By Rineke van Dam
Junior representative WO=MEN
Gender and the emancipation of women remain hot topics up to today. In spite of strong commitment to work on gender equality through international agreements, implementation on the ground is not always taking place effectively. For instance, when the new government took position in the Netherlands at the end of 2010, there was much commotion in the press when the names of proposed ministers were presented: sixteen out of twenty are men, leaving only four women in such leading and exemplary political positions. Media attention soon died away, but the Netherlands is left with a male dominated government.
MDG3 Fund in Danger?
Gender ratio in the government is one way to look at its ‘women-friendliness’. Of course, priorities and policies are of primary importance as well. To our great pride, the Dutch government has a special budget for MDG3, which is spent on initiatives that promote the emancipation of women. However, with all the enthusiasm in budget cuts -the new Dutch government had to drastically cut its spending- it was also planned to retrench the ‘Gender-Fund’: a huge setback in the fight for gender equality. Luckily, with support from civil society organizations, politicians and the wider public, an effective lobby curbed these plans: Five million Euros was put back into the fund…
Gender: a Crosscutting theme
It would be shortsighted to think that the Gender-Fund alone could achieve gender equality. Gender is a crosscutting theme, which stands out clearly from the diverse issues included in the main topic of the upcoming CSW: “Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work”. Education, just to pick one element, is crucial for the emancipation of girls and women. For instance, educated girls are less likely to have unwanted and/or early pregnancies, and they chose to have fewer children. Moreover, child and maternal mortality are significantly lower for educated women. Coming back to the women-friendliness of the Dutch government: it has been decided to remove education as a priority theme in development cooperation. This means that the Dutch government will reduce funding for organizations that invest in improving access to education in the Global South.
A big leap backwards?
It is time to acknowledge that gender, just like education, is a complex, cross-cutting theme that does not deserve to be considered in isolation. Better access to education for girls cannot be seen separated from investments in gender equality through an MDG3 Fund. They come hand-in-hand!
The argument that investments in education have not everywhere, one-for-one resulted in economic growth is not valid. Lack of economic growth in the Global South has many other causes! For instance, protective agricultural policies that prevent African farmers, mostly women(!), from exporting their products into the European Union.
Besides, the Dutch government should recognize the value of education as going far beyond direct economic growth. It is a long-term investment and lies very much at the basis of the emancipation of women and girls. Moreover, it contributes to improved food production, health, safety and many other developmental goals. It is sad that the Dutch government does not acknowledge this complexity and long-term vision. Thereby, it seems to have taken a big leap backwards in the emancipation of women in the world of today.
Gender is still a relevant topic, and with this attitude, Joni and I will get on the plane tomorrow to travel to the 55th session of the CSW in New York.