At Large

How gender impacts development

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The Philippine World Bank office now applies a “gender filter” in the design and approval of projects in this country, World Bank country director Motoo Konishi told those present at yesterday’s launch of a regional (East Asia and the Pacific) report on “Gender Equality and Development.”

This means, he said, that project proponents will now have to justify the project’s goals, implementation and financing in terms of, among other factors, how it will impact women and men, and whether it will advance gender equality in the country.

To cite an example, Konishi mentioned a study that found “differences” in how men and women in the country use public transportation. “Men use public transport mainly to go to and from work and home,” he said, whereas women rely on public transport to take children to school, go to market, run errands, go to work (if employed), and then follow the same complicated pattern before they reach home. Obviously, he added, men and women have very different needs for transportation, but things are made much harder for women because “patterns of traffic and transportation are designed by men.”

A consciousness of the different impacts of development on men and women, and that gender does matter in the overall scheme of things, is the main thesis of the report, titled “Towards Gender Equality in East Asia and the Pacific.” Dr. Ximena del Carpio, coauthor of the report, said that in preparing the document, they focused on four questions: Does gender matter for development? Do gender inequities exist in the country and region? Why do gender inequities persist? What can we do to promote gender equality?

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Dr. Andrew Mason, the lead economist and main author of the report, said that while East Asia and the Pacific had shown tremendous economic growth that had lifted many (but not all) countries in the region from poverty, “growth alone is not enough.”

Economic growth, he said, while resulting in marked improvements in such sectors as education and health, has not led to equal development, at least as far as men’s and women’s access to resources, tools, capital, and even productive time are concerned.

“Women’s principal responsibility for household work and children,” said Mason, lies at the core of the persistent inequality between men and women. While women have taken growing responsibility for wage-earning and economic activity in both the formal and informal sectors, he said, their share of responsibility for the home and for child care remains just as huge and overwhelming as it has always been. This results, as a graph shows, in longer working hours in the marketplace and in the home for women.

Governments and societies can go a long way toward promoting gender equality, added Mason. For starters, he cited four important steps: promote gender equality in human development; close the gender gap in economic opportunities; strengthen women’s voice and influence; and foster new opportunities and manage emerging risks.

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Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, who was keynote speaker at the report’s launch, emphasized that gender “is not just a goal but a precondition to development.” And as comprehensive as the report already is, Soliman pointed out two areas it misses altogether: LGBTs (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders) and women with disabilities, who face even more daunting challenges in their struggle for equality.

Women’s capacity as managers, of their families and communities, is attested to by the social welfare department’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, said Soliman. About 95 percent of the provisional cash transfers are held by women, she said, and their increased economic power (to determine how the extra household income is used) has given the women “greater power to negotiate with their partners.” As for their community empowerment programs, Soliman said, more than half of their community volunteers are women, entrusted with funds for development projects because it seems “communities trust the women to hold on to the funds.”

Among the emerging risks that could influence the growth (or waning) of gender equality in the region is the growing integration of the global economy, added Soliman. One of its manifestations is the growing number of migrant workers, in the Philippines exemplified by women migrants, who will need “stronger legal and social protection” to guard against all forms of exploitation including trafficking.

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The growing number of elderly among women (who typically live longer than men) was a particular concern of Tess Fernandez, the women’s sectoral representative in the National Anti-Poverty Commission. One challenge she cited is the growing tendency among older women to be saddled with the care of their grandchildren despite their own lack of resources.

Fernandez cited the need to organize women, and to make their voices louder in negotiating with local governments. Citing the typical allocation of local funds to infrastructure, which can reach as much as 80 percent in most areas, she said organized women could call the attention of authorities to the need to fund social services as well.

Commission on Women chair Remmy Rikken traced the history of the global consensus on women’s rights, noting how it had taken women decades to even recognize the role of women in such key issues as leadership and politics, and of such problems as trafficking, violence and exploitation.

“A right is not yet a right unless claimed and asserted,” stated Fernandez, and recognition of the need to create political, economic and social environments conducive to gender equality by an institution like the World Bank, is a bracing step forward.

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