A Case for Gender Equality on this Day and Every Other

Written by Carolyn Miles

Today, on International Day of the Girl, the world celebrates the many things a girl can be – a doctor, an artist, a judge. Lean in. Dream big. Those are the empowering messages we all tell the girls in our lives.

But despite remarkable progress in some quarters, gender inequality and disempowerment still persist and are a root cause of many barriers to sustainable development around the world. Discrimination against girls critically impacts children’s ability to survive, learn, and live a life free from violence.

Without a strong start in life, a girl’s future is likely to be determined for her. Gender inequality leaves entire regions behind: according to the United Nations, Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses US $95 billion per year due to gender inequality. As a universal human right and a means to overcoming poverty and discrimination, gender equality must remain at the center of our U.S. foreign policy and development assistance.

The journey of nations to meet their own development needs depends on breaking down the barriers to enhance powerful contributions of women and girls. To improve development outcomes everywhere, the U.S. government must invest in gender analysis to look at the differences between progress for girls and boys. Only then can we identify and work to transform the root causes of gender inequality, including addressing discriminatory social norms and institutions, as well as advocating for and fostering legislation and policies that promote gender equality.

Child marriage is a good example of a harmful practice that affects not only girls but whole societies.  Around 1 in 5 women and girls in the world today were married as children – 1 in 3 of those were married before the age of 15. To a policymaker seeking to put an end to this, legal interventions may seem like the answer. But while they’re a key piece of the puzzle, new analysis by Save the Children shows that a startling 51 million child marriages could be averted by achieving universal secondary education for girls.1  This is what putting gender equality at the center of all areas of foreign policy and international assistance looks like: Reducing the harmful ways in which gender inequality combines with other factors to make it so much harder for girls to reach their potential.

The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) need robust funding and staffing to continue making critical investments in peace and security, economic development, education, nutrition, healthcare, and more. But if gender equality and women’s and girl’s empowerment aren’t at the center of all of these, the results just won’t be what we all want for children.

USAID has found that when 10 percent more girls go to school, a nation’s GDP increases, on average, by 3 percent. That’s something they wouldn’t have seen without a gender equality approach. Without sex- and age-disaggregated data, they wouldn’t even know that of the 25 million children currently out of primary school around the world, 15 million are girls.

Without gender analysis, they would overlook many of the reasons: boys’ education is often prioritized, girls face an increased risk of violence between home and school and from their teachers, and girls who marry before they reach adulthood almost always abandon their formal education.

Salam, pictured here with her young son Mesfin, was able to leave the abusive marriage she was forced to enter at age 13. Save the Children’s “Keep it Real Program” supported her return to school, where she rose to the top of her class.

But what about the other 134 million girls who will be married as children between 2018 and 2030 if the world doesn’t act? They too can become teachers, journalists, and entrepreneurs, but both research and experience tell us they’re more likely to become mothers, before their bodies are ready for it, or experience domestic violence. An investment in gender equality and girls’ empowerment yields tremendous results – not only in the individual lives of women and girls, but for the future we all share.

That’s why we at Save the Children have put gender equality at the top of our agenda.  On this International Day of the Girl, tell the U.S. government to do the same.

Share this post, check out our many others on Twitter under #SheCanBe, #EndChildMarriage, and #DayOfTheGirl, or join us in taking action!

 

1. Working Together to End Child Marriage 

5 HARMFUL LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF FAMILY DETENTION ON CHILDREN

5 Harmful Long-Term Effects of Family Detention on Children

This post originally posted by Save the Children Action Network.

Written by Mira Tignor

It is difficult to imagine hearing the panicked cries of children being separated from their families, but this is the reality happening at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The separation of migrant families at the border has been the subject of intense media scrutiny and outrage. Even if the issue of family separation were to be resolved, children are still negatively impacted by indefinite family detention, with their well-being at risk.

Below are 5 harmful long-term effects of family detention on children:

  1. Harms family relationships and stability – Family separation can permanently damage familial relationships, even after reunification. Many children don’t understand why the separation is happening, and feel that their parent has abandoned them. The American Academy of Pediatrics explains that “detention itself undermines parental authority and capacity to respond to their children’s needs,” and results in fraught parent-child relationships.
  2. Damages psycho-social development and well-being – Detention involves experiencing a loss of control, isolation from the outside world and detachment from community and culture. These experiences are harmful for people of all ages, but have a higher impact on children because their brains are still developing. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics said that detention affects children’s brain chemistry in a way that is comparable to child abuse. Research has shown much higher rates of depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicidal thoughts in children who have been detained.
  3. Worsened school performance – Detained children often experience impaired or delayed cognitive development, which affects concentration and other abilities that are crucial to academic success. This makes keeping up with the age-appropriate reading and math level especially difficult for detained children. Even once their period of detention is over, their learning capabilities are already behind those of their peers.
  4. Poor sleep quality – The lack of bedding for children sleeping on concrete floors, coupled with the mental stress they are under, often results in sleeping problems such as insomnia, sleepwalking, bedwetting and night terrors. Poor sleep quality, in turn, can have detrimental effects on physical and mental health.
  5. Risk of exploitation and abuse – Children are at higher risk of being exploited or abused while in detention centers. There have been reports of privately run detention centers paying extremely low wages to detainees for their labor, as well as experiences of physical and sexual abuse from guards and other officers. Some detention centers have been reported to use severe disciplinary measures to control children’s behavior, including drugging children without consent.

In order to help children address these consequences and prevent more children from having to experience them, we must contact our members of Congress and urge them to put the best interests of children first.

YOUR SUPPORT CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE.

ABC News “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Interviews Carolyn Miles on the U.S. Border Crisis

On Sunday, June 24, CEO and Save the Children President & CEO Carolyn Miles and International Rescue Committee President David Miliband were guests on ABC News “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” On the heels of World Refugee Day, their discussion focused on the treatment of immigrant families at the southern border and the worldwide refugee crisis.

Carolyn Miles spoke to the trauma that separating a child from his or her family inflicts. Her words supported the grave concern Save the Children has for the treatment and well-being of children from Mexico and Central American nations who are in the custody of the United States government after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Top of mind is also the Presidential Executive Order which Save the Children believes simply replaces family separation with indefinite family detention. ‘The trauma that happens to children is very real,” Carolyn Miles explained. “It’s psychological. It’s physical. It’s lasting. You see that what happens to kids when they’re separating from their families in these kind of crisis is something that stays with them.”

Carolyn Miles also shared a personal story of a boy she met while travelling in El Salvador. Working closely with local communities and organizations in El Salvador, Save the Children designs Sponsorship programs to help vulnerable children from early childhood to early adulthood — giving them a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm along the way.

Watch the full segment, visit ABC News “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” and sign Save the Children’s petition telling President Trump that we have ZERO TOLERANCE for policies that do not put children’s interests first.

U.S. Government Investments That Give Everyone a Fair Chance

By Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children

Tax season is over this year in the United States, but efforts on taxes are only gaining speed and attention in many developing nations.

USAID Administrator Mark Green has highlighted this as key to helping countries on their “Journey to Self-Reliance.” USAID aims to invest more aid to help developing countries reform their tax policy and administration – referred to as domestic resource mobilization (DRM) – as a way to finance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to gradually transition countries so that they no longer need our development assistance, and they remain strong partners to our country.

But the success of US investments in DRM ultimately depend upon trust – specifically, the trust that people in a country have in their government. Will governments fairly collect taxes and will they spend tax revenues in ways that are equitable and help reduce poverty? In this regard, paying taxes is at the heart of the citizen-state compact. When citizens pay taxes they expect to receive quality health and education services, security, and basic infrastructure from their government in return. Citizens want their governments to be accountable for how their tax money is spent.

To guide USAID in assisting partner governments to foster this citizen-state compact and mobilize domestic public revenues for equitable and sustainable development, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) created “Principles of Public Sector Domestic Resource Mobilization in Developing Countries.” The principles are as follows:

• Ensure DRM investments are pro-poor, sensitive to gender, and support inclusive economic growth. More tax funding will not magically reduce poverty;

• Align with country priorities. Support an overall country plan to strengthen its DRM systems, and to invest funds in the development priorities of partner countries. For all international assistance – country ownership is key;

• Take a holistic approach to DRM, including by building a transparent and inclusive process for setting national DRM policies, strengthening judicial and audit institutions, and reducing tax evasion and avoidance;

• Engage citizens and other development stakeholders in DRM activities. DRM programs should be highly participatory and democratic by helping to finance broader engagement of citizens and other development stakeholders in DRM activities; and

• Transparently assess progress. The US government should support accountability of tax systems to their own citizens working with partner governments to develop benchmarks for monitoring and evaluating equitable DRM and sharing them publically in their countries.

Save the Children knows firsthand from our work in communities in places like Kenya how difficult it can be for civil society and citizens to engage in dialogue with their governments around tax policy. Such discussions are often technical and not transparent; civil society organizations often lack the resources and capacity to engage. But tax reform will not lead to more accountable governance without civil society and citizens at the table; so it’s vital that aid for DRM support not only the government’s activities, but also support civil society’s ability to engage in the process.

MFAN has created these principles not only to ensure that the US government’s DRM strategy is a catalyst for inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction, but to ensure that it also includes the voices of vulnerable and marginalized populations so that reform reduces inequality and improves governance.

As experts have noted, DRM that produces meaningful improvements for marginalized and vulnerable populations is unlikely to occur without their voices being included. Donor nations like the United States can play an important role to ensure that these voices are integrated into national DRM dialogue and that equity and fairness become the centerpiece of tax policy and administration reforms.

Citizen Voices in Tax Reform: The Need for Evidence from the Developing World

Written by Andrew Wainer, Director of Policy Research at Save the Children

Global momentum on tax and development is escalating this year with the February Global Conference of the Platform for Collaboration on Tax, discussions on tax policy to reduce inequality at the World Bank Spring Meetings in April, and the upcoming tax capacity building conference hosted by Sweden.

These dialogues often emphasize the role of governments and multilateral institutions in harnessing tax systems to finance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While governments play a central role in taxation, Save the Children is focusing on the role of citizens in shaping their own tax systems in the developing world, specifically through our work with civil society at the sub-national level in Kenya.

Traditionally, donor countries haven’t prioritized investments in civil society. As we’ve revealed in a previous postonly 3% ($6 million) of the total $191 million in DRM support provided by all donors in 2015 was channeled directly to civil society or citizen groups.

This is much less than the 12% ($21 billion) of the total $174 billion in foreign assistance that was disbursed to local civil society or NGOs across all sectors. And it is even lower compared to the percentage of foreign assistance channeled to citizens and civil society in other large development sectors including:

  • Basic education (16%)
  • Basic health (21%)
  • Government and Civil Society (23%)

Expert Consensus on Citizen Engagement

At the conceptual level, there is broad expert agreement on the importance of mobilizing political will to make domestic resource mobilization (DRM) inclusive and accountable. Privileged interests are unlikely to change through a purely technocratic approach to DRM.

As Maya Forstater of the Center for Global Development states in the Tax and Development: New Frontiers of Research and Action brief, “The main enabler [to increasing DRM] is political commitment strong enough to overcome vested interests among taxpayers, politicians, and tax administrators themselves.”

That’s where citizen engagement can play a key role – supported by donors when and where it’s appropriate.

In the journal Public Administration and Development, economist Odd-Helge Fjeldstad states, “Donors should complement the traditional ‘technical’ approach to tax reform with measures that encourage constructive engagement between governments and citizens over tax issues.”

This isn’t always reflected in DRM technical assistance.

As Fjeldstad states, “Although donors and tax practitioners seem to acknowledge the importance of these issues, they have yet to be translated into a clear-cut governance-focused tax reform agenda in practice.”

This is partly due to the lack of empirical research on the impact of civil society on DRM. But while this research base is nascent, there are examples of citizen engagement being a driving force behind effective DRM.

School books and crayons are given to children at the start of the school year, Oct. 3, 2017 in Assuit, Egypt
School books and crayons are given to children at the start of the school year, Oct. 3, 2017 in Assuit, Egypt

Cases from the field

Chile has one of the most effective tax systems in Latin America, due in part to the broad societal engagement that occurred during its transition from dictatorship to democracy during the 1990s.

In the report, Taxation and State Building: Towards a Governance Focused Tax Reform Agenda, Wilson Prichard states that while this in part due to technocratic reform, “Many dramatic improvements in the Chilean tax system can be traced to…when representatives from across the political spectrum came together [to establish]…an inclusive fiscal pact.”

There are also examples in Africa of how citizen engagement played a decisive role in tax policy.

In Ghana during the mid-1990s, a government proposal to introduce a value added tax (VAT) without public consultation was met by massive public protest and, “The government was forced to quickly repeal the tax…The protests were sufficiently large and unexpected to fundamentally shake government confidence, leading it to significantly expand the inclusiveness of its governing style.” Prichard states that the protests, “Succeeded in bringing together political elites, businesses and small taxpayers in making shared demands on government.”

Citizens and civil society can also enhance tax administration in smaller, less dramatic ways, for example by collaborating with revenue authorities to collect taxes. In Guinea, market traders’ associations’ helped to monitor and enforce payment of market taxes in return for government investments in improved market facilities. This community monitoring approach, “contributed to dramatic improvements in both revenue yields and public service delivery.”

In spite of these examples that societal engagement enhances DRM efforts, more evidence is needed.
Fortunately, the role of civil society in DRM is generating increasing dialogue among analysts and advocates. In Stockholm, tax for development discussions will include a focus on the role that civil society plays in tax capacity building.

For our part, as Save the Children launches its tax policy citizen engagement project in Kenya, we aim to be both a consumer and producer of evidence on how citizens can shape DRM in the developing world to better serve the needs of societies’ most vulnerable citizens.

Gender Equality Data Gaps

A Leap in Gender Equality Begins with Better Data

By George Ingram and Nora O’Connell | Photo credit: Victoria Zegler

While the movement for global gender equality is growing – including prominent placement at the recent World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings – major gaps remain that, if addressed, could unleash significant progress. One of the first gaps that United States foreign assistance agencies should tackle is the lack of uniformity on the gender equality data they collect and use.

Our institutions – the Brookings Institution and Save the Children – recently teamed up to host a roundtable with current and former U.S. government (USG) officials, private sector, academic, and non-profit experts to examine the data gaps in gender programming and investments.

We agreed more rigor is needed in calculating U.S. government investments in gender equality globally, and more importantly, determining what these investments are achieving and teaching us about what works. This will help to shift U.S. aid from outputs and earmarks to impact and move us closer to genuine equality.

According to the most comprehensive data on foreign assistance for gender equality – the OECD’s gender equality policy marker – during 2014/2015 about 21 percent of all USG foreign assistance included some focus on gender equality. This puts it behind the average of most donors from highly developed nations who dedicated an average of 35 percent of their foreign assistance to gender equality.

The OECD’s gender equality policy marker is the only comprehensive measure of the extent to which the USG dedicates its foreign assistance to gender equality. And while this marker was a major step forward in measuring how much foreign assistance goes to gender equality programming by donor and sector, major gaps remain — including information about what these investments are achieving.

Various USG agencies have made strong commitments to improving gender data and are making progress on collecting and reporting their impacts and challenges – a continued focus on advancing gender data is vital.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges to USG collection of high-quality gender data is the lack of uniformity of approach among USG foreign assistance agencies. USAID, the State Department, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and others are all collecting gender data on their programs and financing, but there is little consistency across the data. This makes it impossible to ascertain the full extent to which the United States is supporting gender equality around the world and whether those programs are truly making a difference at eliminating the disparities between women and men, girls and boys.

If we invested in the collection of more detailed data, USG could also improve its programming on gender equality. When the USG agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals, we committed to collecting more sex-and age-disaggregated data on project outcomes. As an example, this will not only allow us to compare the under-5 nutritional outcomes of boys versus girls and the employment rates in fisheries of men versus women; it will also enable us to see if women’s employment is translating into greater decision-making power at the household level or in the public sphere.

From the roundtable discussion, we identified three actions we must undertake to address gender data gaps:

1) Leverage New Momentum for Aid Reform

The gender data gap is ultimately an aid effectiveness issue. With reform momentum gaining at USAID and the State Department, we can demonstrate the benefits of quality gender data in terms of boosting development outcomes. Ultimately, there is a cost associated with improving data collection and we need to foster political will in order to back this up and garner the support we need to make better gender data a reality.

2) Listen to Voices on the Ground

The USG should finance more citizen-generated data as well as engage diverse local stakeholders in monitoring, evaluation, and learning related to USG gender equality programs. Data drives so much of what people working on the ground do and it’s important to incorporate their voices into this conversation. Fully engaging with actors on the ground will ensure that the USG is strategically targeting data collection and bringing all the efforts together to maximize impact. Additionally, by connecting with people at the local level, we can learn how quality gender data contributes to women’s empowerment and better development outcomes, enhancing the case for further data investment.

3) Establish a Cohesive Gender Data Reform Agenda

As noted above, gender experts are saying we need fewer data silos. Currently gender data is fragmented across USG agencies and sectors. We need a comprehensive data approach so data can be efficiently collected and compared across USG agencies. Furthermore, we need an agreed-upon set of program and funding targets that are measurable so we can know whether or not we are accomplishing what we set out to do.

By working to improve and standardize data collection, analysis, and use across all sectors, the U.S. government can be a leader in catalyzing a quantum leap towards gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls around the world.

Learn more about Save the Children’s Global Advocacy at https://www.savethechildren.org/us/what-we-do/global-programs/global-advocacy.

 

This post was originally published on the Brookings Institution’s Future Development blog.

It’s Global Tax Season: What Role for Citizens?

Written by Andrew Wainer, Director of Policy Research at Save the Children

Even as domestic tax reform is in the political limelight, there is growing attention to taxation in the developing world and the role of citizens in shaping tax policy.

This month Save the Children launched an initiative supporting citizen action in Kenya on domestic resource mobilization (DRM) – as taxation is referred to in the development community. The project is directed at the Kenyan national and county-level tax systems.

Working with local citizens, Save the Children is advocating for fair and transparent tax collection with the ultimate aim of supporting the Kenyan government’s ability to finance basic services for its most vulnerable communities.

DRM assistance typically comes in the form of technical support and capacity building provided by bilateral and multilateral donors directly to developing country revenue authorities or ministries of finance. This assistance, which often involves upgrading information technology and increasing tax officials’ professional competency, is critical.

But citizen engagement in DRM is also crucial to ensuring that tax policy is fair and reflects the popular will, not just the aims of special interests. Integrating the voices of regular citizens into DRM discussions strengthens citizens’ relationship with their government. Paying and spending tax resources is at the heart of the relationship between citizens and the state.

And engaging local citizens in DRM isn’t just good for transparency, it can also result in more effective DRM assistance, because taxation is inherently political.

As the World Bank states, “Even after the formal tax structure and tax administration are reformed, levels of tax collection can remain unchanged unless there is sustained political will….The political dimension is therefore of paramount importance in any kind of tax and revenue reform.”

While DRM is the most sustainable way to finance the Sustainable Development Goals, it must address both the administrative and the policy shortcomings that undermine the fairness of national and local tax systems. To address equity and fairness, DRM assistance should be inclusive of a range of citizen voices – not just technocratic experts – so that the concerns of vulnerable and marginalized groups are integrated into tax policy.

Supporting Citizen Engagement in DRM

In order to support citizen voices in developing world tax reform, we need better data on the quantity and quality of donor DRM assistance.

To this end, the OECD, through its Creditor Reporting System (CRS) foreign assistance database, created a sub-code for DRM assistance to measure its disbursement by bilateral and multilateral donors. This is a big step forward for measuring DRM assistance, and while the data includes significant limitations, it is now possible to ascertain the contours of donor DRM assistance to the developing world, including assistance that supports greater engagement of local citizens in tax conversations.

But in spite of the new data, the extent to which donors support DRM through empowering local citizen voices has not been extensively analyzed. Using the new DRM sub-code, we can begin to measure donors’ support for local citizens as a percentage of their overall DRM support.

The CRS includes a “channel” variable describing how foreign assistance is disseminated. Using the channel variable, it is possible to disaggregate donor DRM funding by using the “NGO and civil society” channel as a – useful, but imprecise – proxy for DRM assistance to local citizens. For the sake of context, the channel variable includes the following eight options for how donors channel foreign assistance to developing nations:

  • Public sector
  • NGO and civil society
  • Public private partnership
  • Multilateral organizations
  • Teaching institutions
  • Private sector institutions
  • Other
  • Not reported

Lack of Donor Emphasis on DRM Citizen Engagement

Overall, direct support to citizens within the DRM sub-code is quite low compared to other development sectors. In 2015, of the total $191 million in DRM assistance provided by all donors and reported through the CRS, only 3% ($6 million) was channeled to local civil society or NGOs. 

Contrast this with the level of direct support to citizens for all sectors: In 2015, 12% ($21 billion of the total $174 billion) of all foreign assistance was disbursed to local civil society or NGOs – four times greater than the percentage for DRM assistance alone.

US DRM Assistance

The United States was the second largest bilateral DRM donor overall in 2015 with $37 million in disbursements, but like the sector overall, the data indicates that the US could improve in terms of balancing its DRM portfolio with increased citizen engagement activities.

In 2015 the OECD did not record the United States providing any DRM assistance directly to local citizens or NGOs. This statistic is incomplete due to imprecise OECD capture of US DRM projects.  A more detailed investigation of the US DRM portfolio indicates that it has multiple project components dedicated to citizen engagement that do not appear in the OECD data. These projects include:

  • Work with local civil society in Uganda to educate citizens about the importance of local taxation,
  • Support for civic oversight and participation in municipal budgeting in Haiti, and
  • Funding of local civil society organizations to ensure transparency in the use of revenues from extractive operations the in the Philippines

Still, it’s clear that there is room for improvement. USAID Administrator Mark Green has emphasized the importance of US assistance for DRM to help nations finance their own development needs. But to ensure that DRM is inclusive and accountable – and sustainable – the US government and other bilateral and multilateral donors should do more to ensure that DRM assistance supports local citizens’ ability to join tax discussions and advocate for fair and equitable revenue collection.

 

Advocating to Give Every Last Girl a Future

Co-written by Carolyn  Miles & Maryam Ahmed

As the head of Save the Children, one of the best parts of my job is getting to meet amazing children, in the toughest places around the world, who are working to make it a better place.

maryam-1Maryam Ahmed one of these children. She is a Save the Children Girl Champion, 17 years old and born in Kano State (North West Nigeria) where she is a child right’s activist and a member of the Abuja Children’s parliament. Maryam is an advocate for girls’ education, ending child marriage, and combatting gender-based violence. I am thrilled to have Maryam write this blog with me, in honor of International Day of the Girl.

This week, we are together in Washington, D.C, meeting with influential figures on Capitol Hill and the U.S. Administration to discuss the importance of investing in girls and asking U.S. policymakers to continue leading on issues such as tackling the barriers girls face in getting an education.

Girls are too often barred from the opportunity to learn – limiting their lives and risking their futures. I, Maryam, am proud to be a girl from Northern Nigeria who is still in school. This is not something you see very often. In my community, only 4 percent of girls get to finish secondary school. While this number may sound staggering, unfortunately it’s not uncommon around the world. Globally, girls are 3 times more likely to be out of school than boys, putting them at risk for child marriage, pregnancy, and trafficking.

Without education, the world’s girls will be left behind. That’s why today and every day, we’re recognizing that girls are worth more – worth educating and maryam-2empowering. And that is why we both are dedicated to advocating for gender equality and girls’ rights. Back at home in Nigeria, for example, there are laws and policies in place to prohibit child marriage, but customary norms and practices continue to violate our rights and no proper action is taken to address this. So I promote the rights and the well-being of girls while providing advice on how everyday citizens can help be a part of the solution.

I also wrote and recorded a song called “I believe,” to elevate the voice of children, especially girls. The song is a reminder that investing in adolescent girls is not only the right decision, but the smart decision and also to inspire girls to be anything they want to be.

Investing in girls yields amazing results, and education and empowerment is our best bet for keeping them on the path to success. By advocating against child marriage and inequality, we at Save the Children aim to influence U.S. leaders, Nigeria’s leaders — and the world’s leaders — to help girls get the opportunities that every last child deserves. Together, we’ll empower every last girl to realize her dreams. We invite you to join us at savethechildren.org/girls and to share this blog with the hashtag #ShesWorthMore.

To Reach the World’s Most Excluded Children, Data is Fundamental

nora-oconnellNora O’Connell

Associate Vice President of Public Policy & Advocacy at Save the Children U.S.

December 12, 2016

As it’s sometimes presented, the concept of foreign assistance data transparency provokes drowsiness, but accurate and timely data can be of grave importance, particularly in humanitarian emergencies and with marginalized groups.

The importance of data was demonstrated during the 2014-2015 West Africa Ebola outbreak, where data provided at the right place and the right time helped save lives.  When doctors first started treating patients, the lack of electronic medical records hindered patient care.

To address the lack of data, Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders adapted an open-source platform to confront the outbreak by providing timely information on everything from the direction the outbreak was moving to which doctors were due for payment.

Recently, as part of the speakers’ panel for the release of a Friends of Publish What You Fund (PWYF) report, I emphasized that, like the example above, data can have real – and sometimes life and death – consequences. I know this through my own work with Save the Children and the communities that we engage around the world. At Save the Children we see the role of data in development as central for two primary goals:

  • To better inform development and humanitarian decision making, and
  • To strengthen accountability, particularly for marginalized groups including girls and refugees

Better and timelier development data has acquired an increased impetus globally as a crucial tool to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and actionable data is foundational for Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign aimed at the world’s most excluded children, including migrants and refugees, ethnic and religious minorities, and girls. To make the case for these children and to create a strategy to realize this goal, we need disaggregated data.

As the PWYF “How Can Data Revolutionize Development” report states, U.S. foreign assistance broadly has made important gains in aid transparency, but continued progress – from both U.S. foreign assistance agencies and development implementers – is required to make timely, accurate, and user-friendly data central pillars of U.S. government development policy and practice.

As the world’s largest bilateral donor, the U.S.’ commitment to generating and disseminating development data would help set an international benchmark for the global development community. On that count, while the U.S. has made progress, we still have a way to go to become a global leader. To achieve enhanced U.S. data transparency, the report cites three areas of focus:

  • Implement the U.S. commitment to publish humanitarian aid data
  • Invest in gender equality through publication of robust gender data
  • Improve U.S. aid transparency for stronger U.S. global development

The focus on gender disaggregated data is particularly important for Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign, which includes girls as one of the largest excluded groups of children globally.

As the PWYF report states, “Whether seeking to increase equality, economic growth, peace and security or improve outcomes for children and families, supporting women and girls are considered one of the best investments for a country’s future.” But data relevant to gender equity is often nonexistent. The report continues, “Although gender-specific and disaggregated data are critical tools…the state of this data is woefully underdeveloped and difficult to use.”

The story of data to help identify and target vulnerable groups is mixed. As Brookings Institution Senior Fellow George Ingram stated at the event, “Transparency moved from a little discussed concept to being the norm in what we want to achieve.” But to sustain progress, U.S. development agencies and implementers should continue to make data transparency a priority – particularly in the world’s most fragile nations and among the most vulnerable and excluded groups.

The Sustainable Development Goals After One Year – Already In Need Of Course Correction

by Michael Klosson, Vice President for Policy and Humanitarian Response, Save the Children

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post 

In the weeks leading up to last year’s United Nations General Assembly, world leaders and activists were united in their optimism about launching a new set of global goals that would set a bold direction to 2030. One year on how are we doing? In short, not well enough. These inspirational goals require us all to stretch, but far too many are hunkered down in business as usual.

While celebrating the successes of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we knew that we could do better. MDG achievements were impressive, but generally limited to those groups who were easier to reach. MDG progress was based in averages and masked inequalities. Less privileged groups did not see the same improvements, excluded from progress by their gender, ethnicity, caste, and place of birth, among other factors. Countries in conflict also saw few improvements. According to the World Bank in 2011, “No low-income fragile or conflict-affected country has yet achieved a single MDG.”

Recognizing the need for bolder action, the UN orchestrated one of the most participatory projects in its history to define 17 ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to move everyone, both in developing and developed countries alike, toward a better future by 2030. Embedded in this new framework was the transformational commitment that “no one would be left behind.”

One year on, overall progress toward the 17 goals in support of reaching everyone is already off track. Research from the Overseas Development Institute suggests that only three of the goals, including ending extreme poverty, are on a path to success with some additional effort, while nine goals, including many affecting children such as reducing maternal mortality, ending hunger, ending child marriage and boosting secondary school completion, are progressing much too slowly and require a major step change. Five goals, including reducing income inequality, are moving in the wrong direction. The Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators has yet to approve a set of global indicators to measure progress on the SDGs, and the promise to disaggregate data by gender, age and ethnic group – so critical to the goals’ transformational impact — does not appear very high on countries’ priority lists.

After their strong launch a year ago, world leaders have missed opportunities to throw SDG implementation into high gear. The World Humanitarian Summit, the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), the Financing for Development Forum, and the recent G20 Summit were big opportunities for pushing the SDG agenda forward, yet failed so far to trigger concrete action accelerating progress. As one UN representative said during the HLPF in July, “Leave no one behind isn’t something that will happen by everyone just repeating that phrase again and again at the UN.” The SDGs need to be taken more seriously if the world is to be successful in delivering on these goals.

While most countries have been slow to begin implementing the goals, there is good news: some have confronted the challenge and begun to design plans for achieving success. Twenty-two countries agreed to participate in national reviews at the High Level Political Forum in July. Colombia and Sierra Leone are examples of countries that have already worked to orient national institutions toward meeting the SDG goals. In addition, both countries have made monitoring and improving data a priority. These examples underscore the fact that with political will and determined effort, progress is achievable.

Meanwhile, Germany has worked to position itself as a leader in the process of achieving the SDGs. Not only did the German government note its need to address goals that were relevant to the country’s highly developed context, but it has also taken steps to address the goals in its distribution of international aid and by wielding its influence in the European Union.

In recognition of the fact that inclusivity is at the heart of the SDGs and indispensable to achieving them, such as ending preventable child deaths or ensuring all children learn, Save the Children launched in April the Every Last Child Campaign. This campaign shines a spotlight on groups of children excluded from progress to date because of who they are or where they were born. In every country where we are present, Save the Children is working to galvanize the necessary political will, resources and innovative programs and policies that will accelerate progress and bring “leave no one behind” to life. Our campaign recognizes that the SDGs will not be achieved without ending both poverty, but also discrimination against excluded groups of children. We set out three categories of initiatives – fair finance, equal treatment and accountability – which could turbocharge SDG implementation by overcoming barriers of exclusion.

The SDGs could be transformational but with 14 years still to go, they have yet to generate sufficient urgency. There are opportunities on the horizon to bring forward the magnitude of those goals so leaders feel the weight of their responsibilities to act now to fulfill them. We see the September 19 high level meeting at the United Nations on refugees and migration and President Obama’s September 20 summit on refugees as two such moments to tackle an unprecedented crisis of forcible displacement involving 65 million people, half of whom are children. This crisis has to be resolved if SDG implementation is to get on track. We have called on leaders to commit to provide access to quality education for all 3.6 million refugee children out of school in the near future, in keeping with the SDGs. Making these calls are in the context of defining and agreeing to national interim “stepping stone” targets, such as child survival or learning, will generate urgency by showing the trajectory required in 2020 that is necessary to reach the 2030 goal.

As new leaders take office in coming months in the U.S., at the UN, and in other countries, we will work to promote increased political attention to SDG implementation, improved data and accountability, institutional changes, and a priority focus on excluded groups. The ambitious commitment “to leave no one behind” cannot wait.