Panelists at ICRW's "Women: An Emerging Market" had a wide-ranging discussion on women's economic potential and progress. Here are some highlights from their thoughts on a variety of issues, from global development strategies to the Arab Spring:
On women as an emerging market and how much progress they have made over 35 years ...
Anju Malhotra: "When ICRW started 35 years ago, we were trying to document that women had both productive and reproductive roles and that the productive roles are as important as the reproductive roles. And the very fact that it's taken 35 years for us to be having this conversation is disappointing. It's the kind of thing that we thought if we produce the evidence and we show the statistics, then people will understand. The fact that now people are starting to appreciate that women have to be part of the economic force everywhere is a good thing – but it's been a long day coming."
On obstacles for women in international development efforts ...
Nemat Shafik: "I think there are two big roadblocks. One is to solve the problem it takes multiple interventions, so the reason we've made progress on education to be honest is educational enrollment is bums on seats. You build the schools, you get teachers in there ... it's a pretty straightforward development intervention. And it's very donor friendly; you can estimate costs, you can estimate benefits.
"Maternal mortality is a lot more complicated because it's about where the health system works, it's about emergency obstetrics, it's about: is there a road, is there clean water. It's a multiple intervention problem that is much more difficult to solve. I think that's a key reason why we've made much less progress on maternal mortality than we have on education.
"The other issue is where there are deep-seated cultural norms that are very difficult and slow to change. I think
that's a big driver for the lack of political representation and some of those more intractable issues. And it's a big driver of the missing women and the fact that girls are aborted before they're born – those are sort of deep-rooted cultural issues and the second big obstacle."
On how to measure whether foreign assistance is making a difference ...
Gayle Smith: "This is where I give a shout out to USAID and the president of the United States. One of the things that I think we've been able to move very aggressively on in this administration is shifting from evaluating our foreign assistance on the basis of inputs and 'Dear Congress, did we spend the money in a way that is going to ensure that you can keep the budget level up'" – and it's easy to fall into that cycle because foreign aid is not the most popular thing in the budget.
"(USAID) now has a state of the art evaluation policy, something we try to extend across agencies ... This is something that is driven by the president's development policy that he announced last year where facts and evidence are a big piece of it. We will drive policy with evidence of impact. It sounds pretty basic, but it's a different approach that what we're used to ... We are institutionalizing ways of tracking (foreign aid impact)."
Anju Malhotra: "We really appreciate governments now being as careful to measure the bottom line as companies ... There are definitely markers of success at every level that you can measure, and it's equally important to measure that women are advancing economically but not just making more money, having more finance, but also being able to make decisions and have control over their lives, have agency to run things the way that matters to them.
"Part of the divide historically has been with this rights and instrumentalist approach -- economists are only measuring economy part and the gender folks are only measuring empowerment part. You need to bring the two together; they're both essentially important. We're not just talking about economic growth. We are talking about a woman taking charge of her two kids' education or being able to leave an abusive husband or being able to make ends meet."
On women's role in the Arab Spring and hope for their future in a new Middle East ...
Nemat Shafik: "This isn't the first time that women have been involved in revolutions in the Middle East ... But what's a little bit worrying is that if you look now in the post-revolutionary environment, they are not on the committees redrafting the constitution. And they are not in any cabinets. So we're at a very critical moment in the region as to whether these changes will be sustained or not."
Gayle Smith: "We've got to be mindful of what we know about revolutions, including very spontaneous revolutions. You can get this big leap and then the momentum settles, and a lot of institutions remain the same and a lot of cultural norms are still at play. So I think that the expectation that, as remarkable as events in Cairo were, and throughout the Middle East and North Africa, those convulsions alone were not sufficient." What happens now "needs to be a very deliberate effort.
"Remember that underlying Arab Spring has been the demand political freedom. But think about the demands that were also about an end to corruption, about the demand for jobs, about demand for transparency. So I think when you look there at the opening that is created by those revolutions and now the necessity of filling that on the economic front – there's a huge opportunity to target women entrepreneurs and to create that space."
MORE: View this video to hear the full conversation among panelists.