Interview

woman carrying goods
Korean woman carrying goods


1. Why should women pay attention to macro-economic policies like trade, infrastructure and fiscal policies?

I’m not an expert, but I like what experts are saying. The report by Heinrich Boll Stiftung, “Missing Women: the G20, gender equality and global economic governance,” makes a strong case that we have to pay attention because these policies have gender-specific effects and are not gender-neutral.

For example,  “fiscal consolidation,” i.e., reducing government debt, often means cuts in social services—such as day-care centers and social protection measures. These cuts affect women most because women are the ones most responsible for child-care. Loss of day-care could even mean that women have to withdraw from the work force or get a piecework job closer to home. Trade is another example. Women and men’s jobs are not evenly distributed so that trade regimes affect sectors of the economy differently and have gender- specific effects on jobs. In infrastructure planning, building roads and improving public transportation will reduce women’s time burden because they are the beasts of burden for firewood and fodder for animals. These are all reasons for women to jump into mainstream economic discussions.

2. The World Bank has said that gender equality is good economics. Doesn’t this put too much emphasis on the economy and not enough on women?

I think the problem with that phrase is that it is incomplete, not wrong. I would rather say that “gender equality is good governance”—and that’s good for the economy because political and economic trends are linked. Gender equality is good governance because it assures equality in economic decision-making. Good economic policies, in my definition, uphold the principles of shared benefit, inclusiveness, and sustainability—all very much a part of a gender equality approach. More than ever, politicians should remember that women’s votes count. We just have to use that leverage much better.

3. What does violence against women and girls have to do with sustainable development—isn’t that stretching the argument a bit too far?

UN Women has put violence against women and girls at the center of their “transformative” development agenda for good reason. As its report in 2013 notes: “This violence, which causes great physical and psychological harm to women and girls, is a violation of their human rights, constrains their ability to fulfill their true potential and carries great economic costs for them and for society.” Or, as the World Bank has put it so well, violence against women is an extreme form of coercion, a barrier to full participation. If the goal of development is to enlarge and enhance personal freedoms, rather than just achieve economic growth, then ending violence against women and girls is clearly a prerequisite for economic, social or political progress.

4. What do you think is the most significant success we have had since the UN Fourth World Conference on Women?

On the top of my list is the appearance of a new generation of women and men leaders who take gender equality as a given. Women surgeons and astronauts, men who are nurturing and caregivers of the sick and elderly, are redefining a “man’s job.” The younger generation is able to “stand on the shoulders” of women leaders of the 1990s without fighting the old fights. There is a movement in the upper and lower echelons of the women’s movement in both industrialized and agrarian countries. I admire new UN initiatives like My World, which are opening ways for youth to act on local problems. There are many social entrepreneurs who have broken ground in organizing political spaces, such as Womensphere, that bring women entrepreneurs, academics, managers and students together to discuss world problems. We also have more men and boys who support gender equality and understand that they have a key role helping to level out the playing field.

I find hope in this new generation of leaders because they are also focused on saving the planet and challenging the UN to take charge of our global commons while still solving the major issues of their generation: jobs and personal security.

5. What do you think is needed for the sustainable development goals on gender equality and economics? 

If I had to identify one problem with the goals related to economic empowerment, it would be the lack of attention to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and a human rights pathway to achieving those targets. Whenever we focus on targets, we put too much emphasis on the result and not enough on how we get there. We may pay a high price in human rights abuses in order to achieve targets like universal health coverage, safe motherhood, or even food security. The prime example of that was North Korea’s economic recovery after the Korean War that paid a high price in political freedom. Many centrally planned economies also had dramatic reductions in maternal mortality rates while sacrificing women’s equal decision-making. We need to keep our eyes on how social and economic development enlarges human freedoms and choices along the way, not just on getting to the finish line. That is the key to a creative, dynamic, and thus sustainable economy.

Do you have a question for me? Please email MyUN@Soon-Young.com.

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