15 September 2011

The Battle of the Sexes!

Duncan Green is having an informal poll on his excellent blog, From Poverty to Power. Readers can choose between videos on girls. The two main options are The Girl Effect video by the Nike Foundation and the second comes from the Commonwealth. This weekend, the World Development Report on gender and inequality will be launched and a greater push will be made on supporting girls.

After posting the two, Green tosses in the parody version of the Girl Effect as a choice. Seen individually, the two will likely result in a strong reaction from the viewer. However, by pairing the two, the viewer is challenged to address the simplicity of each message. The parody is far from perfect, but it is effective in showing that nothing is really said in the first. The idea of supporting girls feels good, it should happen, but what that looks like is not at all a part of the video.

Girls need to be empowered, supported, educated, and a whole series of verbs to reduce inequality. There is no disagreement on that fact. The question is how should it be done.

The microfinance pendulum is starting to swing back from the extreme of focusing on only girls.  As the methodology of the Pitt study that was seen as evidence for the focus has come under fire and more studies show the effectiveness of men growing businesses at a higher rate the debate is getting lively.

Timothy Ogden and Barbara Magnoni hashed out this debate on the Philanthropy Action blog that spilled over from the comments section into its own blog post. Matt Collin picked up on the debate after being struck by how the argument that Ogden is making is the antithesis of the 'Girl Effect' argument. He writes:
Basically, Ogden is arguing that growth trumps redistribution, that it’s more worthwhile to push a family’s income onto a high growth path, letting individual members benefit as best they can through whatever distributional norms currently prevail, rather than change those norms to be more equitable today, but doing little to change the household’s income path. 

This is pretty much the opposite conclusion that proponents of The Girl Effect have reached. It’s also one that’s barely been touched by the new wave of randomized empirics (aside from recent studies on micro-credit/micro-firm investment). Proponents would argue that what evidence we have seen suggests we should continue to err on the side of targeting women – results from studies of cash transfers suggest that women are significantly better at investing in children than men.


We shouldn’t ignore the issue of bargaining power and gender equality in the household, but we need to be clearer about what our priorities are and what trade-offs we are making. Choosing higher income growth over more intrahousehold equality is a trade-off, but it might be a worthwhile one if what we really care about is absolute deprivation.
A shorter version is that women invest in the family and men invest in business. They lift society through social and economic means, respectively. I don't believe that Ogden or Collin are arguing for an either/or approach, but I that the middle might be the best place rather than the extremes.

If we take both sides to be right, they do not have to be mutually exclusive. Targeting men could lead to further inequality and targeting only women could alienate men and lead to only marginal gains. What is clear is that the information available is mixed. So let's do both and remember that clever videos about girls and cows can make an issue far too simple (to be very clear, that applies to both videos).