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09 Jul, 2011
By: Sabina Zaccaro

World / Policy: G8: 'Just invest in women'

Investment in the health and the rights of girls and women can help economic recovery, civil society groups are telling G8 leaders. The big issues on the G8 agenda - food security, poverty, climate change and global health - are all connected to gender equality, they say. Many think investment in women is itself a solution. "If we invest in women, many problems will be solved," Sylvia Borren, co- chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) told IPS.

Women have told their stories at hearings held by the gender task force at GCAP. "With the food prices doubling they had to choose which child to feed," Borren said. "The stories we've heard tell us that if you invest in women, economy can stand from the ground. "We know that from microfinance and from many other examples; letting women suffer from the food crisis and the lack of health means not to build the fundamentals of sustainable economy."

The problem is funding. According to the World Bank, the economic crisis and the new rise in food prices could lead to 2.8 million more children dying by 2015 if no concrete action is taken. Sixty billion dollars are needed over the next five years to fight infectious diseases and strengthen health systems in the developing world, the World Bank estimates.

Last year's G8 summit agreed comprehensive recommendations to strengthen health systems particularly, but without allocating funds to that end. "When G8 leaders meet in Italy they should agree to fill this financing gap," 56 women parliamentarians from Asia, Africa, Europe and G8 countries have said in a letter addressed to the G8. "Investing in women's health as part of aid policies has to be considered a priority, as it will give to the poorer countries a better chance to solve the crisis in a prospect of development," they wrote.

Sexual and reproductive diseases clearly represent a huge economic loss to developing economies. They reduce female productivity by 20 percent, the parliamentarians said. "In some cases the incidence in Africa is even more," Cristiana Scoppa of the Italian Association for Women in Development told IPS. "The high turnover due to HIV/AIDS hitting or killing employees is a growing problem for many African businesses; and we don't even know exactly how many women are among those workers. Productivity of these companies has been reduced by 25 percent, while health assistance expenses for their workers grow. Now they are turning to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and to trade unions to find solutions," she said.

Dedicated funding and policies to protect young girls and their rights could also help women who are looking for ways to deal with difficult working conditions. "We have spoken to a group of women living in the Ganga basin, Bangladesh, an area severely hit by natural disasters," Beatrice Costa, women's policy officer for the anti-poverty organisaton ActionAid International told IPS. "We asked them how they are adapting their work to the changing climate. "In the areas where adaptation to climate change is already a reality, women are not acting as passive victims," Costa said. "Like the women farmers who are now starting to replace rice with bananas, because these are more resistant to floods or drought."

According to a report by ActionAid published earlier this year, women in Southern Asia are perfectly aware of the neede to "diversify and adapt their cultivation methods, but they also know they lack the capacity to do that." To improve their management and adaptation strategies they need specific programmes and dedicated funds, Costa said. In order to be politically and financially effective, the G8 should at least produce the 60 billion dollars required, and come up with a comprehensive work plan with clear objectives, timelines and resources, she said. "Of course it's about money, and the money is there," said Sylvia Borren. "Not even a third of the 30 billion dollars requested at the UN high level meeting on the food crisis one year ago has been forthcoming, when 20,000 billion dollars have gone to the corporate bailout and the banks...the amount of difference is too big."

According to Borren, the leaders have made the wrong choices. "They have chosen to desperately bail out an economic system that we all agree is broken, they are not listening to the Stiglitz commission (of experts of the UN General Assembly on reform of the international monetary and financial system), which has provided us with 400 pages of good solutions...they are not listening to the trade unions, the ILO, the civil society."