In this week’s issue, gender equality gets most of the limelight, with the 2018 European Development Days (EDD) (5-6 June), themed ‘Women and Girls at the Forefront of Sustainable Development: protect, empower, invest’; and the G7 summit in Canada (8-9 June), which is about to start. Justin Trudeau has also made gender equality a core focus of the Charlevoix meeting, in spite of his rather gender-insensitive Southern neighbour. The EDD took place in Brussels, so I’ll focus on that event here, even if I only managed to attend some sessions, unfortunately.
I had gone to Brussels with a double game plan: I was already convinced that SDG 5 will be absolutely key in the whole SDG agenda, and this year’s EDD focus thus sounded more than promising to get to know more about it. Second, the overall trends in development & aid to involve the private sector more, and the ever increasing security/development/migration nexus, certainly in EU policy circles, were also going to get some attention, presumably.
Below I just offer some random thoughts and snippets on these two focal points, mostly based on the sessions I attended.
When walking to the venue ‘Tour & Taxis’, a Belgian guy asked me whether “all these posh people were going to ‘this European SDG conference of sorts’ ”. I had to confirm; even I had “not left behind” my fancy jacket, for once. As you know, the EDD are sometimes called ‘The Davos of Development’. But to be honest, entry is far more democratic than for its Swiss counterpart, with over 8000 participants this year, most of whom had to queue for a long time (like me). No helis were spotted either.
Although the #SheisWe campaign, ‘Protect, empower, invest’ (can anybody tell me why these slogans always seem to contain exactly three ingredients?) sometimes feels a tad too much like the greenwashing billboards you see in airports from the likes of Exxon and ENGIE, the whole conference made it crystal clear that gender equality is an absolute must, sooner rather than later I hope, to make this world a fairer place. And that there are so many brave women and girls fighting this fight around the globe, sometimes running horrible risks. One can only admire their courage and, in many cases, unbelievable resilience. Women are the more courageous gender.
As far as the opening plenary was concerned, a few keynote speakers stood out for me. Besides the outspoken Norwegian prime minister, Erna Solberg, and Amina Mohamed (deputy SG of the UN), also mincing no words, Mr. Kagame of course. Kagame gets invited pretty much everywhere these days (including at our Belgian king’s home), as the current chairperson of the African Union. The guy is a mass murderer, by all means, but at the same time, he seems to mean it when he says he’s a feminist. Still, in another session, we heard an African woman say ‘be careful with African leaders pointing to the amount of women in their parliament, as many are token representatives (sisters, wives, … of male politicians), and in parliament with a view on scoring good points in the global development community’. As for Kagame’s murky background (as well as current shady HR track record), with the rise of fascism in Europe, I’m afraid more and more EU leaders would also turn into mass murderers, given ‘the right circumstances’. Still, I find it baffling nobody asks tough questions to Kagame at a venue like the EDD. Says a lot about the current ‘European values’. Speaking of our European leaders, then, it was rather telling that the only time that Antonio Tajani (the current president of the European parliament) got really excited (even angry, I’d say) during his speech was when he talked about the importance of the migration/development nexus, linking it also to the rise of populism. Being an EPP (and Italian) establishment politician, you can understand where this anger, worry and body language came from. In any case, his ‘performance’ made it clear to me that for many EU top politicians nowadays, this “migration management” (a euphemism of sorts) focus in the EU backyard (North-Africa & Sahel) is far more important than human rights, gender equality, and the entire SDG agenda. Sadly, this trend will only get worse, given the new crop of radical-right EU politicians. Chances are “dealing with the root causes” of the migration crisis, at our borders and in our neighbourhood, will turn into some equivalent of the equally euphemistic ‘structural reform’ agenda, within the EU.
When it comes to the private sector & development, I guess my view is hard to change, no matter how much I try to “harness, leverage and catalyze” my brain to think otherwise. In short: let them pay fair wages and fair taxes first, around the globe, and then I’ll be more than happy to see the private sector “work its magic” in Africa and elsewhere. As long as that’s not the case, I would be very reluctant to count on them to let ‘SDG billons become trillions’ (a lie anyway). By way of example: I heard during a morning event on SRHR that “money remains very important, against the backdrop of the global gag rule reinstatement”. Which begs the obvious question, why then not link #SheDecides more explicitly with the fight for global tax justice? The answer is equally obvious: guess #SheDecides would lose quite a few of its current corporate ‘champions’ and ‘disruptive innovators’, then… (as they prefer ‘impact bonds’ and other innovative financial toys so that they can make a profit when ‘doing good’). But trust me, #SheDecides would be even more popular among ordinary tax payers if it teamed up with the tax justice movement.
The fight for gender equality is obviously very complex, and context & culture-sensitive. I find it a pity, however, that virtually none of these gender equality focused High-Level events (the same goes for the G7 summit) try to imagine a new economic system, certainly not in the more powerful circles that do most of the framing. See for example how the G7 is being touted: “Investing in girls and women is a smart investment’; “Trillions can be added to the global economy, if women play identical roles to men in labor markets”, etc. This lack of imagination is a mistake that will cost us (and certainly also women) dearly in the long term. Indeed, it seems likely that the more our leaders continue to argue along these “inclusive” growth lines, instead of trying to propose real alternatives (with a view on real shared prosperity & wellbeing, for example via structural division of labour, properly valuing of care, learning to really live within planetary boundaries, sufficiency economies, etc. ), the more our ruthless system will lead to an ever increasing number of (relative) losers (many of them men), also given current technological trends. We can’t all be “entrepreneurs”… The ‘male loser’ was again sadly missing, at the EDD. If there are too many of these disaffected losers (whose (economic) alienation I share, in many ways), the multilateral system will just implode, via the further rise of right-wing populism, nativism & nationalism, and an increasing number of ‘political accidents’. And without a functional multilateral system, I’m afraid, the long term situation for women will only deteriorate. To avoid such a dire scenario, I’d like to see the ‘empower women’ & ‘gender equality’ movements align a lot more with the movements that try to conceive a new economic system, based on different (non-capitalist) values. (by the way, the similarity with the UHC movement is obvious…) They might not get the ear of powerful G7 & EU leaders, in the short term, but in the longer term it seems the wiser option. Even if I agree with Branko Milanovic that the trends of global capitalism are currently going in the opposite direction. The shrinking space for civil society in many countries, including in the North, makes this battle for a fairer economic system even more difficult. But there really is no alternative. Winnie Byanyima (Oxfam), for one, seems to get that. Hope many of her sisters will follow suit.
Enjoy your reading.
(you find the pdf of the full newsletter here: IHPn473 )