International Women’s Day celebrations began early on this week.
I had the pleasure of serving as a panelist on one of the panels at the Women in Development Conference on Thursday .
Our panel had to consider and discuss the business case for investing in women in light of donors and investors seeking a return on their investment.
There were a couple of points that came out our panel discussion that I would like to hight here;
What are we counting?
This was a question posed by Dr Katharina Lichtner, Managing Director of Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation with regards to the breast feeding programme run by her organisation.
A return on investment is invariably about numbers but what should be counted?
Would an increase in numbers of women that breast feed their children count as a return on investment?
What about if the numbers of women breast feeding goes up, but the women do not have enough food for themselves or their children and this lead to stunted children?
Does the investment in increased breast feeding in this instance amount to a return on investment? This leads to a related question that is to do with what counts as a return on investment.
Where are the women?
A variety of International Non-government institutions are policy focused and or work at the macro level with regards to development frameworks.
A question for consideration is, how many women specifically those that should benefit from economic interventions /economic empowerment programs operate at this level?
In my experience as a Community Development specialist, the answer would be – NONE
This is because, women are over represented in the informal sector and if interventions and or investments are focused on high level frameworks this excludes women.
It is a known fact that women do not own land but are over represented in the agricultural sector. How then do high level investments in agricultural benefit such women.
How can poverty amongst such women be reduced by interventions that not focused at points where women are?
Aren’t we at risk of missing out on the opportunity to invest in women?
Women in rural areas face intersecting barriers of geography, lack of assets, gender stereotypes, and cultural norms which exacerbate outcomes for women.
Therefore high level frameworks will not benefit women in these circumstances unless we answer the question – where are the women? A related question, would ask, where are the opportunities for investing in ultra poor women. There are women who never see or touch money from the beginning of to the end the year and our challenge into find and invest in them
Call to Action
In my opinion and experience, you cannot invest in women nor impact poverty amongst women without going into the communities where women are to identify the investment opportunities.
This involves asking more questions that are to do with the nature and types of industry at that level as well as how it can grown
For instance, Itojo sub county in SW Uganda, grows some of the best pineapples in the works on a commercial scale but there isn’t a single processing plant or cold plant that people can go and store their pineapples.
An intervention in this location that leads to the installation of processing plant, would mean jobs for women in particular right on their doorstep.
This is a rural location without industry nor formal jobs but women could be trained to work in a pineapple factory at various levels including as pickers, packers, machinists, managers etc.
This type of investment would provide a return on investment for donors both financially and in human capital.
Women without a formal education do not have the sort of skills that maybe required in a office setting and therefore high end investment frameworks are bound to exclude them.
An examination of what is going on the community is called for in order to contextualise investments.
High end policy frameworks have their place but we need to examine how these unfold on the ground to ensure that women operating at the the micro level are not let out.
And finally to what extent are these high level policy frameworks gender mainstreamed?