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Gates Cambridge Annual Lecture - What if…Gender equality could change the f...

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Palmerston Room

St John's College Cambridge

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CB2 1TP

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What if…Gender equality could change the face of poverty?

Sarah Hendriks, Director, Gender Equality, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In too many countries, women and girls face differential barriers to their health and development because of the ways that poverty and inequality are inter-twined. This interconnection is evident across multiple levels in terms of: a) how women in low-income households’ experience poverty; b) the way power is brokered in communities; and c) the engrained biases in systems and structures that often exclude women (such as economic, agricultural, financial or market systems).

Development theorists and economists alike have argued that the global development goals will be harder to achieve if half the world’s population is left behind, and unless there is systematic attention to address gender inequalities and meet the specific needs of women and girls. This lecture will explore the data and evidence behind gender equality and women's economic empowerment, as a driver to lift poor households out of poverty.

There is increasing external momentum on equality for women and girls

In recent years, there has been a groundswell of global attention to gender equality as a critical lever for sustainable development and poverty reduction. Equality for women and girls is increasingly recognized as the driving engine to progress on the global development agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reflect a clear turning point in global political attention to women and girls: for the first time, leaders of 193 nations have pledged to end gender inequality in all forms by 2030. Interestingly, this reflects a consensus to tackle not just the symptoms but the underlying drivers of inequality. However, this massive commitment to advance gender equality in the world requires a coherent plan and evidence-based mechanisms to be successful.

Women's Economic Empowerment can be a transformative driver of change

Women who are economically empowered tend to have greater access to income and economic assets; better control over their own economic gains’ and more equitable decision-making power to translate these gains into social, economic, and health benefits for herself and her family. A growing body of evidence shows that increasing the share of household income controlled by women can boost human capital investment through spending on children’s education and health (Duflo, 2011). The extent to which a woman controls her economic gain, not only helps determine her bargaining power and fallback position within the household (C.R. Doss, Grown, and Deere 2008, and Goldstein 2014) but can increase women’s status within the community (Klugman et al. 2014). We will explore women’s economic empowerment in terms of both objective dimensions, measured by increases in productivity, income and assets; alongside subjective dimensions, measured by increases in agency and decision-making power.

Tangible solutions are important: how do countries tend to progress towards empowerment?

Over the past year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aimed to distill down the core common elements of women’s economic empowerment. We did this through a data driven process, comprised of four methodological approaches including a review of existing literature, expert interviews and a landscape of country case studies that have made progress in poverty outcomes for women. When applied at a global level, we saw patterns in how these elements tend to progress, showing us that entry points can potentially be prioritized. This resulted in narrowing a focus to those elements that can drive economic gains for women. In the lecture, we will explore the science and associated insights behind this data model.

In particular, we will look at prevalent gender gaps and practical solutions in three areas: (1) financial inclusion; (2) land tenure security; and (3) Women's Self-Help Groups to see what could happen if women were economically empowered:

  • What if low income women had the same access to the financial system as men, and could genuinely participate in the economy?
  • What if women and men were equally named on land certificates? And women could use their own land to access credit, start a business, or engage in the economy?
  • What if the poorest women were part of a collective self-help group (SHG) that could challenge dominant power constructs, and enable women to access networks or connect their products with economic markets?

Drawing from examples in India and Sub-Saharan Africa, we will consider the gender-based constraints that women face within each of these arenas, and the impacts for women across their life-cycle, alongside considering other factors of identity. A dynamic theory of change on the empowerment of women and girls will be explored as part of our core conceptual model. The role of local and global actors and tangible case studies that reflect investable solutions will be used to ground the conversation.

About the Speaker

Sarah Hendriks, Director, Gender Equality, leads the foundation’s efforts to achieve substantive and sustainable results in promoting gender equality and unlocking the empowerment of women and girls. She is responsible for working across the foundation and with our external partners to develop and drive a strategic vision on gender equality, build organizational commitment, and establish technical processes that shape the foundation’s current and future work in the area.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Sarah worked as the Director of Gender Equality and Social Inclusion for Plan International. In this role, she provided global strategic leadership of Plan’s cross-cutting work on gender equality and inclusion, served as the chair of the editorial board and as the lead gender advisor for a multi-year global research and policy report entitled ‘Because I am a Girl: the State of the World’s Girls’ and led the development of the ‘Global Girls Innovation Program’, a $500 million portfolio of innovation and results-driven initiatives on adolescent girls.

Before joining Plan International, Sarah worked with Women and the Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) Malawi and has worked extensively as a gender equality consultant in areas such as Gender-Based Violence (CIDA), Women's Access to Justice (GTZ), HIV & AIDS, and the design of gender equality strategies.

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Palmerston Room

St John's College Cambridge

Cambridge

CB2 1TP

United Kingdom

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