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Foreign Aid for Gender Equality: The Challenge for Donors

Malokele Nanivazo and Lucy Scott

The first gender equality workshop under UNU-WIDER’S ReCom—Research and Communication in Foreign Aid project was held on 12-13 July 2012 in Helsinki; gender equality being one of the project’s five themes. The goal of the workshop was to identify key focus areas in terms of what works, what could work, what is transferable, and what is scalable in foreign aid for the promotion of gender equality.

This is the first of a two-part WIDERAngle article exploring the research gaps which were identified during the workshop. Here we will look at priorities and challenges for donors with respect to promoting gender equality. The second part of this article will then explore some of the key areas that need to be covered in order to increase the evidence base on the relationship between foreign aid and gender equality.

Challenges of incorporating gender into organizational structures

A key challenge for donors is to ensure that gender is, and remains, a development priority in an era of ‘priority overload’ in development policy, and globalization. Gender is often a cross-cutting theme in development programmes, to be mainstreamed among a range of others including environment, human rights, and/or HIV/ AIDS. This can result in gender being ‘mainstreamed out’. The danger is that gender equality will be subsumed into wider discussions about inequality reduction in order to reduce priority overload, so negating the importance of gender issues and the specific approaches required to promote gender equality. What systems need to be in place within development agencies to ensure that particular outcomes of gender equality can be achieved? And more generally, is gender mainstreaming an effective approach for prioritizing gender concerns? Another concern is that development agency staff might not have enough time to focus on gender activities alongside their other responsibilities. Using consultants can be one approach to gaining gender expertise. However, it is estimated that less than one per cent of World Bank staff and consultants are gender experts.

Women’s rights and/or women as tools for economic growth

The current approach of international financial institutions tends to be a focus on women, and gender equality, as tools for economic development. They use efficiency arguments as the rationale for achieving gender equality, rather than recognising and acknowledging that women have the rights. One exception to this is the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) which promotes equal rights for both women and men at the policy level. The gender policy of the IADB was highlighted in the meeting as one which could be a model for international financial institutions. Of particular interest was a safeguard element in the project planning of the IADB whereby interventions have to demonstrate they ‘do no harm’ to women. A shift towards a rights-based focus is also taking place in both Danida and the Finnish foreign ministry. However, how can a rights-based approach move beyond safeguarding women’s rights to ensuring the opportunities for gender equality? What does a rights-based approach mean for donor interventions and policies?

Changing aid modalities

Another key discussion in the workshop revolved around the decline of support by traditional donors to projects and programmes, and a shift towards budget support, policy dialogue, and giving aid through multilateral institutions. It was argued that there is evidence about the success of particularly projects at promoting gender equality. Nevertheless it is in the realm of policy—a domain of increasing donor focus—where this evidence base for effectiveness of aid on gender equality issues is much weaker. Certainly, the new challenge for donors then relates to policy, in particular the policy changes which developing country governments should be promoting in order to achieve gender equality outcomes. What role should foreign aid then play in this? How will women be included in budget support and policy dialogues? Is policy dialogue an effective approach to promoting gender equality? As traditional donors move away from project support, does this limit the scope for innovative programmes to promote gender equality?

Funding for gender by traditional donors and the ‘new development finance’

Donors report against a gender marker. When we look at this reporting it appears that funding for gender equality is indeed impressive. For instance, according to the reported gender marker, around 54 per cent of Finland’s aid budget currently goes towards gender issues. However, although the gender marker is one tool for monitoring aid for gender equality, it is important to acknowledge that this marker is relatively subjective, and it not always clear the extent to which a donor activity has contributed to achieving gender equality objectives. Thus an area which requires serious attention is gender budgeting.

Private aid, or the ‘new development finance’—including aid given by individuals, foundations, corporations and NGOs—is increasing rapidly. However, the extent to which this either is given to women, or contributes to gender equality objectives, is currently unclear. ‘Women’s philanthropy’ is one of these new sources of private finance whereby women in the developed world are increasingly helping individual women in developing countries; the so called ‘global sisterhood’. In contrast to the perceived declining public support for foreign aid, the general public is increasingly generous in its giving to international charitable causes, including supporting individuals, as well as small-scale projects. In both these instances it seems that the public are more likely to give to projects targeted to women than to men. What could foreign aid learn from the approaches adopted by private investors?

Reporting on gender results

The value of measuring the impact of development aid on gender outcomes cannot be underestimated. Gender equality, as a development objective, still encounters much resistance, with interventions around the right to reproductive healthcare being the most controversial. There needs to be clear evidence about ‘what works’ in the area of promoting gender equality to help overcome resistance towards allocating aid for gender. This is particularly relevant in an aid delivery context which stresses the importance of rapid disbursement of funds and results-based management. These sit uneasily beside the types of interventions which frequently promote gender equality, and the timespan over which gender outcomes can be achieved.

Subsequently a frequent point raised throughout the workshop was not just the need to monitor and report the amount of aid allocated to gender activities, but also to report on how this aid impacts gender outcomes. This is challenging for a number of reasons, including the timeframe over which gender impacts can be expected to occur, and the context-specificity of different gender indicators. Monitoring gender outcomes does not just involve evaluating interventions specifically targeted at women, but also additional interventions; including road construction and water and sanitation system improvement, which can also have far-reaching benefits for women.

The second part of this WIDERAngle article will highlight some themes emerging from the workshop discussion about the potential research focus areas which could contribute to making aid more effective in promoting gender equality.

Malokele Nanivazo is a UNU-WIDER Research Fellow. Lucy Scott is a UNU-WIDER Research Associate. 

WIDERAngle newsletter
August 2012
ISSN 1238-9544

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