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Women’s Groups Unite Ahead of Busan Aid Forum

Ren Bishop

BRUSSELS, Jun 15 2011 (IPS) - Twenty women from four continents consider the words discussion leader Anne Schoenstein, of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), has written on a flip chart. She strikes out in blue ink a previous sentence. She begins writing a new one – a demand aimed at aid donors – dictated by Nurgul Djanaeva.

“Make human rights indicators compulsory in development cooperation and development results,” Djanaeva, a representative from the Forum on Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan, dictated.

“We should add gender equality,” said Silvia Kuhla, from Austrian Care Osterreich, a group dedicated to development cooperation and humanitarian aid.

Schoenstein added a ‘+GE’ over human rights. The women collectively nodded their heads and continued to ponder how to best articulate the need for progressive change in development cooperation internationally.

A Consultation With Cooperation

Women in Development Europe (WIDE) and AWID, alongside the BetterAid Coordinating Group (BACG), and a handful of other international women’s groups convened in Brussels last week. They met to discuss and forge a unified statement to present to the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4) that will take place in Busan, South Korea in November.

“As feminists and women’s organisations, we want to put pressure to promote gender equality in development cooperation,” said Lisa Alpizar from AWID said in her keynote.

Many speakers spoke on the importance of a unified position to advance the women’s rights agenda in aid talks.

“We must collectively and jointly mobilise, unitise and lobby for development aid to include women and humans rights,” said Kaisa Staszewska of WIDE.

The Busan meeting, will be the forth-international summit on aid effectiveness, following up specifically on prior summits in Paris (2005) and Accra (2008). From these two summits stemmed the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action – two declarations that largely omitted gender equality.

“Compared to the Paris Declaration, which was essentially gender blind, the Accra Agenda for Action brought some progress in terms of its recognition of gender equality, human rights, and environmental sustainability,” according to a statement by AWID.

But there is still progress to be made. Of the 32 paragraphs contained in the Accra Agenda for Action only three include commitments that might contribute to advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women.

“We tried to put those topics as development objectives,” said Alpizar. “It was very important to mobilise different women’s organisations to make sure our voice was heard at Accra.”

Although progress was made in 2008, Alpizar highlighted a common theme at the consultations: Accra was good on paper, but its goals were not being realised. “We really made great progress on these issues, but the paper is written one way and how it is implemented is another.”

A New Approach

Several speakers outlined the importance of moving away from the traditional donor-recipient structure of international foreign aid.

Mayra Gomez from the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights outlined a new approach to aid implementation: the human rights approach.

“The human rights approach is based in five key principles,” said Gomez. “It’s linked in concrete ways to human rights standards. It provides accountability for powerful actors. It’s empowering for the beneficiaries. It promotes the participation of the beneficiaries to identify needs. It’s non- discriminatory, with prioritisation of the most marginalised, including women.”

This approach is not new. In 2003, the U.N. adopted a common understanding on human rights-based approaches to development cooperation and programming.

“It’s been around for a while, but hasn’t been fully utilised,” said Gomez. “The reason why many of the millennium development goals aren’t being achieved is because they don’t have a human rights framework.”

One of the key elements of the human rights based approach is fully inclusive participation. “Gender equality and women’s rights are infused in the human rights based approach. Participation would need to include women and girls so you have fully inclusive partnership,” said Gomez.

Not all participants at the consultation were eager to accept the new approach, and remained sceptical.

Others felt that for some groups it is too soon to move away from traditional donor-recipient aid.

“Without the essential precondition of a powerful and sustained national commitment to change, aid and aid reforms are limited in their capacity to address entrenched inequalities,” said Florence Etta of the Africa Gender and Development Evaluators Network.

A Resolved Stance

Regardless of the exchange, debate, and free flow of contrasting opinions, all participants agreed that a united stance for women’s rights on behalf of the billions of suffering women worldwide was needed ahead of the Busan meetings.

“The need of the woman is not felt seriously at a political level,” said Mama Koite Doumbia, past chairperson at FEMNET. “We live in a time of discrimination. We live in a society that is led by men. It’s a patriarchal society that is led by men, when in reality women in Africa represent more than 51 percent of the African population.”

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