The UN has circulated for discussion an “elements” document in preparation for the Third International Conference on Financing for Development summit taking place 13-16 July 2015 in Addis. First of all, it is remarkable to see a financial document that takes gender issues as seriously as this one.
Back in 2002, the Monterey Consensus on Financing for Development mentioned gender only in terms of what the finance could buy – in terms of better programs for women. It made no mention of the fact that the process itself of budgeting and spending money can have unjust gender consequences.
This document points to the importance of having gender-responsive approaches at every step – from tax policy to budgeting to contracting.
Yet – while the document is long, it is probably not long enough to have ministries of finance have much of an idea how to accomplish this.
The document doesn’t mention how deeply engrained gender discrimination is in our mindset – how blind most people are to these issues.
When the US created its first “Monterey Consensus” based agency – the MCC: Millennium Challenge Corporation – it initially had no gender criteria for its enormous grants.
My organization was privileged to work alongside Women Thrive Worldwide during MCC’s first year as it worked to ensure that every single employee of MCC – from the President to the accounting staff – received gender training, and that a leading gender expert was hired as a top-level executive.
Gender training is so important. One can have a great gender policy, but if the individuals making decisions haven’t really come to grips with how profoundly gender discrimination causes hunger and poverty – if they haven’t really thought it through and seen it for themselves – we will fail.
While I really do praise for the document’s rich recognition of gender in financial processes, we have to remember that the overarching context of finance can be inherently patriarchal. We can easily fall into the delusion that finance is the source of development.
While finance is very, very important – it is of secondary importance. People come first. People’s aspirations, creativity and hard work are the source of development.
Finance for development must mean investing in people’s opportunities to achieve their own development.
Yes, we need taxes to build schools for girls to attend. But the magic of development happens as those girls sit up at night working on math homework by the light of a candle or a kerosene lamp, and as their teacher stays up at night preparing the lessons for the next day.
Finance must be done with great love and humility and respect for the human beings who are doing the work to become leaders and poets and environmental scientists and farmers and teachers. It makes our public money sacred.
When we remember that, we can perhaps not only do financing well but wisely.