World Bank youth leaders: Gender is not a side issue

Women with their children in Malawi. At the Young Professionals Summit 2014 held in Brussels, World Bank youth leaders tell why gender is not a side issue in the fight against poverty. Photo by: Scott Gregory / CC BY-ND

Women are key in the fight against poverty, as they are the ones who truly understand what it’s like to be “excluded from the space of growth.”

That’s according to Andrea Azevedo, a young former U.N. Women employee who worked for the implementation of the interagency program to promote gender and ethnic-racial equality in Brazil and now works as an independent monitoring and evaluation consultant.

When they are not capable of accessing the wealth that has been generated, when they are excluded, she says, Brazilian women react by "putting the government against the wall and always pushing forward."

Chikondi Precious Chabvuta, women and land rights officer for ActionAid in Malawi, said that since women have found themselves underrepresented for such a long time, they can themselves be the driving force in tackling the issues that affect them and ensure that those issues are included in the political agenda.

These are the opinions of two of the seven youth leaders from Africa and Latin America selected by the World Bank to participate in the Young Professionals Summit 2014 held late last month in Brussels. The annual event hosted by the German Marshall Fund enables the future generation of leaders to meet with senior opinion formers and decision-makers for three days of discussion and debate.

At the World Bank office in Brussels, Devex met with two of the youth leaders to discuss the challenges they face in their advocacy work related to gender and women’s empowerment issues.

'Gender is not a side issue'

According to Azevedo, the main challenge nowadays is to make people understand that gender is not a side issue, and more specifically that gender is not a separate issue of the agenda.

“When you talk about gender, you can put it in the context of any subject such as infrastructure or economic policies. People usually think that ... you can’t talk gender in those contexts, but those issues affect women as well,” she said.

Azevedo added: “The main challenge is to make visible the connections between those issues, not only the hardcore issues but also the 'soft' issues like culture and social development, and also make people aware that gender is everywhere: Each and every aspect of the policy discussion affects women's lives and must be taken into account when you are designing policies for gender equality.”

In a country like Brazil, she explained, integrating gender in the agenda and making people aware of the fact that it must be considered when developing policies is the "trickiest aspect of the work.” In this sense, generating evidence to make clear that gender can make a difference is crucial.

“In my country there are still some difficulties in generating disaggregated data and making real gender analysis, so that people can see the relation between gender and development more clearly,” she said.

Azevedo gave the example of the national budget of the Brazilian government, which she said isn’t transparent concerning the amount of money devoted to women's issues.

Chabvuta, meanwhile, highlighted that in Malawi another challenge is that gender and women empowerment aren’t prioritized, since many communities believe that there are more pressing issues to deal with when it comes to poverty, especially in the fields of agriculture and environment.

Going in the right direction

Although challenges remain, the two youth leaders are optimistic about the future of women in their respective countries, which they say “are going in the right direction.”

“We have been advancing in small steps in the last few years in the work of making policy makers in different areas of the government more aware of gender issues,” said Azevedo.

“When we started discussing gender in 2003 in Brazil, we had something like 10 or 15 ministers working on the national plan to promote gender in Brazil. In the last edition of the plan, in 2012-2013, we had already 33 ministers working together. This is very significant in terms of recognizing the issue within the government,” she stressed.

In Malawi meanwhile, as explained by Chabvuta, the tide is shifting in a positive direction, thanks to an increased number of rural women being empowered in the past 10 years. This is due in part to huge awareness campaigns and advocacy work, but also to the legal frameworks that are slowly beginning to recognize women at all levels. Having women in leadership positions has also played a role in bringing women’s issues to the top table as a priority in the fight against poverty.

But what are the solutions as the search for a follow up framework to the Millennium Development Goals gathers pace?

“The [U.N.-led] post-2015 agenda does not talk about gender, but about inequality, and I think we sent a very strong message in terms of fighting inequality, when we work in a country such as Brazil, one of the most unequal countries in the world, [of] getting these discussions to spread into all the areas of social development and fight against poverty,” Azevedo asserted. “In the Brazilian experience, gender and race are [inter-]connected. You can’t discuss one without the other, especially when you talk about poverty. In Brazil, poverty has a face and it’s a woman’s face and it has a color, which is black. Black women are the poorest among the poor.”

Each country, she said, “needs to identify the poorest, generate evidences and target specifically those groups which are excluded.”

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She Builds is a month-long conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, Creative Associates, JBS International as well as the Millennium Challenge Corp., the United Nations Office for Project Services and the U.K. Department for International Development.

About the author

  • Eva Donelli

    As a correspondent based in Brussels, Eva Donelli covers EU development policy issues and actors, from the EU institutions to the international NGO community. Eva was previously at the United Nations Regional Information Center for Western Europe and in the European Parliament's press office. As a freelance reporter, she has contributed to Italian and international magazines covering a wide range of issues, including EU affairs, development policy, social protection and nuclear energy. She speaks fluent English, French and Spanish in addition to her native Italian.