A new collaborative study published by the Great Initiative and Plan UK, two development organizations who work to promote female rights, reported that the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfID), reached a great success in the implementation of a new legal statute that will measure the impact of the agencies foreign aid operations in reducing the prevalence of gender inequality.

The International Development (Gender Equality) Act, which was put into effect last May, placed a responsibility on the United Kingdom to continually assess and implement strategies designed to strengthen gender equality within countries who received funding for development. The report praised DfID for establishing a new international precedent for the integration of the issue of gender inequality into broader humanitarian efforts and noted the UK should encourage other Western nations to take similar measures.

Many developed nations have gotten involved in the battle against gender equality in recent years, including the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who launched the Millennium Development Goal 3 Fund in 2008. This investment of nearly $100 million proved to be the largest ever government gift to support development organizations working to support gender equality efforts. According to the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, the fund succeeded in impacting the lives of 220 million people, including 65.5 million women and girls, and provided assistance to over 100,000 women’s rights organizations.

The study concluded, “We were delighted to find that the act has both driven, and joined forces with, other measures to promote gender equality. At the time of our analysis (May 2015), 64 percent of the business cases in our sample contained a clear statement addressing gender impact and only 18 percent of business cases lacked this statement,” referring to 44 development projects analyzed as part of the study.

A specific case study included within the report analyzed the impact of a DfID-funded program to repair and resurface a road within Western Uganda on gender equality. Mariella Frostrup, a founding trustee of the Great Initiative who was familiar with the study, stated, “It surprised us, and indeed it turned out to be one of the most transformative projects we found in our evaluation. It identifies women’s land ownership, violence against women, women’s employment and social norms and stereotypes as issues to be addressed.”

She continued in explaining, “It mandates that 25 percent of jobs on the project are reserved for women, that women’s safety and security is guaranteed and that gender sensitization and awareness projects are run alongside the actual construction.

Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary of the UK, explained in a June interview that DfID was determined to continue pursuing the issue of gender inequality, specifically working to reduce the occurrence of female genital mutilation and child marriage. Two of the largest issues associated with gender inequality, officials hope to reduce the persistence of such human rights violations by providing continual funding and assistance to developing and impoverished regions.

James Thornton

Sources: The Guardian, Devex
Photo: Flickr

2.5 billion people around the world, many of whom live in extreme poverty, are excluded from the formal financial system. Consequently, this exclusion results in the use of risky and expensive financial alternatives that slow individual and macro-level economic development. In the past, microcredit schemes have been used to solve the problem. Recently, a more holistic understanding of financial inclusion is emerging that focuses on savings, credit, financial literacy, and access to services. However, as these new systems take root, debate can be heard in regards to how the systems should be implemented, who the stakeholders will be, and how to ensure that this new financial ecosystem will function in the long-term.

These issues were addressed in early April at a Guardian conference where Banking on Change outlined the future of the financial ecosystem in developing countries. Banking on Change is a partnership between Plan UK, CARE International UK and Barclays that hopes to help around 400,000 people in 11 countries by developing access to basic financial services. The organization has used savings-led community finance groups in poor communities to help people save, build up assets, access loans from the community “pot”, develop financial literacy and eventually link into formal services. The scheme showed that due to erratic incomes, poor people have a high demand for savings accounts and products in contrast to credit lines and accounts.

Living conditions and finances aside, Ashok Vaswani, Barclays’ CEO for retail and business banking in the UK, Europe and Africa, believes that all people are the same. “People’s hopes and aspirations don’t vary too much,” he said. “We all have them, and people who live in much worse conditions than us have hopes and aspirations that are not very different to ours. They want to send their children to school. They want more for their children, just like we do. People with limited means still have the desire to move up, to put something away.” The difference is that people living in poverty do not have sufficient means to even start a savings account. Vaswani also believes that the money that potential customers save annually, about $58 multiplied by the 2.5 billion people living in financial exclusion, could be much more powerful if linked into the formal financial system rather than stashed under people’s beds.

Aside from defining the customer’s needs, financial literacy is important to the development of the financial ecosystem as well. Governments should do more in educating citizens, especially the youth, about their finances, commented Michaela Kelly, head of Plan’s Programme Delivery Unit.

As the demand for personal banking increases, the needs of potential customers will need to be assessed accordingly. While many view various forms of credit building important, savings accounts and related programs are just as important to the beginning of a financial ecosystem in developing countries. With the implementation of a financial system, both individual and macro-level, economic development will flourish and raise billions of people out of poverty.

– Kira Maixner

Source: The Guardian
Photo: Business Fights Poverty