In global development, calls for gender parity only grow louder

Women farmers in Kenya. Photo: Flore de Preneuf / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

In rural farming initiatives in Kenya, in boardrooms in Geneva, in high-level policy discussions in Washington, D.C. — the words “gender parity” are being uttered aloud, written on signs, inked on budget lines and presented as the necessary new normal at a rapidly increasing rate around the world.

All eyes are on Guterres as he appoints several women to top UN posts

Civil society and U.N. member states are observing the new U.N. secretary-general to see if he fulfills his promise of having equal numbers of men and women for senior positions.

In global development, the two words took central stage throughout the past year’s race for U.N. secretary-general, when many hoped the organization would set an example by electing a woman as its leader for the first time. The hope fell flat — but the new SG, António Guterres, has promised an intensified focus on women leadership at the U.N.

The call for gender parity from field office to corner office, meanwhile, grows louder.

Right now, the three World Health Organization frontrunners are being asked tough questions about addressing the gender and geographic disparities at the WHO. The race’s frontrunner, Tedros Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia, said he would “intensify” the full implementation of the WHO’s commitments to gender parity, including achieving a 1.5 percent annual increase in women occupying professional and higher-level categories at the aid agency in the next five years.

Is gender parity a task for the next WHO chief? Devex analysis of the data underscores the deep complexities behind the agency's parity shortfalls.

Read more about the gender parity challenges in WHO

And gender parity was integral in Devex’s recent interview with newly appointed president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, who commented that “while IFAD is doing well regarding gender parity in staffing — I believe 59 percent of staff are women — when you disaggregate the data from the middle management to higher management, the number of women is in deficit.”

Even in the face of recent setbacks, such as U.S. President Donald Trump’s swift reenactment of the “global gag rule,” those in the global development community united to protect gains made in women’s health. Last week’s "She Decides" conference drew 400 delegates, including 20 ministerial delegations, to Brussels to discuss the impact of the reinstated rule and to raise funds to help tackle the shortfall in family planning aid that has been created.

Elsewhere, aid workers are speaking up about rape and sexual violence, pointing to a legal system that fails to protect women and girls in both developing and developed nations. Aid agencies and international nongovernmental organizations are slowly beginning to recognize that sexual harassment, discrimination and assault against female aid workers is a serious problem within the industry — and that perpetrators are often men holding senior positions; several women shared their own stories with Devex in February.

Four female aid workers share their stories of sexual harassment, violence and rape while working on projects abroad, highlighting major issues in the industry and the urgent need for reform.

Read their stories: Sexual assault and harassment in the aid sector

It might be common knowledge that women are an important focus of aid and development programs, but gender experts were for years relegated to the fringes. In recent years, these professionals have become sought after to better target programs and distribute aid most effectively. And gender data, having drawn the attention and funding from the world’s largest foundation and countless INGOs, is finally in high demand.

This past year, and even the past few months, have seen both gains and setbacks for gender parity. To recognize those on the frontlines of positive change, Devex this month is honoring five of the most influential women in our industry with Power with Purpose.

And today, on International Women’s Day, Devex is highlighting content that speaks to the state of women in development, challenging men and women to help forge a better working world by being more gender inclusive and taking actions big and small to drive change for women.

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About the author

  • Rogers kelli cropped

    Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Bangkok, she covers disaster and crisis response, innovation, women’s rights, and development trends throughout Asia. Prior to her current post, she covered leadership, careers, and the USAID implementer community from Washington, D.C. Previously, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.

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