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DEVELOPMENT: Watch That Gender Space

Sanjay Suri

LONDON, Nov 15 2008 (IPS) - It is rather obvious that women are about half the population; it's just as obvious that in underdeveloped places they carry more than half their share of the burden. So how much of development aid gets to women? The unfortunate answer to that question is another question: who knows.

This needs to change, says Nicola Jones, research fellow at the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI). To see that women have their fair share, but first, to find out exactly what is going on – and what is not.

"We need to be forming partnerships," she tells IPS. "South-South and North-South. Civil society organisations, say in Uganda, may not have the capacity to do that monitoring (of how much aid gets to women), and with support they can build up their capacity to do that and hold governments accountable."

This first step is essential, she says, "but we're not at the moment seeing a huge amount of emphasis on that. There are some fledgling initiatives, there are loose networks on sharing of information, on sharing of good practices, but there's not yet an international movement with a standardised approach."

Some steps have been taken in that direction, though. A particularly significant one has been the introduction of the possibility of gender responsive budgeting, following efforts from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem). "The methodology allows you to look at the extent to which programmes are paying attention to gender, and to what extent they are concerned with areas where women might be excluded," says Jones. "There are a number of different indicators, to make sure governments are putting money where their legislation is."

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, a group of 30 wealthy nations) and its Development Assistance Committee (the principal body through which the OECD deals with issues related to co-operation with developing countries) have a gender marker set up to try and track the extent to which aid flows include a gender component in their programmes. And that has helped many aid agencies, such as the Department for International Department (DfID) of the British government review the gender aspect of its aid programme.

Another important advance over the last three years has been to begin to collect 'time use data', Jones says. "So we are able to track down much more effectively the impact of women's time poverty on their access to better employment, because we know how much time they are investing in a productive work force, but also how much time they need to take care of children, and take care of domestic duties. So in countries like South Korea they are starting to factor that into analysis of GDP (gross domestic product)."

Women clearly have a disproportionately high responsibility in terms of household work, caring of children, of disabled people, of the elderly, "but we haven't been able to understand that fully because of lack of data," Jones says. "Understanding time poverty and time use data is critical for addressing women's situation. That has been a critical advance."

The tools have come in, but they haven't quite shaped the product.

Considering that the majority of poor people are women, "we've seen little action by donors in turning their words into action, in turning them into deliverables," says Hetty Kovach, policy advisor on aid and aid effectiveness at Oxfam.

Oxfam and other leading civil society groups are working to address that information gap on gender. Some of the difficulty is that a good deal of aid cannot by definition be gender specific. "Gender equality programmes can be very hard to siphon off, and that makes it very hard to track and monitor, but we do provide support to partners to hold governments to account, to monitor that money," Kovach tells IPS. "We think that's a valid and important part of aid.

The Paris declaration on aid effectiveness in March 2005 has encouraged greater channelling of aid through governments. "It is the only way to help build effective public services like primary healthcare and primary education," Kovach says. "But giving aid directly to governments is by no way the only means to provide aid." Aid must also go to civil society, "who must hold their own governments to account, to push for progressive policies." And donors, she says must place some conditions to see that a fair share is spent on women.

So if there is a recession on, and you need to undertake employment retraining, it is essential to find out "to what extent those programmes are being equally funded for men and for women," says Jones. And so with issues with programmes within health and education, the two areas where there is still relatively greater awareness of the rights of girls and women to get a fair share of aid. In many vital development areas of infrastructure, finance and agriculture, it is missing altogether.

But even within these, there are large grey zones of ignorance.

Within the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), that has done remarkable work to increase access to immunisation in poor countries, "they are not collecting any data on differences between girls and boys, both in terms of access and impact," Jones says. "Women have greater responsibility for collecting water, but we still don't have good indicators when it comes to measuring progress in terms of access to water and sanitation."

Legislation has been passed and practices announced widely to protect women from violence, "but there is little budget for ensuring that the police understand the processes needed to undergo fair treatment of women who may have been raped or abused," Jones says. "All that tends to be grossly under-funded. That's where Gender Responsive Budgeting is so important."

It's also some insulation against a fallout of the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness agreed in March 1995 that gets governments working more closely together in what many accept as an otherwise progressive step. Since then the Accra Plan for Action agreed in Accra, Ghana, in September, is expected to take Paris the Paris Declaration further.

"Windows of funding for women NGOs have also narrowed considerably because a part of what Paris (the declaration) is trying to do is to look at linkages with governments; that is where the focus is, much more than on civil society," says Jones. "Civil society has been forgotten about in terms of funding in many cases. And that's been particularly tough on women's organisations which always struggle in terms of funding."

One way and another – and despite progress since the UN conference on women's equality in Beijing in 1995, gender awareness in aid programmes is still "slipping through the cracks," says Jones. "It is disappearing off the agenda in many of the donor-government groups that have been set up to try and implement multi-donor budget support."

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