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DEVELOPMENT: 'Aid Must Budget for Women'

Sabina Zaccaro

ROME, Jun 16 2008 (IPS) - Women's rights will be further marginalised if gender equality is not funded by explicit budgeting, women and civil society groups say.

Patricia Blankson-Akapo Credit: Sabina Zaccaro

Patricia Blankson-Akapo Credit: Sabina Zaccaro

With women making up a disproportionately high number of those living in poverty, aid cannot be considered effective unless it addresses the "central issue of women's rights," according to a statement from women's rights groups gathered in Rome. The group asked the donor community to "ensure that women's rights perspectives are integrated into the aid effectiveness agenda."

Representatives of civil society organisations, parliamentary groups and local governments met in Rome (Jun. 12-13) to discuss gender aspects of aid, along with other development issues such as aligning aid to national development strategies, and reforming tied aid.

The 'stakeholder' forum was organised by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) in preparation for the first Development Cooperation Forum of the UN Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) that will be held in New York Jun. 30-Jul. 1. The Rome outcome report will bring participants' voices to the New York meeting.

The Development Cooperation Forum meeting is widely considered a key opportunity for monitoring commitments and setting the aid agenda.

"Aid is not just about aid, but is about how it impacts on the livelihoods of people; and aid effectiveness should mean development effectiveness," said Patricia Blankson-Akapo of the Network for Women's Rights in Ghana (Netright). "When we talk about aid, we should take on board gender equality issues, because as it stands now, we may receive more money, but if you want to trace how much is spent on gender equality, you are not able to trace it," she told IPS.

Blankson-Akapo said greater participation of civil society and women's rights organisations could help make gender equality "a co-issue in the aid processes," but "it is very difficult to get funding for them to carry out the work they do."

According to the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) based in Toronto, donor resources for gender equality have progressively declined since the Beijing world conference on women in 1995.

In 2003, of the net official development aid disbursement (69 billion dollars), only 0.6 percent went to programmes with gender equality as a principal objective. Of the EU's annual external budget of 8 billion euros, just eight million euros are devoted to gender equality work, according to the African women's regional consultative meeting on aid effectiveness and gender equality held in Nairobi at the end of May.

Moreover, Blankson-Akapo said, there are a number of aid criteria that most human rights organisations are not able to meet. "If the criteria are made accessible to all, then women organisations can access core funding, while now their funds are a kind of process sized for particular foregrounds and not to feed their entire work."

Conditionality is another limiting factor. "If there are conditionalities that are not favourable to women, then they are not favourable to poor people, so aid becomes meaningless," she said.

The practice of attaching policy conditions to development finance is undermining country ownership because it denies governments and citizens in developing countries the right to choose the best policies for them, making recipient governments "accountable to donors instead of their citizens," the groups attending the Rome meeting said in a statement.

Civicus, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and the global anti-poverty agency Action Aid prepared a document reporting the civil society organisations' shared position, which served as an input to the Rome debate.

Oxford professor Roger Riddell was cited in the report as estimating that tying aid reduces the purchasing power of official development assistance (ODA) by well over 15 billion dollars a year.

"Let's take technical assistance for instance: when we receive aid we then discover that technical assistance or procurement if needed have to come from the donor country, and we realise that 70 percent or 80 percent (of the funding) will be lost in those expenses," Blankson-Akapo said. "Tied aid does not help us, because in the end you don't receive the value of what aid is giving you."

Some donors have committed themselves to ending economic policy conditions, and to fully untying their aid, but implementation is a challenge because donors still apply economic policy conditions under International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank frameworks.

But some cautiously positive aspects too emerge from conditionality. "Conditionality is a very bad thing, because it is an imposition; however one of the things we are trying to suggest is that it could even be a 'positive pressure'," Pauline Vende-Pallen from the African Third World Network told IPS. "I don't even want to call it 'conditionality' because conditionalities have legal standings, but a sort of positive pressure on our governments to ensure that our issues are taken on board."

These issues stand a greater chance of being accepted if they come through an external source, she said. "In that sense you can have positive pushing, a positive encouragement to governments to take on some of these issues, especially issues of gender and human rights."

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