The political support for investing in women’s economic empowerment (WEE) has never been higher. Especially in light of the disparate impacts from COVID-19 on women and girls, there has been a loud chorus of voices on the need to invest in WEE. Most recently, for example, the US announced its U.S. Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security which puts WEE at the centre of its work.
The critical question, though, is whether the political rhetoric is matched by effective, catalytic investments that are significantly advancing women and girls’ equality and giving them the meaningful ability to participate in, and benefit from, economic opportunities and prosperity?
For the last two years, our team has been tracking funding to WEE as part of our Women’s Economic Empowerment; Building evidence for better investment initiative. We set out to produce granular new evidence on international and national funding for WEE, women’s financial inclusion and women’s empowerment collectives at a country level.
Through this initiative, we worked collaboratively with our fifty-five partners and global advisory members and an international team of research and advocacy experts. Uniting this diverse group of stakeholders was a shared desire for a new approach to tracking funding that was holistic and illustrated the numerous and intersecting dimensions of WEE, including unpaid care work. Together, we piloted this work in Kenya, Nigeria and Bangladesh generating new insights into the ways that funders invest in WEE. As a result, we now have a replicable step by step approach to tracking funding that can be applied in other country contexts and used to hold governments accountable.
We also wanted to understand the state of transparency for WEE funding, including the barriers to accessible information and the potential solutions to unlocking this valuable data. We launched our final report, Improving Funding Transparency for Women’s Economic Empowerment last month which details these insights and our recommendations for donors to improve reporting and publication.
As we close out this two-year effort, we wanted to reflect on some of the main transparency concerns encountered and debated during this project. Many of these were discussed with donors and civil society organisations at the roundtable launch of our final report:
1. Impact and results data is critical and urgent
Through all the consultations and engagements in the last two years, the question most often asked was ‘what is the impact of this funding?’ We know from this initiative, as well as our Aid Transparency Index, that there is significant underreporting of impact and results data. This makes it almost impossible to understand project level impact and to identify catalytic investments.
The demand for this data to be reported to open data sources was underscored in our discussions with diverse stakeholders. From our roundtable discussion, it was clear that funders are thinking through how they can better account for impact in the way that they publicly report their data. Many funders make their instruments for measuring gender impact publicly available and report on impact through annual reports. But systematic project level results and impact data rarely exist. For funders, one of the main barriers to reporting impact at a project level is the limits on their internal reporting systems. Both USAID and Global Affairs Canada are currently having internal discussions on how to rethink their systems with greater transparency in mind, although such changes will take time. While the ideal may be to have open data sources serve as a one stop shop for impact data, one step that funders can take now is to start to publish what they have. And stakeholders need to use their collective voice to insist this valuable data be gathered, evaluated, and published.
2. Improve the tracking of gender financing
The OECD-DAC Gender Equality Policy Marker is a key tool for tracking most funders’ intended financial support for gender equality and women’s empowerment. But some funders are questioning whether this is the best measure. Our report surfaced several issues with the application of the OECD gender marker across open data sources: OECD-DAC Creditor Reporting System and the IATI Standard, including inconsistent application, the need for more timely information, and the limitations of the marker to capture actual funding for gender.
The roundtable surfaced some concerns and ideas that are worthy of more consideration. One was the concern around different interpretations by funders of the marker leading to over or under self-reporting. Could the OECD, for example conduct an internal review of the gender marker as they do with other sectors markers? During the discussion, USAID suggested that they are even questioning if the OECD gender marker is the best measure to track the financing of their gender investments. There were additional reflections on the need to revisit the gender marker with a more current lens — for example, one that considers the Generation Equality Forum commitments, the gaps in current reporting around areas such as women and girl’s care work, and gender just climate solutions.
3. Private finance in the WEE ecosystem is growing but transparency is lacking
Our work tracked both grant and non-grant (loans, guarantees, equity) funding from bilateral and multilateral institutions, development finance institutions (DFIs) and philanthropic organisations. Tracking these investments was challenging, especially for non-grant funded gender projects. Generally, even when project information was published, there was insufficient information to assess why or how these projects contributed to gender or WEE outcomes. With private finance playing an increasingly important role in financing gender equality initiatives, reversing this trend is critical.
Of special interest is the growing movement for DFIs and private investors to make commitments to gender equality investments, including through the 2X Challenge. The headline numbers for these investments are impressive. But questions exist about the actual investments and more importantly about the impact of these investments. Based on our experience assessing the transparency of DFIs and our current WEE research, added transparency is essential. We have more to say about this in this blog.
The bottom line
If funders are serious about making catalytic investments in WEE, it is time to get serious about publishing detailed project level information. What is the funding for? What groups of women and girls are to benefit? What is the strategy and the intended outcome? What, importantly, is the actual impact? What approaches actually work? What approaches don’t? We need to ensure we are not repeating underperforming investments but are channelling our scarce resources where they are most beneficial.
Transparency will give us the building blocks to do just that.