UN DCF: Can Development Cooperation Work For Gender Equality?
FRIDAY FILE: From 5-6 July 2012, AWID, together with other civil society organizations (CSOs), participated in the 2012 United Nations Development Cooperation Forum (DCF). The DCF is one of the new functions of a strengthened Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and a component of ECOSOC’s High-level Segment, which focuses on a range of issues relevant to the implementation of the internationally agreed development goals (IADG), including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
By Natalie Raaber and Mayra Moro-Coco
Created primarily as a response to changes in the development cooperation landscape, including the introduction of new development cooperation actors, the DCF is formally taskedwith reviewing trends in international development cooperation, facilitating coherence among development actors, and working to enhance the implementation of the IADGs. The DCF itself builds upon a preparatory process, which includes symposiums on various issues relevant to the theme.
UN DCF and its relevance for human rights and development
Unlike the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Group of 20 - two international groupings that also grapple with development - the DCF, housed within the United Nations (where all countries are represented on equal footing), provides a space for dialogue that is open, inclusive, multi-stakeholder, and transparent. In this way, the DCF allows for a range of visions, perspectives, and “ways forward” on development, something that is often lacking when participation is limited or exclusive.
As the UN is grounded in the normative framework of human rights, the DCF and, by extension, discussions on development cooperation should - both in process and content – be shaped by and advance international agreements on human rights, particularly the Declaration on the Right to Development, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Some key debates that took place
While a range of topics were discussed, several issues were continually raised:
Calls for policy coherence were strong – coherence among development cooperation policies and between development cooperation policies and other macroeconomic policies that shape development (such as policies on trade, debt, foreign direct investment, and taxation). Aid flows must be understood in the broader context of financing for development, recognizing that while quality aid can be an important tool for development, the volume of other financial flows often eclipses it. To wit, Norway’s Minister noted the following: “we should address illicit capital flows [if we are serious about financing for development]… as ten times more money leaks illicitly out of developing countries than the amount aid brings in.”
Innovative financing mechanisms – such as a financial transaction tax (FTT) – as a means to raise additional funds for development were discussed. As we noted in a prior Friday File on a FTTs, the funds generated must be in addition to Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitments, themselves presently unmet and support a development that is in line with human rights.
Aid as a catalyst for growth and private sector development
There was a strong focus on aid as a catalyst for the private sector, as an engine for growth, and the creation of markets. An accountable, sustainable private sector that supports human rights could be a crucial piece of an economy. However, development cooperation must explicitly be in the service of poverty eradication and human rights, not instrumentally but directly.
South-South (SS) Cooperation
The Secretary General’s report to the DCF noted that, “South-South cooperation has increased since 2008 – and financial flows will continue to grow.” There was intense discussion on the role of SS cooperation, particularly vis-à-vis North-South (NS) cooperation and triangular cooperation. While SS cooperation has the potential to contribute to southern ownership of development and promote alternative development visions, it must not fall into the same unequal power dynamics present in NS cooperation; rather, it should be shaped on principles of horizontalness, democratic ownership and support of human rights.
Women’s groups, feminists and broader civil society presence at the DCF
If we are to advance an international development cooperation architecture and, indeed, a development grounded in human rights, gender equality, justice, and sustainability, it is crucial that feminist and women’s rights activists, their experiences, and alternatives be present in development discussions at all levels, including at the DCF.
While AWID has critically engaged in the aid discussions at the OECD, women’s rights groups have repeatedly called for a new development cooperation system under the auspices of the UN. AWID arrived at the DCF to broaden the discussion on development cooperation and, together with other progressive groups, believes the DCF, tasked with both technical oversight and normative functions, to be the legitimate space for these discussions.
In the lead up to the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, women’s groups developed a clear set of demands for a development cooperation system – and development – that is just, transparent, equitable, sustainable, and in line with human rights. These demands inform and shape AWID’s positioning at the UN DCF.
In her presentation on the second day of the DCF, Lydia Alpizar, Executive Director of AWID, highlighted several key points, noted, too, in the demands:
- Development cooperation must address the structural and systemic factors that perpetuate poverty and oppression, not simply the symptoms. Indeed, as the Secretary General’s report notes: “rethinking of the dominant development model and indicators” is needed, as the “current global development model is unsustainable and business as usual is not an option.”
- As key agents of change, there is need for more, quality funding – and tracking of that funding - for women’s rights organizations and movements at all levels.
- If we are to transform development cooperation to advance the full range of women’s rights, there is a need to move beyond gender mainstreaming – which has in many cases become a technical exercise of ticking boxes – toward ensuring that women’s rights and gender equality are core development goals, central to each sector and development objective.
- The concept of multiple accountabilities – as opposed to mutual accountability – fully recognizes the range of development cooperation actors and the power dynamics shaping their interaction. Universal accountability is critical as is the recognition of all levels of accountability (local, national, global). Accountability should be linked to existing UN human rights accountability mechanisms, such as the Universal Periodic Review within the Human Rights Council.
In her speech, Alpizar also called on the UN DCF to organize a High Level Symposium leading to the 2014 DCF on gender equality and women’s empowerment in development cooperation. UN Women – in a “Friends of the DCF” meeting – supported the proposal.
A side event hosted by AWID focused on “exploring the future of development cooperation from a women’s rights and gender equality perspective.” The session examined a range of issues related to development and development cooperation, including: 1) macroeconomic policy from a human rights perspective, with a specific focus on the impact of financial speculation on the right to food 2) the post-2015 UN development agenda; 3) the role of private business in development, recognizing the perpetuation of violations of labor, tax and environmental law; and 4) UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality.
Other civil society organizations and individuals participated in the preparatory process and the DCF itself, as well, and produced a statementto the DCF, to which AWID signed on.
Next steps in the short term
The MDGs are set to expire in 2015 and as the UN ramps up discussions on a new global agenda for development – a “post-2015 development agenda” – parallel discussions on development policies are occurring, including the follow-up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) which will produce Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the review conference of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the 20 year anniversary of the 4th World Conference on Women and the Beijing Platform for Action.
The civil society statement noted that the UN DCF is well positioned to play a pivotal role in shaping the post-2015 development agenda. Indeed, a number of discussions around development cooperation for sustainable development were held in preparation for the DCF, the most recent being the DCF’s side event at Rio+20 “The Future We Want: The role of development cooperation in getting us there” where the nexus of development cooperation/finance and sustainable development was examined. Likely, too, we will see discussions on the post-2015 development agenda captured in the report of the DCF.
As global commitments on development are hashed out in different spaces, including the DCF, policy-makers and member states must build upon the existing normative framework of international human rights agreements, calling for their implementation, and ensure the full participations of civil society organizations, including particularly women’s rights and feminist groups, in shaping the way forward.
 The debates at this year’s DCF are available on UN WebTV. Of particular note are the statements of 1) Ms. Michelle Bachelet’s, Executive Director of UN Women 2) Mr. Roberto Bissio, Coordinator of Social Watch 3) Mr. Heikki Holmås, Minister of International Development, Norway and 4) Juan Somavia, Director General, of the International Labour Organization (ILO), as well as Lydia Alpizar, AWID’s Executive Director
 These are also discussed at length in the Secretary General’s report to the DCF entitled “Trends and Progress in International Development Cooperation,” a key analytical input into the DCF process.
 The session was moderated by Lydia Alpizar, with Barbara Adams from the Global Policy Forum, Savi Bisnath from the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Ana Maria Enriquez from the Fund for Gender Equality at UN Women, and Mayra Moro Coco from AWID as panelists.