Feminist economics posts

Echoes from UN-FFD3 Conference: The Limits to Financing for Gender Equality

This week, governments from all around the world are gathering at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit to adopt the Agenda 2030. They will commit to pursue sustainable development for all, including by reaching a new set of goals. In this process, the inclusion of a stand-alone goal on gender equality, with specific targets, as well as gender mainstreaming across many of the other goals has been viewed as a victory for women. No doubt this is progress compared with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

United Nations General Assembly Hall in the UN Headquarters, New York, NY

United Nations General Assembly Hall in the UN Headquarters, New York, NY; Source: Wikipedia Commons

It was also promising that the Third International Conference in Financing for Development (FFD3) took place in Addis Ababa in July 2015, in advance of this new global commitment to development.  The FFD3 was supposed to guarantee, far beyond the Sustainable Development Goals but also related to them, the resources to advance development strategies with a renewed agreement between the United Nations (UN) member countries from the North and the South. However, the outcome of this conference was dissapointing. Even more so if we analyse it from a gender equality perspective.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda (the FFD3 outcome document) included quite a few references to gender equality and women’s empowerment. In the very first part they commit “to respect all human rights, including the right to development, and that member states will ensure gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment.” This hopeful beginning was diluted throughout the document ending with a narrow and instrumentalistic view. The text lacks an integrated, consistent and explicit human rights based approach, which reminds us of the well known, old fashioned, and misleading idea that gender equality is about “add women and stir.”

To put it very briefly: 1) The document has too much “smart economics:” i.e., the promotion of women’s rights and economic opportunities because it contributes to economic growth and the increase of productivity, instead of primarily because it is a matter of women’s human right to development; 2) The global partnership between developed and developing countries established in the Monterrey Consensus (the first FFD conference held in Monterrey, Mexico in 2002) has been weakened by the promotion of multi-stakeholder partnerships, the lack of commitment by developed countries to address systemic issues in the UN, and the lack of  recognition and respect of the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR – Principle 7 of Rio Declaration); 3) The role of the state was undermined, very much limited to guarantee “enabling environment for private businesses,” which is problematic as it engenders tendencies for the race to the bottom to attract FDI, with severe impact on women’s labour standards, as is well known; 4) In terms of domestic resource mobilization there is too little emphasis on the need for progressive tax reform. While the need to expand the tax base is addressed, the proposal is controversial: i.e., do it by formalizing the informal sector, with very little commitment, at the same time, to confront tax evasion and avoidance. As we know well, this might end up with poor women in the informal sector facing a relatively heavy tax burden, while multinational companies keep benefiting from tax dodging. The resistance to create a UN body on tax matters was the clearest indication that the countries from the North do not really want to prevent tax dodging; 5) The overemphasis on financial inclusion of women (in terms of access to credit) was coupled with the little attention given to structural barriers for women’s economic rights and access to, ownership, and control over economic resources.


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