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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
BRUSSELS, Jun 25 2008 (IPS) - Foreign aid budgets administered by the European Union's most recent entrants do not pay sufficient heed to the needs of women in poor countries, a series of new studies has found.
Since 2004, 12 new countries have joined the EU, most of which were formerly under communist rule. As part of the terms of their accession, they undertook to adhere to the EU's policies on development aid.
Yet while the Union's latest official statements on the fight against poverty emphasise a commitment to promoting gender equality, the activities of its central and eastern European members in this field have been dubbed 'gender-blind' in reports published by an alliance of campaign groups Jun. 24.
The Czech Republic, for example, has undertaken to allocate 0.33 percent of its gross national income to development aid. Not only has it failed so far to deliver on this promise – a projected aid budget for the 2008-2010 period would put the allocation at just 0.02 percent of national income – there has been little targeting of women's needs in its planning for how the aid will be used.
According to the International Gender Policy Network (IGPN), which reviewed Prague's performance on aid, gender is mentioned as a 'cross-cutting' issue – which is supposed to be taken into consideration in all related activities – in key policy documents for Czech-financed aid. Yet the network found that only a small number of projects that focused specifically on women were administered in 2006. These included a project aiming to help women who are HIV-positive in Namibia and to support AIDS tests for prostitutes in Ukraine.
Similar conclusions were drawn up for Hungary and Bulgaria. In the latter, it was found that there has been no public debate on such matters as the quality of the development assistance offered by the country and on how it should relate to gender issues.
Monika Landmanová, a spokeswoman for the IGPN, noted that promoting gender equality in poor countries is one of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, which all of the EU's 27 countries nominally support.
There was explicit recognition during the UN's summit in 2000, where the goals were formally adopted, that a majority of people suffering hardship in the world are female. "All agreed in 2000 that there is a high feminisation of poverty and that without integrating women's equality into aid, it wouldn't be possible to reach the goal of cutting poverty by half by 2015," she added. "This is something the new (EU) member states agreed to, so it is very unsatisfactory that we can't see any commitment to fulfil that commitment."
The series of reports also examined the situation facing women in several former Soviet countries, including Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia. While none of these have been given the status of candidate for EU membership, they receive significant funding from the Union under the European Neighbourhood Programme.
Nearly 2.4 billion euros (3.7 billion dollars) has been given by the EU to Ukraine since 1991. Although this makes the Union the largest donor to the country, only a tiny part of this sum appears to have gone on women-specific projects. In 2006, just 0.11 percent of EU aid to Ukraine went on schemes in which gender equality was the main objective.
Oksana Kisselyova from the Liberal Society Institute in Kiev said the lack of focus on women is especially problematic given that "women are marginalised in our society."
Women have a higher rate of unemployment than men and are overrepresented in the industrial sectors paying the lowest wages. In addition, women seeking promotion tend to face a "glass ceiling", she added, with female candidates in job interviews often questioned about their private lives. In some cases, women have only been given employment on the condition that they promise not to become pregnant.
Kisselyova contended that mechanisms are needed to ensure that aid is channelled directly into schemes tailored to help women.
Corinne André, a European Commission official dealing with foreign aid, said that her institution screens programmes to ascertain if they will benefit women. Asked, however, if the results of such monitoring is published, she claimed that "I don't think we are equipped" to do so.
"We are perfectly aware of the fact that we need to do better," she added. "Achieving gender equality is not an easy task."
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