In this issue of Criterion Connections, Erin Puglia, Project Manager of the Power of Policy Program at the Criterion Institute, speaks with Amy Haddad, a Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Specialist and the Chair of Criterion’s Power of Policy Advisory Committee, about systems of power, opportunities for influence in the time of COVID-19, revolutionary reframes about gender-based violence, and what gives her hope.

Amy Haddad

Amy, thank you for joining us. To start off, can you please share a little bit about yourself and your journey thus far – what you have worked on, what you’re passionate about, and what brought you to your work with Criterion?

I’ve been working on gender equality since high school when I campaigned to introduce boy’s trousers into the girl’s uniform at my school – and since then, everything I’ve done, I’ve done through a gender lens. I started working in international development 14-15 years ago and had a range of different roles across that time including in aid effectiveness, managing big programs, and in education. But everything I did was, again, through a gender lens. Even when I didn’t necessarily have gender in my title, I was always looking at whatever work I was doing for ways to progress gender equality.

For example, while I was working on aid effectiveness, I helped introduce gender criteria to a new annual aid performance process so that we can monitor Australian Aid contributions to gender outcomes. I was really proud to be a part of that.

Then, in 2014, I was posted to our mission at the UN – negotiating the SDGs and various other bits and pieces – and was the Gender Lead for Australia in these and other negotiations. The team I managed at that time covered development humanitarian response and human rights, and a lot of intersecting gender issues there as well. That was very fun – I worked with many countries, in a lot of interesting negotiations – some controversial – and saw how different dynamics played out. After that, I became head of the Australian Gender Equality branch for the whole of what is now the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), working on gender through the lens of development, foreign policy, and multilateral engagement. That was when I really started working on finance.

I didn’t know anything about finance at the time – and then I met Joy Anderson (Founder of Criterion Institute) and learned that I should never say that again! Of all of the things I worked on in that role, my understanding on the power of finance as a tool for inclusion was developed the most, which is something I’m very grateful for. I’m really pleased to retain connections to that work even since leaving DFAT (and now while at Coffey), to continue work in gender lens investing and innovative finance.

You mentioned the overlap between government, finance, and gender. For people who might not initially see those connections, what do you see as the opportunity for influence at this intersection?

That’s a really great question. The thing that unites them all is power. Government is where we understand political power to emerge from and within political power is the power to set policy and finance a bunch of things. I’ve learned from Joy that finance is a system of power as well, and as a system of power, it can be turned in different directions. Gender equality involves people working on patriarchal systems of power to create equality and equity in society. So, all three things are concerned with power. Once we understand this, we can see how we line things up – how we influence power in government and finance in that positive direction for equality. When I first realized that finance is just another form of power, the blinkers came off. For people in gender equality, that’s comforting. We’re used to understanding things through a power lens and it really helps to demystify finance. It becomes another tool in our backpacks to make the world a better place.

Though you’ve been involved with Criterion in a number of ways, you recently began serving as the Chair of the Power of Policy Advisory Committee. What excites you about this program specifically?

I’ve worked in government for a long time and government is where policy directions are decided and where outcomes are identified. We often think about that as different to how our budgets are spent – you have this kind of binary brain inside government between policy and budgets. Within government, you’re spending a lot of money and you also have objectives, and you could bring them together for dual power as a fairly significant source of finance, as a policy lead, and as a direction setter. I have for a long time thought there was a lot of potential in that.

As a gender person and a government person sitting in largely private sector finance conversations, I feel like there is another piece of this. Criterion’s work with process metrics is a way of helping government to understand that it already has this power to use budget for outcomes. This is what we need – a way of demystifying and providing simple theories of logic and tools – to assess the effectiveness. We have come a long way in really crystalizing what that means and I’m excited to see the program come online in this context.

One of the early things when first setting up the Advisory Committee was the intersection of the program and COVID-19 – considering this significant and long-term crisis with a range of impacts. You can see governments around the world deploying budgets in different ways to protect and repair the economy. There’s this moment in time where we can see quite clearly that there’s an acutely gendered impact, from the way COVID is playing out in economic impact and constraints, to the approach the government is taking to deploy fairly large stimulus measures to try and ameliorate the effects. Why not bring it together and say, “hey, governments, as you spend large buckets of cash to address COVID, why not direct money through a gender lens so you’re dealing more directly with the gendered impact?”

There is also quite a big conversation on infrastructure. It is a fairly significant focus, though not amazingly original or necessarily where the stimulus should go. But, if stimulus is going there, what does gender-transformative infrastructure look like? How do we finance it, who gets to construct it? There is a lot of potential there. It was an early conversation there in the Advisory Committee. In this moment, in the time of COVID, as governments come to fore in budget and policy setting in this emergency, what opportunity does that provide us to think differently to respond to emergencies and deploy government financing?

You mentioned that there is an overwhelming focus on infrastructure, though it’s not necessarily the most original – can you say more about that? What do you think could be transformational in this moment?

I don’t want to take credit because in the Australian context, there is quite an in-depth conversation going on at the moment – what alternative budgets could look like, where investments could net different results – and quite a significant conversation on childcare and the extent to which heavily subsidizing or universal access to free care could stimulate the economy… And by the way, the evidence seems to be, hell yes! It would create a lot of jobs in the sector, increase families’ economic participation, bring more people into the workforce, and have other flow on effects.

Recent evidence demonstrates that in measuring jobs per million invested in the Australian economic context, we would get greater return for investment through social sector areas like health and age care and investing in the arts – which has been significantly curtailed through COVID. In Australia, there is a significant arts scene, particularly in TV and film production. If provided stimulus here, we could get more jobs through those sectors than through construction and roads and rail –the data says that this is the way forward. I would definitely like to see investment in social service sectors and a changed narrative about our tolerance for investing in those sectors. We have a high tolerance for spending on defense, why not build tolerance for spending on health care or age care or childcare or education? They are just as essential to our country as defense. I’d love to see that. That’s where I see real potential.

To switch gears for a moment, you recently participated in Criterion’s Convergence XVII: Financing the Reduction of Gender-based Violence convening. What was that experience like? Any “aha” moments or highlights you’d like to share?

First, I really want to congratulate Criterion, I was really so impressed and hope all conferences can be like that. It was a bit of a hard slog because of a lot of late nights and early mornings, though I appreciated sharing the time zone pain and really felt solidarity in those early mornings and late nights.

I think one of the things that grabbed me that I had not been thinking about before Convergence was about insurance – really flipping the conversation on what we insure and why and going in every single direction that you can think of – from insurance for women so that they could have a nest egg if they want to escape violence, to flipping the other way to the private sector having themselves insured in case they contribute to anything that causes violence, to insurance that governments could demand against foreign investment if there was a connection to increased violence. We see this around mining, construction, and things like that.

Then, thinking about some revolutionary reframes, such as why should women have to leave during an instance of violence? Why do men get to stay, and women leave? Why are women the ones left with no resources – what’s the counter to that? I really enjoyed those conversations. I don’t know that we reached highly concrete conclusions, but we opened up a channel to keep exploring. In that channel, permission was given to think radically different about what our tolerance is for violence. As a society, we really have a tolerance for violence and that is one of the reasons it continues. What if there was no tolerance for violence and there were significant consequences when it occurs?

I really connected with a bunch of people, and on LinkedIn as well, and was quite invigorated about that.

There is so much going on in the world and for a final question, I was wondering what you would say gives you hope in this moment to carry forward with this increasingly stressful, though ever important, work.

The thing that gives me hope – and not just gives me hope, but that I hope we continue is the willingness and generosity to connect in different ways that we haven’t before COVID. Not just in Convergence and with Criterion – but with feminist and women’s rights organizations in Australia on various things. This willingness to come together with whatever technology we can find, in a way that we haven’t had before. In typical times, I think people want to schedule a proper conference or physical meeting and some of us inevitably couldn’t have come.

There is a lot of grace in how we are coming together and that we can come together in these unstructured and opportunistic ways. From my experience, it means that I feel more connected to the feminist movement in Australia than I have for a long time, even though I haven’t left my house in a year nearly. I’ve been sitting in this chair, looking at this computer, since March. The showcase of talent that has been through my Zoom in that time is astonishing and I appreciate that. On some level, I have a preference for this kind of communication because it’s cheaper, less carbon intensive, and I can do it in my pajamas.

Alongside that, the sort of level of frustration that women are experiencing has been galvanizing. What might have been a minor irritation a year ago is a major frustration and a cause for action now. People are sick of it and not dealing with it anymore. Let’s hold onto that.

I’m quite hopeful that we can maintain that willingness and generosity in how we come together to continue to achieve really good things.

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