What came out of the G8 summit for women?

by Patricia Daniel

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You can access all the summit declarations on the official website and download them as pdf documents. But I advise you not to bother. They mainly contain bland statements which commit the G8 to nothing. In general they say: “we note that this is an important issue and we agree to talk about it again at a later date.” And as far as women specifically are concerned, I have already been through the documents with my gender lens and pulled the relevant paragraphs out for you. There aren’t many and they’re all from the declaration on Africa.

So, here’s my immediate review of what came out of the G8 summit for women, based on the five key concerns we identified in the open letter. We invite our bloggers to comment in more detail.

Combat structural economic exclusion

More of the same on the global economy – in fact possibly a lot more if the emerging economies go into G8 partnership agreements. One very bland reference to women:

“The G8 emphasize the importance of the political and economic empowerment of women as a contribution to sustainable growth and responsible government. We are promoting the World Bank’s Gender Action Plan and welcome this and further initiatives supporting our African partners’ efforts to foster the economic empowerment of women such as those taken by the United Nations.”
Paragraph 29, Growth and Responsibility for Africa

Reverse the marginalisation of women

This is really all I could find:

Education is a fundamental driver for national development and economic growth, providing a skilled labour force, and promoting equity, enterprise, and prosperity. Education also promotes good health, empowers girls and women, and leads to healthier families. We are committed to working with partner governments and the private sector to expand opportunities for disadvantaged girls and boys, including beyond the classrooms, to learn 21st century skills and increase their participation in society. We reaffirm that no country seriously committed to “Education for All” will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by lack of resources.”

Paragraph 37, Growth and Responsibility for Africa

Climate change – sustainable development

A lot of hot air and no reference to women – or any new approach to grassroots development.

Health, HIV/AIDS and women’s rights

I’m surprised. There’s some detailed analysis here, a shift in discourse and a concrete pledge to provide more funding. But $60 billion over four years is to be shared between the whole African continent and Eastern European countries, so it’s not terribly generous. And we still need to see if the money materialises. Nevertheless I see this as a real success for women’s campaigning and a personal success for Bundesministerin Heidemarie Wiezcorek-Zeul who has championed these issues in Germany these past six months.

“50. Recognizing the growing feminization of the AIDS epidemic, the G8 in cooperation with partner governments support a gender-sensitive response by the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) with the goal of ensuring that greater attention and appropriate resources are allocated by the Fund to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care that addresses the needs of women and girls. Coverage of prevention of mother to child transmission programs (PMTCT) currently stands at only 11%. In the overall context of scaling up towards the goal of universal access and strengthening of health systems we will contribute substantially with other donors to work towards the goal of providing universal coverage of PMTCT programs by 2010. The cost to reach this target, as estimated by UNICEF, is US$ 1,5 billion. The G8 together with other donors will work towards meeting the needed re-sources for paediatric treatments in the context of universal access, at a cost of US$ 1,8 billion till 2010, estimated by UNICEF. We will also scale up efforts to reduce the gaps, in the area of maternal and child health care and voluntary family planning, an estimated US$ 1,5 billion.51. By achieving the MDG on education, 700,000 new HIV-infections could be pre-vented every year. Education not only improves the understanding for infectious dis-eases but also improves women’s and girls’ economic prospects and empowers them. The G8 will take concrete steps to support education programs especially for girls, to promote knowledge about sexuality and reproductive health and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections. The G8 will support the nationwide inclusion of appropriate HIV/AIDS-related information and life-skills information in school curricula, in the context of nationally owned sector plans as well as prevention information with regard to malaria and other relevant health topics.

52. The G8 will emphasize the importance of programs to promote and protect human rights of women and girls as well as the prevention of sexual violence and coercion especially in the context of preventing HIV/AIDS infections. We welcome the commitment expressed by African partners aiming at promoting the rights and role of women and girls. We will also work to support additional concerted efforts to stop sexual exploitation and gender-based violence. 53. The G8 will take concrete steps to work toward improving the link between HIV/AIDS activities and sexual and reproductive health and voluntary family planning programs, to improve access to health care, including preventing mother-to-child transmission, and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by adopting a multi-sectoral approach and by fostering community involvement and participation.”

From Growth and Responsibility in Africa

Education for gender equality and women’s rights

See above. As regards our suggestion that men take responsibility for the every day challenges faced by women: I’m tempted to say that the seven male G8 leaders showed some quaint old-fashioned gallantry vis-à-vis Angela Merkel’s tough presidency role and came to unexpectedly amicable agreements in order to see her attractively perky smile when she gets her own way reflected in all the summit photographs. After all, why not? They don’t really have any intention of following through anyway.

Peace and security

We didn’t include this in our open letter, but subsequent bloggers have raised a number of issues. Absolutely no reference to women or the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in any of the relevant documents (for example, on Darfur). No, wait, I’m wrong, here it is:

“At the 8th African Partnership Forum in Berlin, we have jointly with our African partners discussed important recommendations regarding climate change, investment, peace and security as well as gender equality.”

Final paragraph, G8 Africa Partnership, Summary of G8 Africa Personal Representatives’ Joint Progress Report (Annex to Growth and Responsibility in Africa)

Conclusion

The most interesting and constructive discussions about the future took place outside the fence round Heiligendamm, at the alternative summit in Rostock, at the Nobel Women’s Initiative gathering in Galway, in women’s social movements on different continents, at the World Social Forum in Nairobi – and here in the women’s openSummit blog.

Who needs the G8 anyway to tell us how to run the world?




Afghan Women
Monday June 04th 2007, 11:05 am
Filed under: Afghanistan, G8, aid and development, economic empowerment

by Ancila Adrian-Paul, PhoenixConsulting UK and openDemocracy blogger

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It is a pleasure to share space with you again in this Women and the G8 blog.

The G8 represents approximately 65 percent of the world’s economy. The ministerial meetings organized annually in the country of leadership for that year, discuss both global and mutual issues – with topics ranging from health and foreign affairs to justice, terrorism and climate change. Afghanistan should be of priority interest to this forum as all of the governments listed above are involved in its reconstruction in one way or another. Afghan women should be of particular interest since their oppression was cited as one of the overriding reasons why the country was bombed.

As some of you may remember, during the 1325 blog in 2005, I had just gone to Afghanistan to work for the German based non-governmental charity – medica mondiale – a group of women advocating for the human rights of women in conflict and post-conflict scenarios and focusing on sexual violence against women and the attendant psycho-social issues affecting such women. Initially, I was going to be there for 6 months but ended up spending 19 months. I finally left Afghanistan in February this year (2007). In this blog, I want to share with you some of my overriding memories of the country, to give you a flavour of life there and an indication of the situation of women.

Imagine a country with mountains that reach to the sky. I am talking about the Hindu Kush mountains. Imagine a capital city nestles between barren hills, icy and treacherous in the winter. A city that becomes green and fruitful, ripe with pollen, flowers, fruit and a multitude of dust participles in the spring and summer. Afghanistan is a country of extremes – bitterly cold during the long winter months and frighteningly hot and humid during the summer months. Imagine a feudal and tribal society that despite its poverty has a piquant and otherworldly charm and romantic allure that belies the grim reality of women’s unequal status. Afghanistan is a country of many marvels and many riches – the foremost of which are undoubtedly its women.

Women in Afghanistan face significant odds. According to the 2005 annual report of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) headed by its well-known chair Dr Sima Samar, over 90 percent of Afghan women are illiterate. Poverty is chronic and is made worse by continuous drought as well as the deleterious effects of over 25 years of conflict. In this country, the feminization of poverty takes a very brutal face. Women were prevented from working during the Taliban regime and were kept inside the house – unable to attend school, seek gainful employment or at times even to take their children to the hospital. The situation has changed for some, but not for others.

While some women – especially in Kabul (the capital city), Mazar-i-Sharif (the large northern city) and in Herat (the intellectual stronghold to the West) on the border with Iran, are able to work and have a degree of unprecedented freedom, others in cities in the South such as in Kandahar and Helmand are often not so fortunate.

Undoubtedly, since the fall of the Taliban and the signing of the Bonn Agreement in 2002, Afghan women have made significant gains. Some of these include the 25 percent inclusion of women in parliament (in both the Upper and Lower houses) – a higher percentage than found in our own parliament in the United Kingdom! Afghan women are also Provincial Governors. For example, Bamyan in the central region is headed by a former woman minister – Dr Soraya Sarabi. Women are organizing their own village and community councils – which in some areas, have the burden of dealing with the high percentage of violence and brutality perpetrated against women. Unfortunately, these gains are not enough and are mitigated by the tribal, cultural and other customs that lead to many of the estimated 50 000 widowed Afghan women becoming beggars. Add to this, Afghanistan’s place among the countries in the world with the highest maternal mortality rate. In fact the remote and largely inaccessible province of Badakshan, on the border with China is reputed to be the worst affected.

My time there enabled me to visit several provinces and to interact with women at different levels of society and from both rural villages as well as within cities – including the three cities named above. The work in which I was involved, leading the political lobby and advocacy work of medica mondiale, enabled me and the Afghan team working with me to support the Ministry for Women’s Affairs and the Ministry for Public Health in many ways – including by conducting issue based research and targeted recommendations for lobby and advocacy work.

One very important research project that was conducted in 2006 was a three-month project on suicide among Afghan women which includes various forms, the most insidious of which is self-burning (self-immolation) and that occurs mainly among Afghan women and girls between the ages of 12 – 45 years. The research highlighted the fact that approximately 80 percent of these women and girls commit self-immolation due to violence and brutality of various types – including widespread forced and early marriages. The research led to a three-day regional conference bringing together participants from Afghan government and society as well as from neighbouring countries including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iraqi Kurdistan.

(more…)

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THAT HISTORIC PHOTO OPPORTUNITY
Monday May 28th 2007, 5:55 pm
Filed under: 50:50, Africa, Angela Merkel, G8, aid and development, economic empowerment

by Patricia Daniel

 

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Last week there was a historic photo opportunity at the opening of the Africa Partnership Forum in Berlin, when Germany’s first woman chancellor Angela Merkel shook hands with Africa’s only female head of state, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. There’s a long way to go before we see 50% women in governments around the world. And there’s also a big question over whether economic decisions at the G8 summit will actually benefit Africa (and women) rather than the G8. So the photograph may be all we get. But in my image search I came across Ellen having a chat with George W Bush, possibly when last in the US lobbying him for debt cancellation. And several of her on the day she was inaugurated President of Liberia, which, of all of them, has been the best opportunity for change so far.

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Is Micro-Credit the Answer?
Monday May 21st 2007, 10:09 am
Filed under: 50:50, aid and development, economic empowerment, globalisation, mico-credit

by Sundra Flansburg and Natalie Elwell, World Neighbors

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With the award last December of a Nobel Peace Prize to Mohammed Yunis, founder of the Grameen Bank, micro-credit has received another round of accolades and promotions as an answer to widespread poverty around the world. Give poor women access to small bank loans, so the thinking goes, and they can start micro-businesses and improve their livelihoods by competing better in free markets.

Admittedly, this is an oversimplification of Yunis’s and other micro-credit advocates’ efforts. Another version of this thinking comes recently as microfinance, and is promoted by a new group of “social entrepreneurs” who tend to rephrase goals of ending poverty with ones promoting economic empowerment. While we think that there is a place for micro-credit and micro-finance in efforts to end poverty, we believe that there are some fundamental flaws in thinking of this approach as a key one in ending poverty and improving the lives of poor women.

We urge the G8 to recognize the complexity, and especially the social aspects, of poverty in addition to the dollar aspects, and support a web of strategies that combine to build skills and capacity, reduce vulnerability and benefit women and their communities in a sustainable way.

Why Micro-Credit Isn’t the Answer

Part of the problem with micro-credit rests not with the real benefits it provides to a certain segment of the population, but rather with the expectation by some that it is the answer to rural poverty. This belief shows a lack of understanding of the complex nature of poverty. Capitalizing micro-businesses is one piece of the solution, but without a wider, holistic effort, this kind of credit will mainly benefit the entrepreneurs and slightly less poor who are able to develop business plans and make them work.

Another significant issue with micro-credit is the fact that in the vast majority of cases, control of capital stays outside the community and the money itself reverts to an outside institution. Therefore, micro-credit tends to focus on individual successes and neglects the possibilities and power of collective action and work. When control rests outside the community, it is easy to lose sight of the welfare of the borrowers and focus only on better “returns on investment.”

Additionally, micro-credit models often fail to build borrowers’ capacity to do anything but develop a market analysis and basic business plan. A large number of the world’s poor women are marginalized within their communities and even their families, and lack confidence and experience in trying something new. They have responsibility not only for contributing to family income but to caring for children and the ill, collecting water and fuel wood, preparing their family’s meals, maintaining the home and any number of assorted family responsibilities. If the bigger picture of workload and marginalization is not addressed in a significant way throughout the process, women will continue to struggle with an impossible burden.

Finally, micro-credit, but especially microfinance, rest on an unexamined assumption that free markets are the answer to social problems like poverty. They leave unchallenged the idea that the poor only need a hand up at the start and will then be able to compete with large businesses in producing and selling their wares. Susan Feiner and Drucilla Barker point out that micro-credit on its own ignores the structural reasons that women are poor and neglects the social and political work needed to ensure that women business owners and workers improve their lot and enjoy basic human rights.

(more after the jump)

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Climate Change and Women’s Work
Wednesday May 16th 2007, 10:31 am
Filed under: Africa, aid and development, climate change, economic empowerment, environment, globalisation

by WOW! Work of Women’s coordinator Sundra Flansburg and World Neighbours‘ associate vice president Natalie Elwell

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Recently released reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leave little doubt to rational minded people that climate change is happening, and that there is more to come. As we read reports and responses, government statements and reactions, however, the voices of the people who will most feel the effects seem to be lost.

What would we like G8 leaders to hear and support? We agree that many of the topics being debated are important ones for the world to consider and act on. But among the calls for alternative fuels, reduced consumption, carbon sequestering programs and so on, the G8 and others need to understand the urgency of supporting good, effective development work.

For the effects of climate change will hit the people who are already the poorest and most vulnerable. As many have noted, including Benito Müller here on OpenDemocracy, the effects of climate change are likely to exacerbate the world’s already vast inequities. In some cases it will be because those communities will be most impacted by climate disasters. In other cases it will be because those communities will be least able to withstand tragedy and bounce back.

Poor women in these communities will be heavily impacted in a wide range of ways. The women in rural, marginalized villages already work more hours than men, receive fewer benefits and have less decision making power. When water becomes harder to find, it is the women and children who put in the additional hours walking to find it and carry it back to the household. It is a similar situation with fuel wood. When children or spouses fall ill from malaria or other vector-born diseases that will increase in occurrence when water quality goes downhill, it is women who will care for them. It is women who will do without or with less when food is scarce.

Not only do women suffer the brunt of scarcity, they are often blamed for it. As trees and grasses available on family farms are overtaxed and degraded, women charged with providing fuel wood for cooking and fodder for animals are forced to tap into protected sources, which further erodes the land. Many of the people living precariously on these fragile lands are unable to effectively deal with the stress of their changing environment because they are caught in a vicious cycle of marginalization and dependency.

The IPCC report from Working Group II highlights the importance in coming decades of societies’ abilities to adapt to the changes anticipated, as well as those yet to be identified. It also notes the extent to which the ability to adapt is linked to sustainable development.

We – including the G8 – have a choice about where and how we invest in prevention work and responding to climate change. Increasingly, our efforts to address global warming must be internationally focused, pressuring governments and other entities to do their part even when they are reluctant. No doubt international relief work will be increasingly taxed as the anticipated droughts and flooding increase in intensity and number—imagine a Banda Aceh or Katrina every year. But the other side of the equation – development – must continue to be at the top of our agenda.

Basic work like local water sources, improved community health, women’s literacy, a diversity of income-earning possibilities and so on are what may make the difference between a community’s devastation or its being able to pull together to survive, and eventually thrive. There is no magic key or quick solution – whatever Thomas Friedman (1) and Jeffrey Sachsmay believe. Self-sufficiency must be the ultimate outcome and that means that the way development work is carried out is vital.

Over five decades of direct partnering with poor, rural communities around the world, World Neighbors knows that women will not, and cannot, become seriously involved in community development until their workload issues are addressed. And to be effective and sustainable, community development work must be done in partnership with communities and have significant levels of participation from women. So while it may be faster and “easier” for an international development agency to introduce and implement a water project in a village, the odds are that in five years it will be in disrepair. Work must be at the grassroots, build a village’s ability to define both the problems and the solutions, and require investment of something—time, money, skills, labor—from all parties. Additionally, women need to be actively engaged in defining the problem and deciding how to address it, or the “solution” is unlikely to be a real one for the entire community.

When poor women are able to have time for something besides daily survival, it is usually then that they have the possibility of building their skills and moving their families from precarious survival to stability. Attention to women’s involvement improves the sustainability of development efforts, and also more equitably spreads the benefits of development through families and communities. Skills like basic literacy and access to resources for diversifying income earning activities will provide essential adaptation skills, and ones to which both men and women should have equal access.

Sustainable development work can reduce the vulnerability of people and their communities to the harshest consequences of climate change. It is both a moral and financial imperative that the G8 understand the urgency of increased support of sustainable development work that integrates gender equity. As we feel the effects of climate change more and more, women are likely to be both the hardest hit, but also the keys to community resilience.

Sundra Flansburg currently coordinates the Work of Women (WOW!) initiative, a membership organization of World Neighbors that mobilizes support for improving the lives of poor women and their families who live in rural communities throughout the world. She previously developed and directed gender programs at Education Development Center, Inc., in areas including information technology, education and violence prevention.

Natalie Elwell is associate vice president for action learning, communication and gender at World Neighbors. In this role she provides leadership and support to field staff around the world in integrating gender into program work. She has just completed project to synthesize the successful gender work in our diverse program areas into a coherent approach for achieving gender equity and is currently preparing field guide for dissemination.


(1) Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005); Jeffrey D. Sachs, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time (New York: Penguin Books, 2005). See also The Hijacking of the Development Debate: How Friedman and Sachs Got It Wrong by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh (World Policy Journal, summer 2006).

Picture via FlickR.

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