Scaling Up Women's Influence On The Aid Effectiveness Agenda
Cecilia Alemany gives an update on women's organisations' engagement with the global level policy making aspect of the Aid Effectiveness agenda. Cecilia is Manager of AWID's Influencing Development Actors and Practices for Women's Rights Strategic Initiative.
By Kathambi Kinoti
AWID: For some time now, AWID has been engaging with the Aid Effectiveness agenda. Please tell us a little bit about that.
CECILIA ALEMANY: We, along with a number of other women’s groups, have engaged with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Aid Effectiveness process in order to influence donors’ practices and policies and advocate for human rights, women’s rights and gender equality within the Aid Effectiveness process. AWID is co-chair of the Better Aid Coordination Group (BACG), a platform of civil society organisations that came together in January 2007 in order to work towards influencing the Paris Declaration implementation and the Accra process. The BACG was previously called the International Steering Group (ISG). In 2007-2008 we had informal dialogues with the Working Party* on Aid Effectiveness. AWID, WIDE, FEMNET and NETRIGHT as well as other civil society groups from the BACG participated in these dialogues in the Road to Accra.
Some donor countries, led by Canada, that were concerned with civil society participation started an Advisory Group to which some members of the BACG were invited. Women’s groups were invited one year later as a result of the Ottawa Women’s Consultation on Aid Effectiveness organised by AWID and WIDE (with support from UNIFEM, Action Aid and CIDA-Canada). Our engagement with the Aid Effectiveness agenda has had two entry points. Firstly through the Advisory Group where we have argued that civil society should be part of the Aid Effectiveness process, and secondly as part of the BACG informal dialogues with the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness. We made clear our concerns about the Paris Declaration and made several proposals about the inclusion of civil society perspectives in the High Level Forum in Accra last year. In other words, we have engaged both on the substance and the process of the Aid Effectiveness agenda. We were questioning power relations and policy impositions and arguing for more democratic ownership of the aid process, such as the participation of civil society organisations and particularly women’s groups, in forming developing countries’ policies. We criticised how donors use cooperation aid for other goals like securing their trade and security interests. We also asked for more aid predictability beyond the annual commitments made by donors. We criticised the new aid modalities which were reducing countries’ space to make decisions. They were originally supposed to be tools for policy ownership, but in reality they reduced countries’ spaces to design their own economic and development policies.
We also criticised the role of the World Bank in the Aid Effectiveness process. The World Bank has used the Paris Declaration and Aid Effectiveness agenda in general as a channel to impose their vision of how economic and development policies should work. The indicators in the Paris Declaration were based on World Bank concepts which do not adequately measure development. We also highlighted the gender blindness of the Paris Declaration and the Aid Effectiveness agenda in general.
AWID: What has the impact of the engagement of women’s organisations been?
CA: The relative impact of our engagement in Accra is the result of the collective mobilisation of several women’s groups that came together to show the potential and actual impact of Aid Effectiveness on the lives of women. In fact we were working within a broader civil society context, not only in the context of gender equality and women’s rights. We worked with other civil society groups such as trade unions (like ITUC – International Trade Unions Confederation) and several development NGOs, and so each group incorporated the other’s demands through the common platform today called BACG. Throughout the process we have asked for gender equality, environmental sustainability, human rights and decent work. These should not be “cross cutting” issues but central development goals. Therefore the Paris Declaration shouldn’t of itself be the standard. Internationally agreed commitments and standards should be the reference and any aid framework under the OECD should not undermine these. Most of our ideas were resisted from the beginning, but in the end civil society mobilisation in Accra was an important factor to advance on issues such as those related to participation, accountability, transparency, recognition of civil society and development actors.
AWID: Processes like these require intense energy and a high level of commitment. In the past you have talked about working flat out for one year in order to get one sentence included into international policy documents. How has the engagement with the Aid Effectiveness agenda played out? Was the desired language included in the final outcome document in Accra?
CA: Actually, in relation to gender equality we got four sentences into the final document, so yes; our work has paid off to a significant extent if this is acceptable as a possible element to measure it. Paragraph 3 of the Accra Agenda for Action emphasises the central place of ‘poverty reduction and human rights in development policy and the importance of human rights, gender equality and environmental sustainability as cornerstones for achieving enduring impact.’ It goes on to state that ‘developing countries and donors will ensure that their respective development policies and programmes are designed and implemented in ways consistent with their agreed international commitments on gender equality, human rights, disability and environmental sustainability.’ Further ‘donors and developing countries will work and agree on a set of realistic peace and state building objectives that address the root causes of conflict and fragility and help ensure the protection and participation of women.’
We worked to influence discussions during the various meetings in the Paris Declaration process because a donor driven agenda was being set up at the OECD. We are concerned that the policies should be set up under the United Nations system and not the OECD. Nevertheless we should be mobilising around both processes to ensure that civil society groups, and particularly women’s rights organisations can have access to information, mobilise and influence the aid agenda and its practices.
AWID: What is going on right now?
CA: There are two major considerations. One is the positive achievements from Accra and the acknowledgement by the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness of its lack of inclusiveness in the past. Some developing countries such as India and other Least Developed Countries mostly from Africa are now part of the process, and civil society has two seats on it. Second is that some donors and developing countries have defined plans for action and the Working Party has defined a new structure to implement the Paris Declaration and the AAA until 2010; and prepare the next HLF3 in Seoul in October 2011. Because of the changes in the composition of the Working Party, the two co-chairs of the BACG are representing the platform on the Working Party. Since October 2008, the co-chairs are Antonio Tujan from Reality of Aid, and Cecilia Alemany from AWID.
There are some challenges. We are members of the Working Party and the Executive Committee of the Working Party which monitors the Aid Effectiveness agenda on a close basis. There is the challenge of becoming -or seeming to be- a part of the establishment. Any civil society organisation sitting in an official policy space created for civil society doesn’t necessarily represent all civil society, but it is an opportunity to ensure that we use the seat to communicate the different positions of civil society organisations. This requires clear communication and accountability mechanisms among the BACG as well as in relation to other civil society groups.
When we sit at the OECD we are challenging policies, but we are also challenging the space itself. We maintain that the legitimate space for development cooperation and the responses to the current crisis is and should be the UN. The Women’s Working Group on Financing for Development (WWG)**, of which we are members, is putting a lot of energy into the next UN conference on the global financial crisis at the end of June. This will impact the AE process and the OECD should start to consider this, but again the primary space should be the UN. For us, the strategy is to ensure we are a communication and facilitation channel to share information and open spaces for civil society groups to come in. On the other hand, we should not lose our perspective. We need a new international system and the current financial crisis is calling for a reform of the international development system. If we need to build a new space for economics and development such as one akin to the UN Security Council, it should be under the UN.
AWID: Do you think that the current crisis will lend any strength to the argument that the UN is the best space to address and reform the international economic system?
CA: Everyone agrees on the need for reform, but how will this reform be achieved? For the G20 the answer to transformation was to replenish the IMF. For civil society groups it is to reform the structure of the decision making process of the IMF. For the Women’s Working Group the reform should be more profound.
Replenishing the IMF is lip service. If the international community choose to strengthen the organisations that are responsible for the crisis, it will be an opportunity for some interest groups to reinforce the IMF. We can have a scenario where some new players – the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries can come on board the current structures. This doesn’t mean that other developing countries will have more policy spaces.
On the other hand, the current system is clearly ending and there are some actors that really believe in the urgent need to transform the power structures at the international level. This scenario would be a reform of the international system including the Bretton Woods institutions. The current crisis is probably as severe as the Great Depression and the situation after the Second World War. This means that global leaders have to understand the need for a profound transformation of the system and find institutional channels to finally consider historical demands from developing countries. This will be challenging and we are not so naïve as to say the crisis would necessarily lead to this change.
AWID: What motivation would powerful countries have for the second scenario?
CA: Individually they may not, but as a collective power survival strategy they could. Some years ago the end of the hegemony of the US was unimaginable. But the current situation makes this a reality. The G8 countries have the highest public debts; China has twice the reserves of the G8 countries combined. It is clear that the previous model with one power has crashed. From a southern perspective we have always criticised this hegemonic model. The US economy is weakening, and now Europe which used to be a balance is concerned with its own problems struggling with the impacts of the crisis. Power is shifting.
The first model can happen but it won’t be sustainable. We can’t avoid addressing inequalities and other injustices. Sooner or later, states will need to adopt the second, more progressive model, some because they believe in it, others to be pragmatic.
AWID is working with other women’s and civil society groups to understand the impact of the crisis on women in different regions of the world. We are mobilising with civil society groups and also policy makers to take seriously the United Nations High Level Conference on the Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development which will be held from June 24-26, 2009. We see the UN as playing a pivotal role in addressing and resolving the crisis. We are doing this as part of the WWG. In terms of the Aid Effectiveness process, we are emphasizing development effectiveness as the new framework. We need to understand how the crisis will affect development and aid effectiveness and development cooperation in general, and how this will affect the fulfilment of human rights, women’s rights and gender equality.
AWID: What are the next steps?
CA: We want to ensure that donors’ plans after Accra fully implement human rights gender equality, environmental sustainability and decent work as development goals. We will monitor implementation of the Accra Agenda for Action and the final phase of the Paris Declaration to ensure that they are really consistent with agreed international development goals and commitments. On the other hand, at the UN level, we will participate through the Women’s Working Group in the “10 Days of Action” from June 16 – 26, 2009 organised by several civil society groups around the high level conference in New York.
AWID: How will you go about this?
CA: At the OECD, the working party is organised in clusters we will need to monitor and ensure that at the national level, local groups and platforms are following these agendas. We facilitate and share information on what is going on in the Working Party and the Aid Effectiveness process in general. Gendernet, which is the OECD DAC network on gender, has developed DAC guidelines on gender equality. These provide guiding principles to donors on how to implement aid effectively in accordance with the Accra Agenda for Action and other international commitments such as the Beijing Platform for Action. Another aspect of our work is to monitor if donors are implementing these guidelines, how they are doing so, and what is the development impact they are having.
* The Working Party on Aid Effectiveness was established in 2003 as an international partnership of policy makers and aid practitioners from donor and developing countries hosted by the OECD Development Assistance Committee. It is the principal OECD forum through which policy makers and aid practitioners deal with issues related to aid effectiveness. It aims to contribute to the development of non-OECD member economies by making aid more effective at supporting poverty reduction and sustainable development.
** The Women’s Working Group on Financing for Development is formed by: AWID, DAWN, FEMNET, FTF/GCAP, GPF, IGTN, ITUC, NETRIGHT, WEDO, WIDE, and coordinated by DAWN.