Maternity Leave & Development: New Policy Brief


As a follow-up to our recent World Development article on the development benefits of maternity leave, Katy Fallon, Alissa Mazar and myself were asked to contribute a short policy brief based on the research for the American Sociological Association’s Sociology of Development Section‘s Sociological Insights for Development Policy series.

The brief has been published and circulated to section members, but is not yet available on the section website, so I am making it available here:

Download (PDF, 177KB)

The Development Benefits of Maternity Leave

Maternity leave policies have been adopted in a majority of countries globally, including most low- and middle-income countries. Written with Kathleen M. Fallon (Stony Brook University) and Alissa Mazar (McGill University), my latest article examines the effects of maternity leave on development in these countries. We look specifically at maternity leave’s influence on fertility and infant/child mortality rates. Our findings show that maternity leaves can lead to improved infant/child mortality and fertility rates, but that these effects are moderated by the national income and education levels in a country.

“The Development Benefits of Maternity Leave” is available now in World Development, or a preprint version can be read at SocArxiv.

See the World Development site here:

Foreign Aid & Shared Organizational Ties

The advance copy of my latest article has been published by Social Forces. Co-authored with Wes Longhofer from Emory University, this study examines the influence of countries’ shared organizational memberships in international NGOs and inter-governmental organizations on whether and how much foreign aid flows between a donor and recipient country over time.  We find that countries with more shared ties have a higher likelihood of maintaining aid relationships, and that in the lowest-income countries more shared ties are associated  with more aid.

Click below to access the article on the Social Forces site:



New IDRC Appointments: DFAIT Takeover?

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) announced yesterday that several vacant seats on its near empty Board of Governors were filled.  The appointment of four new members and the reappointment of a former Conservative cabinet minister bring the Board back to quorum for the time being and should enable the IDRC to resume any normal functioning that might have been hindered by the recent short-term vacancies.

This is good news.  I had speculated in this space last month about what could be inferred from the government’s indifference to the vacancies on the IDRC Board.  Now, with the recent appointments, a clearer picture may be emerging about IDRC’s future; a picture where the IDRC becomes more closely aligned with Canadian foreign policy.

The exceedingly brief news item about the Board appointments on the IDRC website reads:

The Governor in Council has made four new appointments to IDRC’s Board of Governors: Sandra Fountain Smith of Ottawa; Gordon Houlden of Edmonton, Alberta; Nadir Patel of Ottawa; and Cindy Termorshuizen, of Ottawa. The Hon. Monte Solberg of Calgary, Alberta has been reappointed for a second term.

Given the lack of any detailed information, and the incorrect identification of one Governor (it should read Sarah Fountain Smith), in the quote above, what can we speculate about the new governors?  A short bout of internet sleuthing and a request to the IDRC for bios on the new Governors reveals two interesting commonalities.

First, all four new appointees are current or former diplomats/officials with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT).  This, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, each of the new DFAIT-affiliated governors have at least some experience representing Canadian interests in the developing world, with former postings in Chile, China, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Yet, experience representing Canada’s diplomatic and trade interests abroad – even in the developing world – does not necessarily equip you with expert knowledge about development.  In light of the recent CIDA-DFAIT merger, it is difficult not to perceive this as the Government’s attempt to bring IDRC more fully under the soon-to-be DFATD umbrella where development aims take a back seat to Canadian self-interest.  It is notably not development assistance officials being appointed to represent DFATD on the IDRC Board; instead, it is those from the trade and diplomacy side of the merger – a clear indication of who is now in the driver seat for Canadian development policy.

Second, none of the new appointees or the reappointed Hon. Monte Solberg, possess anything remotely approaching an advanced background in research, let alone in development research (though Houlden does hold a position at the University of Alberta as Director of their China Institute based on his long experience working on China while in the foreign service).  This is not to say that they are not eminent people qualified in their respective areas of expertise, but as the majority of a board to guide a crown corporation with the mandate of funding innovative research for international development?  It is a stretch to suggest that these appointees are the best suited in Canada to be making decisions on funding development research.

Looking back at my earlier commentary on the IDRC, it turns out that the government has opted to fill the board vacancies in keeping with its new approach to development. By appointing individuals whose primary experience is either bureaucratic or diplomatic, rather than those with development research expertise, the Government is sending a clear signal about where the IDRC fits in its approach to aid.  The IDRC Board has included individuals without research backgrounds in the past, but not to the same scale, and certainly not with so many direct ties to DFAIT. These appointments speak directly to the current government’s desire to align Canadian aid funding with its diplomatic and trade interests.

Am I offside in suggesting that these appointments do a disservice to the mandate of a unique Canadian development organization?  Possibly.  And yet, the importance of having Governors guiding the IDRC with specific backgrounds in development and research has clearly been anticipated before this point.  For instance, in the organizational profile for the IDRC on the Governor in Council Appointments website, it clearly stipulates that “At least eight governors must have experience in the field of international development or experience or training in the natural or social sciences or technology.”  In keeping with this criterion, in the past, the IDRC Board has been composed of former university presidents, deans, and other researchers or development experts. Indeed, until recently, the outgoing President of CIDA was an appointee to the IDRC Board.  To see a shift away from valuing this sort of development or research expertise is unsettling.

Taxpayers will not be up in arms or marching in the streets over these appointments, but they should be concerned that the management of a Crown Corporation with a nearly $300 million budget has been handed over to people arguably only peripheral to that corporation’s core business.

Think of it like this: Would the government appoint four former or current CIDA officials to the Board of Governors of the Business Development Bank of Canada to steer its mandate to fund entrepreneurship in Canada? Surely not.

Even though CIDA provides funding for similar purposes around the world, it would be unlikely that any Canadian government would feel those skills would translate to governing the BDC.  Why then is it acceptable to turn over arguably the world’s top development research funding agency to Canadian diplomats and a blatantly partisan former Conservative cabinet minister? It is not.

Perhaps the government will fill the remaining vacancies on the IDRC Board of Governors with development experts and those with research expertise in areas of relevance to the Centre’s mandate. The development researchers in Canada and abroad can only hope. If not, I suspect that we will begin to see the erosion of IDRC’s development research mandate and the redirection of its efforts to shore up Canada’s new approach to make its aid and foreign policy interests one in the same.

This post originally appeared on the Ottawa Citizen Aid & Development Blog on 2013/06/19.

Electing Women to Combat Child Mortality?

The global development community has long asked what can be done to improve child health globally.  Canadian children are fortunate, for the most part, to avoid many of the devastating effects of poverty and inequality on their health and survival.  Children in many other parts of the world are not so lucky.  It is not surprising, then, that the recent report of the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda would enumerate several potential objectives that target child mortality as a key development issue going forward.

What are the possible solutions to the plague of child mortality?  With any such complex issue, the answers are equally complex.  There is no single cause of mortality, and nor should we expect there to be a single solution.  This is not to say that certain factors do not contribute to infant and child mortality more than others.  Indeed, a study highlighted recently in this blog finds that a large share of child mortality can be linked to issues of malnutrition.  Governments worldwide are working to focus on the nutrition issue, with the G8 placing significant attention on the subject at its recent pre-summit Nutrition for Growth meetings this past weekend.  In this context, Canada has been recognized as a leading donor in the fight against malnutrition.

Sadly, even with concerted effort on malnutrition, infant and child mortality will not be eliminated.  We must collectively address other means of improving child health.  What of other solutions to the scourge of child mortality?  Efforts like Grand Challenges Canada’s Saving Lives at Birth initiative have been lauded for sparking technical and policy-based innovation on this issue.

One interesting connection that merits more attention is the link between women’s position in society and child health. The argument is that the better educated and more empowered women are, the more their children, and therefore society will benefit.  The High-Level Panel took note of this in their report too, making the empowerment of women and girls the second of their proposed illustrative goals and targets for the post-2015 era.  Indeed, one of their targets is to eliminate discrimination against women in “political, economic, and public life” (p. 30):

We must work to fulfill the promise of women’s equal access to, and full participation in, decision-making, and end discrimination on every front. This must happen in governments, companies and in civil society. In countries where women’s interests are strongly represented, laws have been passed to secure land rights, tackle violence against women and improve health care and employment. Yet women currently occupy less than 20 percent of parliamentary seats worldwide.

The message is simple. Women who are safe, healthy, educated, and fully empowered to realize their potential transform their families, their communities, their economies and their societies. We must create the conditions so they can do so. (p.35)

Viewing women’s political power as not just a measure of equality, but a tool to achieve better development outcomes, the argument is as follows. If more women were in government our societies would be: more peaceful; less corrupt; better run; healthier; more just.  These are but a few of the reasons offered to support a push towards gender equality in politics in countries around the world. This argument rests on a widely held notion that women – despite their vast diversity as a group – share some inherent preferences and capacity for more altruistic, caring, and positive leadership.

In this vein, the United Nations has championed the idea that achieving a ‘critical mass’ of women in political power will yield more beneficial decisions.  This approach instrumentalizes women’s political power beyond simply a preference for equality.  The expectation is that more women in positions of power will be better for the development of a society.  Following the logic of this argument and returning to the issue of child mortality, we might expect that states with more women in power would experience improved child health.

It was exactly this relationship that my co-authors, Kathleen Fallon and Giovani Burgos, and I addressed in a study published in the journal Social Forces late in 2012:  Is a critical mass of women in political power associated with improved child health in developing countries?

We used statistical analysis to examine 102 developing countries over the period from 1980 through 2005 and found that countries which exceeded a 20% threshold of women’s representation in parliaments had higher levels of immunization and increased rates of infant and child survival five years later than those countries with no women represented in parliaments.  Likewise, we found that it was not necessary to have achieved critical mass, and that incremental increases in women’s representation were also associated with improved health and survival measures.  More interestingly, when we accounted for the wealth of nations, our results suggested that the impact of women’s political power was greatest in the poorest countries.  As countries increased their national income, the effects of women’s political power on child health were reduced.

Our study highlights the collateral benefits of encouraging women’s political power and participation.  Beyond simply promoting women’s increased political power for the sake of gender equality (a laudable goal in its own right), we found that the UN is correct in its push to use increased women’s empowerment as a tool for better development.

It is encouraging to see this relationship acknowledged as a central piece of the HLP’s post-2015 illustrative goals and targets.  Going forward, complex challenges like child health and mortality will undoubtedly be tackled through concerted global efforts around malnutrition and health systems innovations, but it is important that the global community think more broadly about child health and consider the influence of other factors like women’s empowerment as an additional avenue to improving child health.  Combatting child mortality by electing more women may not appear as simple as other health and nutrition interventions, but the UN is definitely onto something.

What can we look forward to in terms of promoting women’s political representation in developing countries? More electoral quotas for women’s representation? Greater acceptance of women in political leadership? Campaigns to promote awareness of the developmental benefits of women in politics? All of these are possibilities, especially given that some of the countries with the highest levels of women’s parliamentary representation currently are from the Global South.  Electing more women will not solve child mortality on its own, but as part of a broader development agenda the evidence suggests it will definitely help.

This post originally appeared on the Ottawa Citizen’s Aid & Development blog on 2013/06/11.