Can corporations and the private sector, which have become powerful agents of international development in recent years, become a force of empowerment for women? Can we make them work for women in a climate of free market economies? What is the wider impact of the philanthropy of these development agents, on women’s communities, on women’s rights agenda?
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development agreed to by member states in the post 2015 Development Summit that took place in New York in September 2015 acknowledges throughout that achieving women’s empowerment, gender equality and human rights are prerequisites for sustainable development.
Unfortunately, despite its vision to transform our world, the post 2015 Development Agenda is doing little to address vast inequalities and discrimination embedded in decision making structures and financial systems. It does not deliver a new model for development based on the wellbeing of all instead of profitability, on solidarity instead of competition, on transparency and accountability instead of inequality.
It has also served to increase dramatically the power of the private sector and of multinational corporations as agents in the international development field.
Why is it so? Because we are living in an era of globalization. What does globalization mean? A new process of economic integration which is fuelled by neoliberal ideals claiming that an unregulated market economy maximizes economic efficiency and growth.
Critics of globalization point out that it has created the widest gap between the very rich and the very poor in history. Apart from inequality, globalization means attacks on welfare, weakening of trade unions, tax breaks for the rich and corporations, privatization and deregulation. IAW is interested in the effects of globalization on women who make up a disproportionate percentage of the global poor.
The feminist antidote for women’s poverty and subjection in this new form of capitalism is microcredit. The program of small bank loans to poor women in the global south. Corporations, the private sector, international organizations promote these kinds of policies. However, while women running small businesses in the global south have no choice but to pay local taxes, corporations in many countries enjoy generous tax breaks.
For corporations, the private sector and development stakeholders, women’s empowerment through the use of microcredit and other interventions will lift not only women but their children and families out of poverty and into to the middle class. So individual empowerment has been substituted for the collective empowerment that only comes with state led development as the key to eliminating poverty in the third world.
We are deeply concerned about the private sector’s growing influence in the international gender and development field and its impact on reshaping girls’ empowerment agendas in pro-market and not human rights terms. In other words, we do not accept that girls’ agendas do not address issues such as labour rights or their rights to social services.
Governments around the world must set a clear vision for connecting the increasing role of the private sector and business in development with accountability and agreed standards for business practices aligned with human rights, thus creating an enabling environment for women’s empowerment. Women’s NGOs should also try to hold the private sector and corporations accountable for the respect of women’s human rights.
The question to be answered is how to hold the corporate sector to account and empower women and girls on human rights. We have to discuss innovative opportunities for advocacy and partnership to advance women’s economic and social rights in a global climate of free market economies and to make corporations work for the empowerment of women and girls in a meaningful way.