Women's International Work
U.N. Women, an entity of the United Nations, strives to improve gender equality and the empowerment of women around the world. Specifically, U.N. Women’s international work involves collaboration with governments and societies to create real change. The organization creates change by working to reform, implement and secure policies, programs, resources and legislation to ensure the rights of women and girls are upheld globally.

UN Women’s International Work

U.N. Women not only works on gender equality in the world but also inside its organization. For example, U.N. Women employs more than 3,000 people of 150 different nationalities in 90 geographical locations, working together on global challenges and initiatives. About 74% of employees are female and employees are supported by staff resource groups such as the Youth Council and the LGBTQI Network. U.N. Women believes that diversity and inclusion create the best workforce and a safe space. This allows room for respect, professionalism and integrity.

U.N. Women began its work in January 2011. The entity brings together four United Nations offices prioritizing gender equality. This includes The U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues, the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) and the U.N. International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW). U.N. Women supports the development of gender equality policies and provides technical and monetary support to help countries with their gender equality goals. The entity holds the United Nations as a whole “accountable for its own commitments on gender equality” through ongoing monitoring and assessment.

Issues Impacting Women

U.N. Women’s gender equality work contributed to landmark agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The organization emphasizes that gender inequality is a problem in every society due to its deeply rooted history. Globally, women do not always receive equal opportunities to men.

Gender wage gaps still exist and women frequently experience discrimination when attempting to garner employment and while working in the workplace. Women lack access to basic necessities such as essential healthcare and education. Women also severely lack representation in politics and economics even though they are significantly impacted by these decisions. However, U.N. Women works to give women and girls a voice at all levels on issues that affect them. In the greater scheme of global poverty, women are disproportionately affected by poverty.

Carol Cassidy

Carol Cassidy is a human rights journalist who has worked on and off with U.N. Women for seven years. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Cassidy explains that that U.N. Women’s focus is international. Cassidy states, “U.N. Women’s major focus is combating violence against women worldwide. Violence takes many forms, from selective abortion, lack of education for women and girls, lack of opportunities for women outside of housework” and more. Cassidy says further that the organization is interested in initiatives that address poverty and violence.

The organization’s main mission is not to overtake projects or programs women have created, but to provide funding and support to allow the programs to flourish. U.N. Women looks to enhance accountability and involve women in general decision-making and conversations within their communities. U.N. Women has worked with countries all around the world, from South Africa to Ukraine. Cassidy was drawn to the organization because she shares similar goals, morals and ethics.

Empowering Women Globally

Cassidy’s past work with U.N. Women includes supporting women’s economic rights in post-conflict zones such as Gaza, Uganda and Sri Lanka. Cassidy recalls a specific example of supporting women. In Gaza, unemployment rates skyrocketed during the war and women came together to build and run a bakery. Women were able to bake goods to sustain families in the community. U.N. Women supported these women by providing funding.

U.N. Women strives to create a world where women have the same opportunities and protections as men. U.N. Women’s international work has helped bridge gender barriers to close the gender inequality gap around the world.

– Lauren Peacock
Photo: Flickr

USAID's Self-Reliance Framework
In 2017, under then-administrator Mark Green of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), USAID reorganized its mission of development and aid. In a break from the past, administrator Green initiated a fundamental reorganization. He proposed a mission of providing aid for the very purpose of eventually ending any reliance or need for developmental and humanitarian assistance offered by USAID. Understanding USAID’s self-reliance framework begins with understanding USAID’s mission and new measurement system to end the need for international aid.

Purpose of USAID’S Mission

While USAID’s capabilities and knowledge have not changed, its beliefs about its mission and approach have. In the words of its policy framework, “This approach marks a new direction for USAID, but draws on our deep experience and the lessons we have learned.” Illustrating its shift in thinking, USAID explains its assistance is most effective and compassionate when strengthening its partners’ abilities to provide for themselves and their citizens.

Looking forward to the future, the journey to self-reliance (J2SR) expresses recognition of two opportunities. It works to see the possibility for ending the need for foreign assistance by pointing to the fall in global poverty, improvements in health infrastructure, greater gender parity and safety across the globe. In addition, it also points to continuing barriers and moving challenges impeding progress and self-reliance.

USAID’s Measurement System

Subsequently, helping USAID in ending the need for foreign assistance is a set of concretely defined concepts and measurable figures. They address USAID’s full reorientation towards its mission statement of “ending the need for foreign assistance.”

As a keystone metric, self-reliance gains its weight through the measurement of two factors. The first is capacity. This acts as a measurement of a given country’s capacity to deal with its own developmental challenges. The second is commitment. This measures a country’s demonstration of commitment to using efficacy, inclusivity and accountability when dealing with challenges.

Moreover, USAID selected capacity and commitment for their efficacy in solving three fundamental developmental problems. These include improving productivity and sustainable expansion, equitable distribution of goods to raise well-being and deciding how to share resources fairly and legally. Positive improvements in these three challenges ultimately contribute to the greatest possible gains to set countries moving toward self-reliance.

Congressional Oversight

However, USAID’s J2SR pathway is not without concern. In the same report by the Congressional Research Service, the authors described the 17 indicators as ‘reflective’ of a sweeping theory of development long debated. They explained that the chosen indicators connect to theories that economic growth comes from democratization and open markets.

For instance, the “Trade Freedom” indicator comes from a theory that developing countries must lower trade barriers in order to achieve prosperity. This theory has undergone hot debate. The CRS also notes that the previously mentioned metrics have been worrying to commentators due to the fact that some might use them as excuses to cut aid.

The 17 Metrics

The self-reliance pathway includes 17 unique third-party metrics. These help in determining the degree of a partner country’s commitment or capacity metric. The 17 metrics serve as target goalposts for USAID initiatives and projects. In turn, they guide and measure a country in the metrics of self-reliance.

In the words of a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on Transformation at USAID, these 17 metrics help to quantify a country’s progress toward ending its need for foreign assistance and have been selected for its “perceived alignment with the self-reliance concept, the reputation of reporting institutions, public availability of the underlying data and methodology, comparability across countries, and comprehensiveness of reporting across countries.”

Understanding USAID’s Self-Reliance Framework

Above all, USAID’s Self-Reliance Framework intends to guide USAID’s programmatic approach to aid. This includes defining and outlining projects and determining a nation’s end state with respect to USAID’s assistance to it. In conclusion, the journey to self-reliance seeks to better serve the U.S. public while advancing individual countries towards greater self-autonomy and independence.

– Marshall Wu
Photo: Flickr

UK Poverty Reduction Efforts
In the last decade, the United Kingdom’s most influential international organization, known as the British Council, has made various cuts to British foreign aid in developing countries. The world recognizes the U.K. for generous foreign aid, but policymakers are beginning to push for “development assistance.” These budget cuts are occurring to fulfill more self-serving international interests. This bureaucratic debate has sparked increasing tension among council members over the value of U.K. poverty reduction efforts.

Imminent Change

In her December 2019 speech, Queen Elizabeth II announced that the U.K. government would restructure international policy in more integrated terms. Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently made the most drastic change to U.K. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.

On June 15, 2020, the tension over foreign aid led Johnson to merge two historically distinct departments: the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). This essentially terminated the DFID, which championed World Bank’s “poverty reduction strategies.” This change has not sparked an immediate consequence. British policy-makers and journalists alike are asking a fearful question: will this shift put ongoing U.K. poverty reduction efforts in danger?

A Threat to “Soft Power”

The merging of DFID and FCO will likely compromise a significant amount of funding for the Official Development Assistance (ODA), which provides poverty-reducing aid to developing countries. The projected 30% loss to the aid budget, equivalent to $2.5 billion, will force the government to cut a variety of aid programs.

While outstanding U.K. poverty reduction efforts remain vital to the ongoing development of countries, they also maintain the soft power on which Britain prides itself. The June 2020 interim report by the U.K. House of Commons International Development Committee argued for the DFID to remain independent. Independence would maintain Britain’s global reputation for aid and soft power. Soft power is Britain’s ability to shape another country’s decisions through collaboration rather than coercion. Nevertheless, the departments merged a week after the report’s publication.

As far back as a decade ago, foreign policy reports projected a collapse in Britain’s diplomatic capacity if the government made cuts to an already inexpensive foreign aid budget. In comparison, the U.K. spends significantly more on other foreign policy matters, such as defense. Britain gains diplomatic influence at both a bilateral and multilateral level by providing aid to impoverished countries; thus, cutting back on foreign aid reduces Britain’s voice and reputability in these meetings and relationships.

Active Solutions

There is much uneasiness around cutting vital aid to developing countries. Still, the restructuring of DFID and FCO may not undo years of U.K. poverty reduction efforts. If the government takes certain steps, the U.K. could remain a leader in international aid efforts. Namely, the newly combined department must adhere to the International Development Act of 2002, which allows the U.K. to allocate aid money to poverty reduction initiatives. Additionally, the government could appoint a cabinet minister for development. This role would ensure that poverty reduction efforts remain at the forefront of the U.K. aid strategy.

According to the International Development Committee member Sarah Champion, Britain is a country of humanitarians who value helping the world’s most vulnerable communities. As a result, it only makes sense to represent their values through policy and action. Ultimately, it is the duty of FCO to ensure that U.K. poverty reduction efforts remain a priority. Supporting the world’s poor is more imperative than ever in the midst of a global pandemic. With hope, British leadership will continue to aid communities suffering from systemic underdevelopment and poverty.

– Stella Grimaldi
Photo: Flickr