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Development Cooperation Forum holds some promise for women’s rights advocates

FRIDAY FILE: In late June 2010, the second biennial Development Cooperation Forum (DCF) took place at the UN headquarters in New York. Natalie Raaber and Anne Schoenstein from AWID participated in the DCF and share information and reflections on the meeting and what it means for the relationship between development cooperation and women’s rights going forward.

For several years, AWID has been participating in dialogues and advocacy related to development cooperation as part of the Women’s Working Group on Financing for Development (WWG on FfD) and the BetterAidplatform. The WWG on FfD is an alliance of primarily women’s organizations and networks that advocate for the advancement of gender equality, human rights and women’s rights in UN processes related to FfD and the global financial and economic crises. TheBetterAid platform is a civil society platform that, since January 2007, has worked on development cooperation and challenging the aid effectiveness agenda.

AWID: First, what is the Development Cooperation Forum (DCF)?

Anne Schoenstein (A.S.): The DCF is a body mandated by the UN General Assembly (GA) at the 2005 World Summit. It is one of the new functions of a strengthened Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and works to support and enhance the implementation of the internationally agreed development goals (IADG),including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), by promoting dialogue.

Uniquely, the DCF is open to participation by all development stakeholders, including bodies of the UN, international financial and trade institutions such as the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, regional organizations, civil society organizations and private sector representatives. The DCF’s multi-stakeholder nature, its strong focus on dialogue and its equal representation of all countries (both developed and developing) make it a rare space. Most other international spaces where development is discussed - such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the G20 (that is not an organization but a forum)- are not this inclusive.

AWID and the WWG on FfD have participated in the DCF process since its launch in 2007. The first biennial DCF (in 2008) focused on reviewing the trends and progress made in international development cooperation, including discussing issues around coherence of development activities. This means that one development activity does not undermine another and that all should support and ensure human rights. This year, the DCF addressed “Development Cooperation in Times of Crises: New Commitments to Reach the MDGs.” It was structured around the following themes:

Promoting greater coherence between and among development policies and practices– as well as between development/aid policies and policies around, for example, trade, finance and immigration;
Accountable and transparent development cooperation;
The role of various forms of cooperation including South-South and triangular cooperation, that is, cooperation between two developing countries with the support of a developed country;
The impact of multiple crises, including the financial, economic, climate, care, water and fuel crises; and
Achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.
AWID: Why is the DCF an important space?

Natalie Raaber (N.R.): The world is facing multiple and interlinked crises, stemming from a failed neo-liberal growth and development model. Women have been differentially – and often disproportionately -- impacted by the crisis. Development aid is very important in times like these for the survival of poor people, the majority of whom are women. The present international aid architecture has not facilitated sustainable development or the realization of human rights or gender equality. In fact, in its current configuration,international development cooperation has, more often than not, undermined national development and human rights, including women’s human rights.

From AWID’s perspective and the perspective of the WWG on FfD, the Better Aid platform and many other civil society groups, the UN is currently the only truly multilateral, inclusive and participatory multilateral organization.Unlike the OECD and G20, the UN offers both developing and developed countries equal representation.

Also, because the DCF is grounded in the normative framework of human rights, this is the space in which to broaden the discussion around development cooperation to go beyond “aid effectiveness”, which often only looks at the technical aspects of development cooperation delivery and management. Development cooperation (of which aid is only one part) should be in line with and fulfill human rights, including women’s human rights; its impact on the human rights of all people must be the focus.[1]

AWID: Why is the DCF relevant for women’s rights groups and other civil society organizations?

A.S.: To achieve this urgently needed reform of the current development cooperation framework, it is absolutely necessary that women’s groups are meaningfully involved, ensuring that their voices, local and regional experiences and alternative solutions are integrated into discussions, standard-setting and policy making around development. Women’s groups can also share information from international level back to regional, national and local levels, supporting the advocacy work and watchdog roles of women’s groups and others at all levels.

AWID: As you noted above,the DCF is being commended for its multi-stakeholder nature. How did this look in reality at this conference?

A.S.: Participants from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and countries from the Global South in general, specifically from Sub-Saharan Africa, were underrepresented.Additionally, high-level representation – such as Ministers or ambassadors from the country missions to the UN - was minimal, which can indicate a lack of political will or commitment by governments to follow through on their pledges and promises.

Nevertheless, in comparison to the first DCF, the opportunity for CSOs, including women’s groups, to speak in the official policy dialogues improved considerably. Nonetheless civil society spoke primarily from the floor; there was very minimal CSO participation in the official panels. In future, CSO speaking slots in official panels must be ensured and that CSOs have enough funds to get to the forum in the first place and to also participate adequately in the preparatory processes.

AWID: What were particularly important points of debate at the DCF, especially from a women’s rights perspective?

N.R.: As the recent WWG on FfD statement to the DCF notes, “issues in development cooperation cannot be isolated from the larger policy context of trade, investments, monetary and external debt, including fiscal stimulus and austerity measures.” While policy coherence was discussed, most speakers did not clearly invoke a human rights framework or refer to key women’s rights documents such as the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) when discussing it – so there is much work to do here.

There was also a focus on South-South development cooperation (SSDC) – with intense discussion on its role, particularly vis-à-vis North-South (NS) cooperation. SSDC has the potential to strengthen broader south-south cooperation and to promote alternative visions of development. However, it will be important to guard against perpetuating the same problems/unequal power relations that NS cooperation has produced.

Finally, we also heard potentially problematic comments on aid as a catalyst to boost growth and support the creation of new markets without referring to the fact that aid must focus on poverty eradication, sustainable development, the achievement of the Internationally Agreed Development Goals (IAGDs) and the realization and affirmation of human rights.

AWID: What outcome did the conference have, what happens next and how can women’s groups engage?

A.S.: As it currently is set up, the DCF does not produce a negotiated outcome document. There is,however, an official summary, of which key messages will feed into the Millennium Development Goal Summit in September of 2010. In the coming months, the DCF will be examining its processes (should it happen every year, instead of every two;should there be an outcome document; mechanisms for civil society involvement) as well as the content/issues on which it will focus in the upcoming phase (2011-2012).

It appears that policy coherence and mutual accountability will remain as key themes and SSDC will move more into focus.

CSOs are currently engaged in the DCF through the Advisory Group (AG) (AG) and the DCF NGO task force. The WWG on FfD and BetterAid are both part of this task force. Concerning the AG, currently CSOs are represented through CIVICUS and ActionAid, acting on behalf of BetterAid.
The large majority of women’s groups that currently follow these processes are working at the regional or international level. It is thus crucial to better involve those groups working at the local and national level as they are, at the end of the day, facing the contradictions/tensions produced by development cooperation actors and practices. To this end, several women’s consultations were organized in the past (by the WWG on FfD and women’s rights groups active at BetterAid); more will need to happen by 2011 as part of the preparation for the OECD High Level Forum IV on Aid Effectiveness to be held in Korea by the end of 2011.
Additional Resources

The WWG on FfD listserv is a vehicle to exchange information, updates and feminist analyses on FfD issues and to advance development alternatives.

CSOs can also join the BetterAid platform and listserv via the website www.betteraid.org or by contacting Clare Birkettat. As part of the platform you can access/contribute to BetterAid position papers, and other information. Anybody can register to the bi-monthly newsletter onthe BetterAid website and it can also be downloaded there.

[1] Source: WWW on FfD statement for the DCF here: http://awid.org/eng/About-AWID/AWID-News/Women-s-Working-Group-on-FfD-St.... Also see BetterAid statement to the DCF under: http://awid.org/eng/About-AWID/AWID-News/Better-Aid-Statement-to-the-DCF.

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