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DEVELOPMENT: After Accra, Some Action

Sanjay Suri

LONDON, Nov 24 2008 (IPS) - The cynics do not exactly have a pleasant surprise waiting for them, but there are indications that the Accra Agenda for Action could be leading to the beginning of some action on gender equality in aid.

The Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) agreed at the third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in the Ghanaian capital Accra Sep. 2-4 made a significant commitment to moving towards visible gender equality in aid programmes.

“Gender equality, respect for human rights and environmental sustainability are cornerstones for achieving enduring impact on the lives and potential of poor women, men and children,” says the action plan, agreed by close to 200 governments, civil society organisations and development institutions. “It is vital that all our policies address these issues in a more systematic and coherent way.”

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, has taken at least some steps in that direction, says Letty Chiwara, cross regional programmes manager at the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) headquarters in New York.

“After Accra I am seeing that the EC is now working on an action plan to implement the Accra Action Agenda, they have brought the plan to the unit responsible for gender,” Chiwara told IPS in a telephone interview from Brussels. “So I can see from the EC people a commitment to this agenda, to make sure that the Accra plan translates into action at country level.

“I am also seeing a lot of work being done by the EC right now to improve capacity for gender mainstreaming analysis. They are strengthening the gender help desk in terms of its capacity to deliver training and provide tools for staff, and also in this partnership in terms of EC programming at the country level. I am seeing real change here.” The EC/UN partnership on gender equality for development and peace is a joint programme of the EC, UNIFEM, and the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organisation (ITC/ILO).

Some changes can be seen on the ground, or as in this case, on the road, in Cameroon, Chiwara says. Women have been brought to discuss a multi-million dollar road project, she said. They considered what it might mean for displacement, and for access to schools, health centres and shopping facilities, Chiwara said. “They raised a lot of concerns that should influence the design of that road, so that is one of the issues we are looking at.”

The conference also led to considerations about employment of women in the project. “We looked at all these things and they are all being considered in the design of this infrastructure programme.” Within the EC, decision-making departments are beginning to take a fresh look at their aid programmes, she said.

But it’s a long road ahead, and not just in Cameroon. The gender considerations in that project may have been strengthened post-Accra but more widely, “this process will take time to translate into real change for women and men at their local level,” Chiwara acknowledges.

The EC itself has to do a good deal more, she says. “I think the EC has to really institutionalise responsibility for gender equality to all their delegations. Right now it’s like either you do it or you don’t do it, and there’s no problem. But I think we need to see them bring into their performance assessment framework some very strong indicators and some very strong monitoring mechanisms to make sure that each delegation can prove they are really doing something on gender equality.”

And there are new dangers to that commitment. “The extent to which we move is now being affected by the global financial crisis, and in the EC itself, is diverting attention to what are now being called the bigger challenges to development than the gender equality challenge.”

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