The theme of gender and development raises a number of key issues concerning the status of women in developing countries. I have had the opportunity to reflect on this since arriving at the Directorate-General of Global Affairs, Development and Partnerships, and in particular, during the discussions on this topic held at the OECD on 21 January 2013.
The issues are well known : the fight for gender equality, actual observance of rights linked to sexual and reproductive health, elimination of all forms of violence, etc. Since the great United Nations conferences of the 1990s – in Cairo in 1994 and Beijing in 1995 – collective awareness has increased internationally but the situation remains deeply troubling in many countries. All fields are affected : the political sphere, the employment market, education, health, sexuality, maternity, and so on. There is a particularly scandalous level of inequality when it comes to access to education : currently, 33 million girls are not enrolled in school. This is all the more worrying as the widespread rise of conservatism is likely to erode rights that are already fragile.
And that is not all. We still frequently ignore the fact that gender-related issues play a critical role in the overall development of countries in the South. While women do not always reap the benefits of development, discrimination against women, in itself, often hinders development.
Are people aware, for example, that if women had equal access to productive resources, they would produce 20-30% more, enough to save 100-150 million people worldwide from hunger ? Or that an additional year of primary school raises a girl’s future earnings by 10-20% ? A girl who receives schooling gets married later and has fewer children ; her children are healthier and, in turn, better educated. Thus, making sure that girls enrol and remain in school feeds a virtuous cycle resulting in greater social progress.
These issues should therefore be considered not only in terms of rights but also in terms of effectiveness, as mentioned in the strategy that we adopted a few months ago.
Re-focusing the development debate on gender is a real challenge and above all, a long-term undertaking, which is part of a broader culture of change, and requires everybody to take action. We are working on it at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for gender equality features heavily on the international agenda for the next two years, which includes, for example, the 20th anniversary of the Cairo and Beijing conferences.
I will certainly have the opportunity to revisit the subject.