist, and both need to be taken seriously – some of those evicted say they have been living on the land for 40 years or more. And the huge edifice constructed around sustainability, climate change and carbon sequestration (in this case involving both the FSC and the Clean Development Mechanism) really needs to be overhauled to make sure that if they are displaced, the people already living on the land exercise their right to Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), get proper compensation, and are found alternative livelihoods. None of that seems to be happening in the case in Uganda.
Palm oil-based biofuels is emerging as a driver of some nasty land grabs, and the Indonesia case looks at the role of a Malaysian/Indonesian joint venture company named PT MAS (subsidiary of palm oil giant Sime Darby), which is alleged to have backtracked on promises of land and investments to displaced communities. We found similar things going on in South Sudan, Honduras and Guatemala (eviction pictured here).
Overall, what emerges is a mess. Dodgy authorities, whether local or national, out for a quick buck; investors all too willing to turn a blind eye and be content with box-ticking and legalistic excuses; land lying idle despite promises to turn into a productive marvel; land tenure systems that are murky and offer little defense to poor communities; legal systems that are inaccessible to poor farmers. But in a few cases, civil society protest and/or action by the authorities seems to be correcting some of the worst excesses, which at least gives grounds for hope.
Agricultural investment can be a real boon to poor farmers, but not if it’s done like this. The balance of power has to be shifted to local communities, who need a much greater say (through FPIC) in what happens to their land. Host country governments need to clean up their act and be much more transparent about the deals being negotiated; the home country governments of the investors need to do more on regulation and disclosure and drop their daft biofuels mandates, which are contributing to the scramble; investors need to stop looking for excuses and follow the example of other sectors such as garments or supermarkets in accepting responsibility for the whole supply chain, not just the bit they directly own (we used to hear these kinds of denials from the shoe and clothing companies ten years ago – not any more).
Public campaigning played a big role in shifting the clothes companies and needs to get behind campaigns on land grabs too. That example does at least offer hope – the land deals are a short-term response, but high prices are probably here to stay, so the more we can do to civilize big agriculture investments and turn them into drivers of development, rather than misery, the better.
Crisis as opportunity, continued: Oxfam’s head of advocacy, Max Lawson updates us on some rapid progress on a European Financial Transactions Tax (aka Robin Hood Tax) and the need for concerted lobbying over the next two months.
In a surprise turnaround, Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, announced on 31 August that the Commission now supports an EU-wide FTT, and will release a detailed proposal on how to achieve this in October, together with draft legislation. The Commission cites the fact that the UK and other countries already have large FTTs (known as Stamp Duty in the UK) as evidence that the tax can be designed to avoid driving banks overseas and that it need not be introduced globally for it to work.
Commission officials also cite the huge popularity of implementing an FTT. A recent Eurobarometer poll of more than 27,000 people found that Europeans are strongly in favour of a financial transaction tax by a margin of 61 to 26 per cent. Of those, more than 80 per cent agree that if global agreement cannot be reached, an FTT should, initially, be implemented by the EU. Support for an FTT in the UK is running at 65 per cent.
Press reports suggest the Commission wants a broad-based FTT, including as many transactions as possible, with a rate of 0.1% for basic transactions and 0.01% for derivatives. This is closer to German proposals than the French, who have focussed on a tax on currency transactions only.
The Commission’s U-turn came in response to Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy’s announcement on 16th August that they will press for a European FTT this autumn, in advance of the G20 summit in Cannes on 3-4th November. Their finance ministers have sent a detailed letter to the EC outlining the parameters of such a tax. Whilst they are officially proposing an EU-wide tax, the German finance minister has made it clear that he expects that agreement will only be possible at eurozone level or below, given likely UK opposition. Even a very limited FTT in France, Germany and Spain could raise 18 billion euro.
Controversially, the Commission wants to use the FTT to finance the EC budget, none of the revenue raised would be used for climate change or development. Given the unpopularity of EU bureaucrats, this has won no support from France or Germany. Instead President Sarkozy, in a speech the week after the joint Franco-German announcement, again reiterated his belief that the revenue should help fight poverty and climate change.
‘Faced with the difficulties of the developed countries to increase aid, everyone knows that innovative financing is a necessity. With Angela Merkel, we defend the idea of a tax on financial transactions. Our goal is for Europe to set an example of what can be done, and for others to align themselves with this initiative at the G20 summit in Cannes.’
Whether the FTT ends up funding the EC or poverty reduction will depend on what happens over the next few months, including the level of public pressure. Germany officially remains open to channelling the revenue to development and climate change, and is anyway less interested in the revenue than in using the FTT to tackle speculation. The position of Bill Gates in his report to the G20 summit on financing development will be absolutely critical. Securing vocal support from Brazil, South Africa and other developing countries will be key to helping shame the Europeans into not spending all the revenues on themselves.
The World Bank is also preparing its report on financing climate change adaptation, including the FTT. It is also advocating taxes on aviation and shipping fuel, which may also be supported by Bill Gates. Both reports will be discussed by G20 finance ministers in Washington on 23rd September.
Intense lobbying and campaigning are needed in the coming weeks. In this volatile economic climate, there are no guarantees, but this looks like a major opportunity to secure significant financing for development and climate change, and arguably the biggest potential victory since debt cancellation in 2005. We have two months to secure a Robin Hood Tax.
What would an ideal process look like?
• The EC concludes that an FTT at EU level is feasible in late September and this is welcomed strongly by proponents – France, Germany and others.
• Calls to use the revenues for the EC budget are resisted, but pressure to implement the tax continues from France and Germany.
• The Gates report endorses the feasibility of an FTT as a strong option for raising finance for development.
• Key global figures line up to support the Gates call.
• At the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and IMF, other G20 countries come out in greater support, including South Africa and Brazil.
• Eurozone Ministers agree to press ahead with an FTT at Eurozone level during October.
• The final G20 finance ministers meeting in mid-October propose a wider FTT, building on the full report from Bill Gates.
• At the G20 in France heads of state from the coalition of willing nations agrees to the implementation of their FTTs and the use of the revenues to help fight climate change and development along with a clear timetable for its introduction.
• At the UN climate change summit in Durban in South Africa in December, the contribution of the FTT to climate finance helps unlock negotiations.
And just because it’s so good, and in case you missed it, here (again) is the Bill Nighy shifty banker video plugging the tax. Wonderful.
Stop Press: This just in (22 September) from Peter Wahl at WEED
the first details of the EU-directive (EU legislation) on the FTT have been leaked.
According to the news agency Reuters (article in French), which has a copy of the draft, the directive would have the following main points:
Tax base: shares, bonds, derivatives.
Currency transactions at the spot market would be exempted, while derivatives of currency transactions would be taxed.
This would narrow the tax basis. The total turnover on the currency market is approx. four trillion USD per year, out of which 1,5 trillion are spot market transactions.
Tax rate: 0,1% for shares and bonds, 0,01 for derivatives.
Expected revenues: 50 bn. Euro (68,5 bn. USD)
Imposition: Via electronic platforms (which one is not yet known). However, the so called accrual rule should be used. This means that each single transaction is taxed in real time, as soon as it starts (Gross Real Time Settlement). This procedure has the advantage that the tax is not levied at the point of netting at the end of a trading day. The accrual rule will hit particularly high frequency trade. If the computer makes one thousand transactions during a day, the tax will have to be paid one thousand times.
Avoidance: The home country rule will be used. This means that each transaction in which a EU based seller or buyer is involved, will be charged. Even if the partner is based in Barbados, New York or Tokyo the tax will be levied. This means, that it does not help to transfer a deal outside Europe. One would have to leave the EU to avoid the tax.
Use of revenues: At last a part of the revenues should go to the EU. Nothing is said on use for global public goods.
Area: The FTT should be implemented in the EU as a whole. However, if the UK (and Sweden et al.) continue to refuse, the Euro-zone is considered, or the area of so called enhanced cooperation (this is a procedure, where at last nine member states can agree something in a kind of coalition of the willing. This model is for instance used for the infamous Schengen Agreement on migration).
Peter’s general assessment: The draft is a break through and a big succes for civil society. In some points the agreement goes further than expected. However, there are still weak points. The most important is the issue of use of the revenues. If we want get at least a share of the money for development and environment a lot of pressure is still needed.
Great photo series on What are young Chinese thinking about? Example + translation: “In adults’ eyes I am a bad person in society, but in fact I am a very obedient person.” Gansu, Chow Liang, 17 years old, hair stylist student on way to see father who works in another province.’ [h/t Chris Blattman]
‘Tata is now Britain’s biggest industrial employer. The number of companies from Brazil, India, China or Russia on the Financial Times 500 list trebled in 2006-08 from 20 to 62. In 2010 emerging-market firms accounted for a third of the world’s $2.4 trillion tally of mergers and acquisitions.’ The Economist charts the rise of emerging-market giants.
Will it change the weather or disappear? I’m hopeful, based on the 40 page overview, (so you should take these comments as initial and tentative, until someone reads the full tome). Here’s a summary of the content, and a few reactions.
First, what kind of inequality is it talking about?
‘This Report focuses on three key dimensions of gender equality: the accumulation of endowments (education, health, and physical assets); the use of those endowments to take up economic opportunities and generate incomes; and the application of those endowments to take actions, or agency, affecting individual and household well-being.’
What’s the approach?
‘This Report focuses on the economics of gender equality and development. It uses economic theory to understand what drives differences in key aspects of welfare between men and women. [But it] does not limit itself to economic outcomes—indeed, it devotes roughly equal attention to human endowments, economic opportunities, and women’s agency.’ [nb my colleagues tell me that the economics used is distinctly mainstream – precious few feminist economists in the bibliography.]
Next, what does it say? First the good news:
‘Women have made unprecedented gains in rights, in education and health, and in access to jobs and livelihoods. 136 countries now have explicit guarantees for the equality of all citizens and nondiscrimination between men and women in their constitutions. Progress has not come easily. And it has not come evenly to all countries or to all women—or across all dimensions of gender equality.’
Then the nuance:
‘[In some] aspects of gender equality there has been most progress worldwide (education, fertility, life expectancy, labor force participation, and the extension of legal rights), [while in others] there has been little or very slow change (excess female mortality, segregation in economic activity, gaps in earnings, responsibility for house and care work, asset ownership, and women’s agency in private and public spheres).’
In the areas of progress, such as life expectancy or falling fertility rates, ‘The changes were much faster than when today’s rich countries were poorer. It took more than 100 years for the number of children born to a woman in the United States to decline from 6 to 3; the same decline took just over 35 years in India and less than 20 in Iran (figure 2).’ [Are you listening, population controllers?]
The record on education is extraordinary:
‘Two-thirds of all countries have reached gender parity in primary education enrollments, while in over one-third, girls significantly outnumber boys in secondary education. And in a striking reversal of historical patterns, more women than men now attend universities, with women’s tertiary enrollment across the globe having risen more than sevenfold since 1970.’
The WDR has a go at explaining the structural origins of success v failure:
‘The main lesson: when market signals, formal institutions, and income growth all come together to support investments in women, gender equality can and does improve very quickly. And these improvements can occur even when informal institutions, such as social norms about what is “appropriate” for girls and boys or women and men, may themselves take time to adapt.’
In the areas of slow progress:
‘Gender disparities persist in these “sticky” domains for three main reasons. First, there may only be a single institutional or policy “fix,” which can be difficult and easily blocked. Second, disparities persist when multiple reinforcing constraints combine to block progress. Third, gender differences are particularly persistent when rooted in deeply entrenched gender roles and social norms—such as those about who is responsible for care and housework in the home, and what is “acceptable” for women and men to study, do, and aspire to….. Perhaps the “stickiest” aspect of gender outcomes is the way patterns of gender inequality are reproduced over time.’
And progress is particularly hard ‘where poverty combines with other factors of exclusion—such as ethnicity, caste, remoteness, race, disability, or sexual orientation.’
So much for the diagnosis – what about the cure? The WDR proposes three criteria for selecting what issues require public action:
‘“First, which gender gaps are most significant for enhancing welfare and sustaining development? Second, which of these gaps persist even as countries get richer? Third, for which of these priority areas has there been insufficient or misplaced attention? “
From these, it arrives at four priority areas for action at both national and global levels:
“Reducing gender gaps in human capital endowments (addressing excess female mortality and eliminating pockets of gender disadvantage in education where they persist)
Closing earnings and productivity gaps between women and men
Shrinking gender differences in voice
Limiting the reproduction of gender inequality over time, whether it is through endowments, economic opportunities, or agency”
It then applies these ideas to some specific areas, such as reducing excess female mortality. Its recommendations are pleasingly holistic, stressing the importance of water and sanitation or the need to release women’s time through improved childcare provision, as well as more specific policies such as affirmative action in labour markets and political representation. Thankfully, the depth and detail of the ‘so what’ section goes far beyond the usual ‘general denunciation + demand for gender disaggregated data’ school.
OK, that’s my attempt at a summary. Here’s some of the aspects I like:
• The symbolic importance of the World Bank devoting its flagship report to this topic.
• While focussing on economic evidence and argument, is very far from being ‘economistic’, covering topics such as endowments, agency, social and political institutions, time poverty, domestic violence and gender norms that are central to a full understanding of gender and development.
• The usual World Bank collection of excellent Killer Facts, which we will all be lifting for our own reports for years to come.
What am I uneasy about? There are only a few obvious gaps (see below) – the real issue is the relative weight given to different topics and approaches. Although the WDR ticks the right boxes (e.g. on the intrinsic importance of women’s rights, rather than just the instrumental benefits for social progress or the economy), the weight of analysis and policy recommendations is solidly in the more orthodox sphere. As my colleague Ines Smyth puts it, there is much more on ‘what women can do for development’, than there is on ‘what development can do for women’. There are nods to the importance of women’s organizations, but the treatment is rather cursory, compared to issues like labour market policies.
Then there are some pretty startling gaps. In a report that stresses the importance of gender norms and values, how can there be not a single mention of religion or faith-based organizations? In a report on ‘gender’ (and not just ‘women’) there is very little attention to the construction of masculinity(ies), which seems to be rising up the genderagenda fast right now. Finally, it also seems largely oblivious to events of the last five years – a word search finds no uses of ‘food prices’ or ‘climate change’ or ‘financial crisis’. This is just an initial reading, and I’m sure further concerns and disagreements will surface as people read and debate the report (which is of course part of its contribution and purpose). So I may come back for another go on this, depending on comments and other reviews.
End of inevitable NGO whinge. The report is excellent, and let’s hope everyone in the Bank, DFID, national governments and elsewhere in the development jungle spends time properly digesting (and disputing) its analysis and recommendations.
And here’s a nice World Bank launch video – when did multilateral institutions get this funky?
This blog is written and maintained by Duncan Green, strategic adviser for Oxfam GB and author of 'From Poverty to Power'. More information on Duncan and the book is available on the From Poverty to Power official website.
It is a personal reflection by the author. It is intended to provoke debate and conversations about development, not as a comprehensive statement of Oxfam's agreed policies - for those, please take a deep breath and read the Oxfam International strategic plan or consult policy papers on a range of development issues.