Women’s Economic Empowerment: Words and Deeds

The role of Supply Chain Management for Opportunity and Empowerment

Perhaps, the Deeds should be written deeds, since we seem to have been big on words and small on deeds? Ban-Ki Moon, UN Secretary-General signed off on the following statement with regard to the post 2015 Sustainable Development Agenda:

“This is the century of women:
We will not realise our full potential if half of humanity continues to be held back”

Yes, progress has been made, definitely decent progress since 18 December 1979 and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), let us acknowledge what has been done and then look at the challenges facing women, particularly, and note the obstructions for all young people and for the aging populations in certain areas of the World where social protection remains weak and economic opportunity to escape poverty is something where factors beyond the control of the poor are major hurdles.

With the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, it is interesting to note the number of the first sixteen can be addressed through the empowerment of women. Cross-reference this with the seventeenth, Partnership for the Goals, and we have a new level of dialogue. Are the SDGs constructed primarily for those already with voice? SDG 1, no poverty, 2 zero hunger, 3 good health and wellbeing, and 6 clean water and sanitation are basic goals we have all committed to practical work toward achieving. SDG 5 and 10, gender equality and reduced inequalities seem awfully similar; particularly when looking at why the need for 16 goals with 169 targets. SDG 8 decent work and economic growth is something where policy is necessary but surely member states deliver (and opinions of how to deliver are as varied as the number of states signed up to the SDGs)? The underlying point being made is could all these goals be rolled into fewer outcomes where linkages are apparent and realism expressed?

There are those pressing for cash transfers to grow from the present 6% of total humanitarian aid to a far higher percentage and absolute figure. It is argued1 as the nature of crises changes then the manner of responding must also change. This tenet can flow further saying the probability of drastically reducing the aid industry from the present supply chains and skilling up people within communities, however defined, will have a profound impact both on the response and on how communities, let us call them markets since this is what they are, build resilience thence development.

It is suggested, as has been posited before, the practical transfer of skills and power of process will address the majority of the SDGs when done with a gender lens.

The underlying issue remains one of poverty of people and resource poor places. Resources covers a breadth of points and reflects the issues women face from provision of basic services for themselves and their families through to being able to earn a living in an increasingly commercialised World where the role of government has often retreated. Social protection issues remain prominent for the delivery of tangible benefits to and for women. Of the one billion, this being one person in every six on the planet, who continue to live under the absolute poverty line of US$1 a day, 60%, 600,000, are women2. Women who will, in the main, be directly responsible for children thus increasing the number of people impacted directly, daily, by absolute poverty.

Research is showing how the economic empowerment of women has shown investing in women has a higher return, both direct economic and non-economic, than investing in men. This can be hypothesised as reflective of the responsibilities and commitment of women.

DFID’s definition of economic empowerment is outlined as:

“a process that increases people’s access to and control over economic resources and opportunities including jobs, financial services, property and other productive assets (from which one can generate an income), skills development and market information”. DFID (2012)

Some would say this is slightly narrow given the caveat ‘from which one can generate an income’. Here the argument is made for this to be broadened slightly to:-

….control over economic resources and opportunities, skills and information allowing improved living standards.

The need to look at basic service provision and capability to influence primary infrastructure inhibiting the development of economic opportunities is overpowering.

Directly, women find a continued inadequacy of provision, and a drain on household income, when children, particularly, fall ill they, mothers and care-givers, suffer accordingly. The capability to address health improvements through promotive health provision is a long held desire among health professionals noting how sustainable gains made in good health, hence improved livelihoods, have been founded on quality public health – promotive health rather than the costly and under resourced curative health provision where women suffer real paucity of service provision. The underlying issues are the provision of quality training and support to women health practitioners; be they fully skilled or partially skilled, and then being able to support them with the necessary provisions for the delivery of services. Public health requires wider skills and, as with numerous capital inputs projects, the management of the supply chain raises broader issues with regard to accountability from the procurement of supplies and services through to the recurring needs required to maintain and sustain improvements. Yes to efficient curative provision (and there is a great deal of room for improvement3)

Major challenges remain in terms of infrastructure-facilitating women’s enterprise. Fitting with promotive health, the (seemingly simple and basic rights) provision of sanitary facilities in a market for women marks a profound improvement for women being able to market produce they are able to grow or procure through earlier sections of a value chain. Recent commentary in Kenya has postulated the last decade of infrastructure investment has not benefited micro, small and medium sized business where help is required if the engines of growth are to not stall due to lack of lubrication of the right kind. Women, particularly, have been left aside as gender questions are left aside when major infrastructure investment is underway.

Infrastructure aside, there is vast amounts of work directly with women. Not wishing to demean the vast amounts of work on women’s literacy, in terms of reading and noting financial and business literacy, improvements to microfinance for women, work on representation in policy and monitoring and evaluation forums, the contention remains practical engagement on supply chain, within value and market chains, can significantly impact on women’s ability to step up and claim their rights.

The United Nations Security Council, UNSC, adopted the landmark Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security recognising war impacts women differently and reaffirmed the need to increase women’s role in decision making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution. The UNSC subsequently adopted 7, seven, additional resolutions on women, peace and security4 – what has been the results and impact of these resolutions? The contention must be they have not sponsored the kind of practical engagement required to lift women, and children, into safety and out of poverty.

Key areas of work have shown interventions to be very positive; but not always aware of what Cahn and Liu5 delineate as the Care Economy. The research found and formalised the altruism: Women have limited time to devote to training not delivering income, time or control of resources in the immediate instance. Where people, care givers particularly, are living on less than US$1 a day, then primary consideration is for a social protection provision allowing people to focus on skills uplifting knowing their families will be provided for in the immediate time.

Developments acknowledging the limited time of women have been more successful. Given other demands on their time, the need to generate returns on time invested and flexible in the manner skills are built; respecting the need to continue earning a daily living. Khan, 2014, showed the positive elements in Pakistan’s “Lady Health worker” programme referenced in The World Survey on the Role of Women in Development 2014. Seeking to provide essential health care, the project trained up 100,000 female community health workers over a 15month period. The women then worked from home as independent enterprises attending to health needs in their community, storing basic medicines and creating their own (community) markets. The scheme enabled women to be employed full time and paid for their services. But the question goes unasked – how and who managed the supply chain to and for the women? How were their skills to be kept relevant? Here we return to the recurring issues of maintenance, being able to ensure relevance and effectiveness of any enterprise where market forces drive quality of service. Far too often we remain guilty of quality set-piece projects delivering results but not always contributing longer term to the outcomes of empowerment through resilient, if not fully sustainable, self-reliance. This requires investigation along the supply chain in terms of the women’s dynamics and the manner public and private work for and against each other when incentives and motivations may not always coalesce.

Tied with capability of women being able to exploit opportunities is the need for them to also be able to exercise their personal duties of care toward children. It remains a fact of life, the duty of care falls on women and remains the priority instinct for women as they seek to balance family care with livelihood development which, when done well, feeds back in as an enabler for duty of care toward family.

Possibly the answers may be in cooperative movement where developments have picked up again with regard to focused cooperative development in terms of supply or demand side networking and cooperation as well as financial cooperatives – the so-called SACCOs (Savings and Credit Cooperatives). A critical ingredient, one exploited along supply chains, is the isolation of individuals and small communities; usually with an inability to access information to the same level as those further along (in terms of added value) the chain. Cooperation, cooperatives, offers opportunity for women to network, gain knowledge and experience of managing within a political environment additional to the practical side of influencing supply chain dynamics6.

ICT, mobile telecommunications and financial services technology, smart phones (and now cost effective phones with as much power as a smart phone but without the frills) are changing the manner women are able to participate and challenge the people who set themselves as gatekeepers, middle men, on supply and value addition chains. To an extent, the ICT speed of evolution has created opportunity for younger people; if they have the necessary skills to be able to exploit such opportunities. Thus we start to see further segmentation of the rather bland global targets set. You do not win customers simply by saying we sell to person, it is a specific type of person with data disaggregated by sex, age, income, where they live, what job or work they do and…….. and yet the aid and development industry continues to struggle with the realization of the primacy of data and its distillation and dissemination into information to inform specific decisions and subsequent actions

Melinda Gates wrote on her Medium blog –

‘The hard reality is that in too many areas, data doesn’t exist. What’s more – even where it does exist, it’s often sexist’

Melinda goes on to highlight issues in global health where blind spots remain – basic information about women and girls particularly. The Gates Foundation is investing in data across sub-Saharan Africa (US$80million over the next 3 years). The Gates Foundation is also painfully aware, possibly well informed from the quality of people in Bill Gates’ Microsoft who understand customers must see benefits, there must be delivery once data is generated. Logically, we return to supply chains:-)

  • Let us stop saying beneficiary and call people, women particularly, customers. Then, perhaps, we will change the manner we act with them and for them.
  • Supply of the tools to generate data in the first place.
    • Issues remain with regard to who owns data, who has skills to analyze data and how information generated is then employed to challenge the status quo of vested interests
  • Capability to act on the information the data generated must seek to address; the needs of specific customers within supply and value chains
  • Access to common infrastructure facilitating, if not fully allowing, disadvantaged customers to exercise their own power of choice
  • Ownership of infrastructure granting people the confidence to exercise power of choice
  • Further development of mutual support through cooperatives
  • Set up of social protection floors through supply chain developments; ‘privatized’ basic services delivery for women by women

1 https://www.odi.org/publications/9876-cash-transfers-humanitarian-vouchers-aid-emergencies

2 http://www.enterprise-development.org/wp-content/uploads/WEESynthesisSept15.pdf

3 http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/crown-agents-partner-zone/health-supply-chain-development – a piece from Crown Agents who deliver commercially with an ethical way of working.

4 UNSC 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013), 2122 (2013) and 2242 (2015)

5 Women and Rural LivelihoodTraining: A Case Study from Papua New Guinea Cahn, M and Liu, M – Vol 16 No1 Rural Livelihoods and Agriculture – March 2008

6 http://www.ilo.org/public/english/employment/ent/coop/africa/download/women_day_coop.pdf