From the Executive Director's Desk...
Recommitting to women and girls
Rev. John L. McCullough
By Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service
Last month I wrote about how the worldwide epidemic of violence towards women and girls is a violation of their basic human rights and a contributing factor to their increased risk of poverty. I described the legislative opportunity we have in the U.S. Congress to address this injustice. This month, we'll look at the amount of U.S. foreign assistance and how more of it needs to go to promoting gender equality and women's empowerment globally. In September we'll look at the issue of aid effectiveness the quality of foreign aid and its ability to empower women.
[Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." - Mark 12:41-44
Throughout the world women make enormous contributions to human wellbeing and economic wealth. Yet their efforts are generally unrecognized and their work often unpaid. Most of the more than one billion people in the world today living in extreme poverty are women and girls. Their impoverishment is a product of inequality, circumscribed participation in decision making, and being deprived of economic opportunities, access to resources, education and support services.
Short-changing on foreign assistance
The world's major donors provided nearly $104 billion in official development assistance (ODA) in 2007. The United Statues was the largest single government donor, providing nearly $22 billion of this amount, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). These figures represent a fall of more than 8% in real terms from 2006 levels for total ODA globally, and a decline of 10% in real terms for U.S. official assistance.
The U.S. continues to lag behind other donors in terms of relative generosity when official development assistance is measured as a percentage of our gross national income (GNI). We provide only 0.16 percent of our GNI, placing the U.S. at the bottom of twenty-two developed countries.
In a study released this spring, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development directorate noted that “most donors are not on track to meet their stated commitments to scale up aid and will need to make unprecedented increases to meet the targets they have set for 2010.”
Foreign assistance going directly to improve the lives women and girls -- half the population -- is literally a drop in the bucket. According to the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID), “gender equality is a tiny proportion of official development assistance overall.” Between 1999 and 2003, they estimate that only 0.1% of all official development assistance was explicitly devoted to projects related to women and development. By 2004-5, the total amount targeted toward gender equality was approximately 0.8%. These funding patterns raise questions about how much development assistance actually reached women on the ground. By other accounts, the amount going to women in development is 3.6%. Either way, this share is woefully small.
A survey done by AWID found that the most generous governmental donors for women's issues were the Dutch government and the European Union. The U.S. government ranked number 19 on their list of the top 20 donors to women's organizations, behind various foundations, churches, and the United Nations.
Calling attention to the shortfalls
It is clear that the international community's verbal commitments to ending poverty in general --- and among women and girls in particular -- have not materialized on the financial scale needed to properly address the problem. Moreover, the numbers demonstrate that aid agencies are not willing to put their money where the growing evidence lies that addressing gender inequalities needs to be a central component of all programs designed to tackle poverty and ensure sustainable development not just a feature of special programs on “women's issues.”
This spring, Church World Service was part of a major push to raise public awareness of the need for the public and private sector to do better when it comes to financially standing up for women and girls. We participated in “Breakthrough: The Women, Faith and Development Summit to End Global Poverty,” held at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The goal of the event was to challenge the U.S. Government and other funders to do more by example. Participating organizations, coalitions, and supporters offered individual commitments to step up efforts related to addressing gender inequality and poverty. As I mentioned last month, our organization committed $10 million to projects benefiting women and children. Overall, more than $1.4 billion was pledged at the conference.
The Enough for All campaign
In offering the CWS commitment at the Breakthrough Summit, I unveiled our Enough for All Campaign. This campaign is designed to marry our ongoing anti-poverty and human rights work -- in such areas as water rights, food security and women's empowerment -- with a new initiative on climate change. Instead of “siloing” all these issues, as often occurs in non-profits, we will work with partners in crafting programs that recognize the interconnections between the issues. In this way, we will strive with our partners to show the centrality of gender equality in all of our efforts.
Over the next few months you will be hearing more about this campaign on our website. Look for a new series of “Enough” educational resources. The first issue will be available soon from our Elkhart, IN, distribution center and on-line.
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