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Q&A: "Political Power Is Still Very Masculine"

Interview with Cecilia Alemany, Association for Women's Rights in Development

VANCOUVER, Canada, Jul 30 2008 (IPS) - For women's rights and women's empowerment groups, the 3rd High Level Conference on Aid Effectiveness in Accra, in September, and the U.N. Conference on Financing for Development in Doha, in December, are opportunities to advance financing for gender equality issues.

Cecilia Alemany Credit:

Cecilia Alemany Credit:

They will be there to pressure their governments to make sure that national representatives in these summits are accountable and making the needed connections to develop a holistic development approach, from the local to the global.

On their wish-list is the integration of gender dimensions not just between trade, development, foreign direct investment, debt, and international cooperation, but also governance, human rights and gender equality, says Cecilia Alemany of the Association for Women's Rights in Development, a Canada-based international women's rights NGO.

IPS correspondent Am Johal interviewed Alemany, the manager of influencing development actors and practices at AWID.

IPS: What are the gaps and barriers that exist today in establishing women's rights around the world?

Cecilia Alemany: The national and international political power is still very masculine, and the negotiators at the OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development], or the World Trade Organisation are not really sensitive to how the arrangements for liberalisation or trade quotas will affect populations and particularly women.

This is only one part of the problem. Policy-makers and negotiations at the national and international level are most of the time more influenced by corporate interests than by their societies in general. Those groups and women that will be affected by the decisions usually are not considered, and sadly they are never invited to the table.

The Women's Working Group on Financing for Development organised recently a consultation in New York (in June) and part of the analysis of the final statement is that "trade is not an end in itself – it must serve pro-people and inclusive development, the realisation of human rights and the right to development for all, and the achievement of a caring economy and environmental sustainability. A gender perspective of trade is a holistic one, supportive of the broader framework of international conventions and multilateral commitment for the common good."

IPS: Is there a link being made between capacity development and actual public policy changes being enacted by those at the forefront of pushing for women's equality?

CA: Yes, of course. Policy-makers at all levels are not always integrating the gender dimension in their decisions. Internationally, it is flagrant how the current agendas on international cooperation for instance are not integrating clear development goals such as gender equality, human rights and environmental sustainability. Several developed countries that are supposed to be more progressive to women's rights are quite ignorant on how to integrate development, human rights and gender equality. So, there is a lot of technical advance in these discussions but not real results on the ground.

The "donors community" is leading an international debate and process on "aid effectiveness" that is based on the fact that international cooperation has not been effective and is not delivering development results on the ground. However, women's voices in this debate are not considered, and human rights and gender equality are seen by these policy-makers (mostly negotiating under the OECD) as "cross-cutting issues", what in practical terms means "non-issues".

IPS: What are the main concerns related to the Accra Agenda for Action (AAA), in terms of civil society and particularly from women's groups?

CA: The current AAA draft contains very few concrete and time-bound commitments which could be monitored in the run-up to 2010. The AAA must ensure that the implementation of the Paris Declaration and the improvement of aid quality do not undermine, but contribute to the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, human rights obligations, the achievement of commitments on gender equality, decent work for all, and the protection of environmental sustainability.

IPS: What about the relationship between donors and developing country governments? Will there be more transparency about aid?

CA: The AAA and all the Aid Effectiveness agenda has to be conceived in a broader framework of development effectiveness, and recognise that the main space and forum for norm-setting and policy design ensure equal participation for all the countries is the United Nations, particularly through the Development Cooperation Forum and the Financing for Development process towards Doha (December 2008).

The understanding of transparency in the draft AAA seems rather narrow. It is essential that donors share more information with developing country governments to facilitate effective and accountable budget processes, but citizens also have a right to be well-informed about aid in their country.

Transparency is about more than "disclosure", it should also be about participation in decision-making.

It is imperative that the AAA agrees to a new way to measure ownership, which recognises that ownership must be driven by countries' own citizens, not by donors or the World Bank. Indicators of ownership must measure the participation of citizens, civil society and parliaments in deciding, planning, implementing and assessing national plans, policies, programmes and budgets.

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