A large group of students, faculty, and staff gathered on Monday, February 22nd for a discussion around the recently launched Human Development Report, published by the United Nations Development Programme. The report, which this year focused on the intersection of work and human development, was presented by lead author Selim Jahan.
Mr. Jahan highlighted several basic messages of the report. The first, that “work” is broader than simply “jobs,” allows for the contributions men and women make in unpaid, volunteer, and creative roles that enhance human capabilities and opportunities. This message tied directly into the concern that there is significant gender imbalance between paid and unpaid work, with women worldwide forming the majority of the unpaid workforce. The world of work, however, is rapidly changing, the report notes, and the sustainable work goals outlined in the report complement the UN’s sustainable development goals. Finally, Mr. Jahan mentioned the need for strategic options and an action agenda to promote human development through work.
Following Mr. Jahan’s presentation of the 2015 report, several distinguished panelists added their thoughts and perspectives to the discussion. Professor Steve Radelet, Director of the Global Human Development Program, talked about the role technology is playing and will continue to play in advancing work initiatives. He pointed to the irony of digital technology’s rapid rise throughout the world, despite the fact that many people still lack adequate technological infrastructure, such as paved roads and electricity. Good governance, he proposed, will give the unemployed a voice in their own future.
Professor Radelet’s comments were followed by those of Dr. Cheryl Gray, the director of evaluation and oversight at the Inter-American Development Bank. A seasoned evaluator, Dr. Gray turned her critical eye to the report, highlighting its strengths and pointing out some areas of improvement. Her main concerns were the lack of mention of how migration would affect the work debate, and the report’s over-emphasis on the public sector as a reliable development partner.
Finally, Dr. Patricia Morris, the president of Women Thrive Worldwide, rounded out the panel with a focus on how to get work to work for women. Women provide most of the world’s food and they care for the poor and elderly in far greater numbers than men; how can we ensure that work itself promotes gender equality? The discussion, she remarked, should not be about “how to fit women into the market system, but rather, how to adapt the market system to women. There is a difference between economic participation and economic empowerment. Programs must be designed for women,” but not to the exclusion of men.
The resulting discussion between the scholars, and the brief question-and-answer session, revolved mostly around these issues of gender balance and the promotion of women’s empowerment through work.
The panel discussion was a joint collaboration between the United Nations Development Programme, the Master of Science in Foreign Service Program, and Georgetown University’s Global Human Development Program.