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New Architecture of Aid: Gender Equality Included?

Poverty Eradication and Gender Equality

“We commit ourselves to the goal of eradicating poverty
in the world, through decisive national actions and
international cooperation, as an ethical, social, political
and economic imperative of humankind.”
Copenhagen Commitments, 1995

Since the World Summit for Social Development, held in Copenhagen in 1995, the goal of eradicating poverty has emerged as the overall goal for development. The Millennium Summit in 2000 and the related Millennium Development Goals have further strengthened this. Taking poverty eradication as the new paradigm for development cooperation should, without doubt, lead to a focus of development on the root causes of poverty and the structural inequalities that perpetuate it. In this context, the well-researched links between poverty and the most wide-spread form of discrimination - discrimination on the basis of gender - should clearly be given due attention. By Mirjam van Reisen and Maxi Ussar.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Millennium Declaration, and before them the World Summit for Social Development, explicitly recognize the importance of the promotion of gender equality for the eradication of poverty. By signing these declarations, World Leaders have committed themselves to ensuring the promotion of gender equality through all their actions, including through actions undertaken in the context of development co-operation.

* New aid modalities: ownership and accountability
Recently the nature of development co-operation has been changing and new aid modalities have been established which intend to promote ownership of policies by developing countries and are based on supporting overall policy directions of recipient countries. It is hoped that this will achieve greater efficiency in the use of development funding, and hence will yield better results.

This raises the question whether a gender architecture is included within these new aid modalities, and hence, whether these new aid modalities will promote gender equality. In a publication entitled Accountability Upside Down: Gender equality in a partnership for poverty eradication (2005), the Brussels-based organisation Eurostep, and Social Watch, based in Montevideo, examine whether the new aid modalities do include architecture for promoting gender equality. The publication results from a research project involving a sample of nine bilateral donors (Canada, the European Community, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States) .

Operationalisation of gender commitments?
The report firstly examines whether the donors operationalised their commitments to promoting gender equality in their development policies over the last five years. The analysis showed that across the board, the overall legal and policy framework indicates a clear commitment to mainstreaming gender, even though gender mainstreaming is sometimes mistaken as an objective rather than as a strategy to achieve the objective of gender equality.

When it comes to budgetary allocations and programming of development assistance, these policies seem to disappear or evaporate; a process which is often referred to as “policy evaporation”. Notably in 2003, only an average of 0.3 % of total ODA of all donors analysed, was recorded by the OECD/DAC Creditor Reporting System as having been spent on “Women in Development” (WID). Also evaluations of development programmes undertaken by donor countries themselves, continued the “evaporation” trend. The analysis showed that gender issues are only sporadically included in the evaluations and no coherent pattern is detectable for any donor.

While there is a clear lack of translation of political commitments and legal obligations to gender equality in the context of development assistance into actions on the ground, it is important to see what scope there is for improvement. This requires a comprehensive understanding of the current trends towards new aid modalities.

* The new architecture of aid
To date, project support has been the principle mechanism through which aid donors provide development assistance. Project support has a number of deficiencies such as the lack of harmonization between donors and the lack of ownership of the development process by the beneficiary country and population. In response to these problems, new mechanisms for the allocation of aid, such as Sector Wide Approaches and Budget Support are becoming ever more popular. A Sector Wide Approach involves donor support to the development of an entire sector in a recipient country, while Budget Support, general or direct, covers financial assistance as a contribution to the overall budget. Both mechanisms are increasingly administered through country-level planning with Country Strategy Papers and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs).

The principle of ownership is the most crucial concept in the new aid architecture. It leads to a transfer of responsibility to partner countries. This concept begs the question of “who owns development?” Genuine ownership can surely only be achieved if those in power in a recipient country are adequately accountable to their people; to women and men equally. Therefore the concept of “internal accountability”, which refers to the potential of national parliaments and civil society organisations to scrutinise and impact on government actions, gains considerable importance.

* Ownership from a gender perspective
Both the concept of ownership and of internal accountability take on new complexities if seen from a gender perspective. Mere inclusion of recipient governments and some representatives of civil society are not enough to ensure the adequate representation of women’s concerns. The “partner country” does not consider gender equality a priority, we are told. So under the disguise of “ownership” all responsibility of donor countries is abandoned in one stroke.” It is therefore important that actions are supported to ensure women’s full participation in the new aid modalities.

Women and women’s representatives need to be included in the PRSPs, and the PRSPs need to include specific objectives and targets set to promote gender equality. A gender audit of national budgets should be part of the planning processes, and the involvement of women as decision-makers at all levels is a key component to ensure that a gender architecture supports the new aid modalities.

This requires an increase of participation of women in decision-making. Specific attention needs to be given to ensure women’s empowerment through greater involvement of women in government and administrative structures. It is important that this not only takes place at national level, but also at the level of regional and local administration, as the importance of local governance to achieve sustainable development is increasingly being recognised.

Real ownership cannot be obtained unless there is clear formal accountability of national governments to national parliaments. It is therefore important that the new aid mechanisms are accompanied by specific measures that strengthen the role of national parliaments in the adoption of national development plans and that new aid programmes are based upon these national plans. Equal participation of women in parliament is crucial in this context to ensure genuine and inclusive formal accountability.

As national development strategies increasingly become the basis for donor’s strategies in a given country, civil society must also be meaningfully involved in the drawing-up of these plans. Indeed, consultation with civil society organisations provides an important check on the process of formal accountability and helps to ensure that formal accountability processes really represent the interests of the citizens of a given country. For this to be effective, the role of women in civil society organisations must be strengthened, as in many countries women’s concerns are highly under-represented in civil society organisations. It is important that civil society organisations are sustained independently from government pressure and that there are specific instruments directly aimed at strengthening women’s organisations and the participation of women.

* The importance of measuring progress
Sector Wide Approaches and Budget Support limit donor’s ability to influence the way in which recipient countries allocate money, including the resources given to the promotion of gender equality. Although certain conditions can be placed on the spending of resources, the primary responsibility for determining how these funds should be used lies with the recipient government. The combination of the new aid mechanisms and the strategy of gender mainstreaming make it increasingly difficult to evaluate how much attention and money is given to the promotion of gender equality in any given country.

Therefore, traditional mechanisms for evaluations focusing mainly on programmes themselves and the extent to which they support activities intended to advance gender equality are becoming increasingly ineffective. The recent strategic changes in the allocation of development aid and the promotion of gender equality require more result-based evaluations, which can clearly determine their effectiveness. This is not only necessary for assuring that objectives are being achieved, but also to give greater public confidence in the new mechanisms and crucially allow for adequate accountability. The Gender Equality Index developed by Social Watch is a mechanism through which the effectiveness in promoting gender equality can be measured.

* Crucial opportunities
The current changes in aid modalities with their focus on increased ownership provide opportunities to strengthen the promotion of gender equality in the context of development aid. However, it is necessary that the frameworks for the promotion of gender equality and the new architecture for the allocation of development assistance are interlinked and that explicit strategies are developed for their mutual re-enforcement. At present the new aid modalities do not include such strategies in any adequate way.
Poverty eradication requires gender equality. Strategies to achieve gender equality must be clearly integrated in the design of the new aid architecture in order to make these new modalities effective and efficient tools.

Mirjam van Reisen and Maxi Ussar work with Europe External Policy Advisers (EEPA), Brussels. Online at www.eepa.be.

(Posted: 17 August 2005)

* More on Gender Perspectives >>> Special Issue Femme Globale I and >>> Special Issue Femme Globale II.

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