With only a few days until the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD3) starts on July 13th in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, and governments at the UN headquarters in New York are still locked in negotiations on the outcome document. In the midst of this uncertainty, one thing is certain - what is finally agreed in Addis will impact how the next fifteen years of development financing are shaped, including financing for women’s rights, gender equality and the sustainable development goals (SDGs), to be agreed on September 2015 at the UN General Assembly.
High stakes for gender equality and women’s rights
While there is global consensus that women’s empowerment and gender equality is central to human development and sustainability, this does not mean that governments are necessarily matching their commitments and obligations with the required financing and policies.
The outcome of Addis will either contribute to achieving economic justice and advancing human rights for all, or it will further entrench human rights abuses and exacerbate gender inequalities. It is therefore very relevant for all concerned about women’s, and all people’s, human rights that the right policies are in place, to contribute to, rather than undermine sustainable development.
The conference is relevant for feminist and women’s rights organizations as active agents of change, working together in coalitions, to push for systemic changes urgently needed. The stakes are high and many in civil society remain vigilant for potential advances despite the complex scenario. This conference is also key to demanding accountability for human rights abuses, including lack of essential services. Lack of public resources typically deprive large parts of the population from access to quality education, healthcare and social protection, with women facing intersecting forms of oppression among the hardest hit.
Some of the most controversial issues
One of the most controversial aspects of the FfD3 Conference is the prominent role currently given to the private sector in providing financing either in the form of direct investment or through Public-Private Partnerships. This attempt to “outsource” development commitments from the State to the private sector is highly problematic, particularly as there is no correlating binding accountability mechanism in place, aside from voluntary UN principles. This phenomenon is also replicated in the current debates on Means of Implementation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are inextricably linked to the FfD3 process.
North-South dynamics that surface between the G77+China and the Northern block on several issues can play a decisive role in defining who should pay the bill for sustainable development. Several developing countries in the G77 have pushed for the inclusion of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), which stems from the Rio92’ sustainable development process. The principle argues that developed countries, which carry a larger share of responsibility for causing environmental crises, must take the lead in solving the problems, including through financial means. But the majority of developed countries object to such inclusion stating that CBDR cannot be an “overarching principle” for the financing for development agenda.
Raising public revenues through taxation is another crucial and contentious issue for FfD3 and is also linked to tackling illicit financial flows and tax evasion by key actors, including transnational corporations. A proposal to have an international tax cooperation body under the auspices of the United Nations is on the table, but not without controversy. A global UN tax body, where all countries would have a say, is facing resistance by developed countries who would rather have the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) lead global tax negotiations, thereby excluding most developing countries from deciding on the policies that affect them directly.
Another lingering issue is the failure of developed countries to fulfill their promises on Official Development Assistance (ODA), and their unwillingness to agree on clear calendars. Moreover the amount of ODA destined to gender equality and women’s rights is at a low and will need to be scaled up with concrete timetables for increased funding. ODA must continue to be a dynamic driver for advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment globally. For this to happen clear, increased allocations should be both targeted and mainstreamed across all sectors and with clear tracking mechanisms to make sure there are no gaps in underfunded areas.
All of these issues are crucial to ensure resources are available for the fulfillment of human rights, including women’s rights and that these are raised in a manner that also addresses wealth redistribution.
AWID’s key messages
- FfD3 must ensure that any private sector or public-private partnership (PPP) project has accountability mechanisms in compliance with human rights standards and norms, including environmental and social safeguards. Agreed timelines for reporting and evaluation must be agreed ex-ante and with full participation of the affected communities, including women and girls, indigenous communities and people facing structural discrimination.
- There should be a clear reference to the June 2014 Resolution in the Human Rights Council to create an international legally binding instrument on Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises with respect to Human Rights (A/HRC/26/L.22).
- The Addis conference must enhance the role of the public sector and ensure that developing countries have the necessary policy space to regulate private sector activities at the national level. Ending policy conditionalities is crucial to this end as they undermine the right to development. True implementation of the principle of democratic ownership requires the necessary democratic policy space, and insists that national parliaments and civil society, including women’s rights organizations, have a say in defining development strategies.
- Equitable and progressive tax systems at the national level are critical for the mobilization of the maximum available resources to advance human rights, including access to adequate public services. A UN global inter-governmental tax body in which all countries are represented - regardless of their economic power - should be established, to allow for automatic exchange of information on tax, including the assessment of negative impacts of illicit financial flows, corporate tax evasion and regressive fiscal policies.
- Gender equality is a basic human right, a fundamental value and social justice issue. We reject the approach of reducing women to a business case, as if to say with no economic gain there would be no need to realize gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights. Achieving the full realization of women’s and all people’s human rights must be an end in itself, not an instrument to improve profitability and competitiveness of businesses.
- International public financing commitments and obligations by governments must be realized, including on ODA. The share of ODA for achieving gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights at large should get scaled up, ensuring that there are year-on-year increases by an agreed upon level. Additionally, ODA allocated to standalone gender equality programming should be increased, and a sufficient portion allocated to women’s organizations directly.
- States should commit to respect, protect and fulfill women’s human rights and uphold existing commitments to gender mainstreaming in the formulation and implementation of development policies. This includes financing for development at all levels and in all sectors; and to agree to implement policies to ensure women’s full access to and control over economic resources.
- Overall, FfD3 needs to set the right path towards establishing just and healthy economies, which could form the basis for a world in which respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights are a lived reality for all people. This can be done through explicitly addressing global policy incoherencies and power imbalances, including those in trade, global economic governance, tax and debt - all having gendered implications.
- Though interlinked, the FfD and the post-2015 processes must have independent follow-up mechanisms. The FfD is the only process within the United Nations system that deals comprehensively with systemic issues, which are a pre-condition to establish the right financing framework for the implementation of the Post 2015/SDGs agenda, but also beyond, to generate the structural conditions for the implementation of other agendas including Beijing (1995), Cairo (1994). Thus, we push for FfD to keep its autonomy in the follow-up process.
Generally Governments need to ensure an enabling and safe environment for CSOs including for women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and that this should be translated into substantive participation at local, national and international levels and at all stages of the development process (planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating).
An agreed outcome document
At the time of writing this article, there is still uncertainty on the final text of the FfD3 outcome document, called “Addis Ababa Accord”, which is still under closed negotiations in New York. Controversial issues, including some of those mentioned above remain unresolved as governments keep pushing their respective blocks and it is still uncertain whether the outcome document will be closed before the conference or will remain open for modification as it gets to the official FfD3 on 13th July in Addis. Check for a newer version of the outcome document that should be uploaded here.
How are women’s rights organizations participating at FfD3?
In this FfD3 process AWID has been primarily working with feminist allies in the Women’s Working on Financing for Development (WWG on FfD) to put gender equality and women’s rights at the center of FfD debates since the preparatory process began and we have also closely engaged with and contributed to the efforts and work of the broader CSO FfD group.
Feminists advocates and women’s rights organizations from different regions engaged in this process will be gathering in Addis on July 10th for the Women’s Forum. The meeting, that will aim to strategize for the days ahead and elaborate common positions, is being organized by the WWG on FfD in collaboration with FEMNET, African Women’s Development Fund, the Post-2015 Women’s Coalition, and with the support from UN Women.
Civil society organizations, including the women’s rights groups, will also gather in a CSO Forum happening July 11-12 in Addis. The objectives of the CSO Forum include to inform participants on the state of play of the official process and develop a collective declaration as well as CSO messages for the FfD Conference Roundtables.
How to keep informed and get involved
Follow the latest AWID coverage on FfD3 here and via Twitter and Facebook.
See the recent documents produced by the Women’s Working Group on FfD and the Civil Society Group on the road to Addis.