On 16 July 2015 the Third International Financing for Development Conference (FfD3), which took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and that was preceded by a long preparatory process, concluded with a very disappointing outcome document - the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA). Nonetheless it holds some entry points for the advancement of women’s rights and gender equality.
Missed opportunities and disappointment
At the closure of FfD3 the general feeling from CSOs, including feminist and women’s rights organizations that coordinated under the umbrella of the WWG on FfD, was one of major disappointment because the AAAA missed a number of opportunities, and failed to create the conditions to contribute strongly to achieving the respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights, including women’s rights. Generally it lacks an integrated, consistent and explicit human rights based approach.
It also fails to remove the global obstacles to development, address systemic issues and overcome structural injustices and the unequal balance of power in the current global economic governance, finance systems and institutions. A majority of women bear the burden of this reality including that of unpaid care work, and also act as shock absorbers and stabilizers for market and state failures.
It does not advance from Monterrey and Doha, instead the AAAA even undermines or weakens these two agreements on several accounts, including on the commitment to respect policy space. It is also silent on the issue of adjustment costs and contradictory policy programs, ignores inequality among countries, and remains silent on the link between macroeconomic policies and poverty.
Strong opposition to global and binding regulations
In terms of regulation, the AAAA failed to establish a UN intergovernmental tax body. Strengthening the existing committee of experts on international cooperation in tax matters does not fulfill the need for an intergovernmental, transparent, accountable, and well-resourced body, which is urgently required by all countries to truly combat illicit financial flows and tax evasion, and to address inequalities within and between countries.
It does not endorse binding commitments to ensure business accountability based on internationally recognized human and labour rights including women’s and indigenous people’s rights and environmental standards. It fails to even acknowledge the important process unfolding at the UN Human Rights Council to develop an international legally binding instrument on Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises that is based in the international human rights framework. We know that voluntary principles and initiatives are not sufficient.
The outcome does not ensure that trade and investment agreements do not undermine national policy space, human rights, and decent work, in line with standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO). This also means failure to ensure that global value chains do not exploit women, girls and other commonly marginalized and exploited groups. The AAAA also failed to reinsert an earlier clause regarding proper review of investor-state dispute settlements clauses in trade and investment agreements.
Missed opportunities for reforms to advance women’s rights
The AAAA missed the opportunity to strengthen the role of multilateral spaces like the UN to lead the necessary human rights-based, pro-development reforms of the global economic and financial systems, including a more critical assessment of the role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as finding lasting solutions to the debt crises that continue to jeopardise women's human rights in countries all over the world. It does not obligate developed countries to scale up the share of Official Development Assistance (ODA) for achieving gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.
Worryingly the AAAA gives the impression (to some) that it is stronger than previous conference outcomes in integrating gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights aspects. AWID joins the feminist voices that find such a view is misguided, particularly due to the different failures of the AAAA outlined here, which have clear negative implications for women and girls as no area, including macroeconomics, is gender neutral. Furthermore, the AAAA fails to ensure that gender equality and women’s rights are recognized and discussed as a human rights matter above all. This is due to the problematic references in the outcome document that instrumentalise women, and portray gender equality and women’s empowerment as means to reach economic growth and increased productivity, rather than a human rights imperative. Addressing systemic issues and inequalities at the UN is not only a precondition for the realization of the post-2015 agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but also for the full implementation of other internationally agreed commitments, including those critical to advancing women’s rights such as the Beijing Platform for Action and the Cairo Programme of Action on Population and Development.
Finally, it is important to note that the process of negotiations itself was highly questionable and critiqued lacking transparency and following due process.
But all is not lost – some opportunities remain
Despite the strong critique the AAAA includes, in its very first paragraph, a commitment from Member States saying “We commit to respecting all human rights, including the right to development. We will ensure gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment.“ Moreover in that first paragraph member states “reaffirm and build on the 2002 Monterrey Consensus and the 2008 Doha Declaration”. This is key for the next steps, and will allow feminists and women’ rights organizations to keep pushing for the agreements made since Monterrey.
As the WWG on FfD reaction points out, it is worth noting that agreed commitments in the Future We Want (the outcome document of Rio+20) and targets of the Open Working Group on SDGs are reaffirmed. This includes, for example, the recommitment “to adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation and transformative actions for the promotion of gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment at all levels, ensure women’s equal rights, access and opportunities for participation and leadership in the economy and to eliminate gender-based violence and discrimination in all its forms” (AAAA, para 6).
Two important areas of progress are that the AAAA agrees on a Technology Facilitation Mechanism (which developing countries have been long calling for), providing a space to deliberate on technologies and their potential impacts relevant to the fulfillment of the SDGs. The AAAA also states the importance of traditional and indigenous knowledge and innovations.
The other area is the strengthened follow up process, compared to the previous one. It includes an annual Economic and Social Council forum on financing for development follow-up with universal, intergovernmental participation. The forum will be up to five days, and will result in inter-governmentally agreed conclusions and recommendations that will feed into the overall follow-up and review of the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda in the high-level political forum on sustainable development. Up to four days will be dedicated to discussing the follow-up and review of the financing for development outcomes and the means of implementation of the post-2015 development agenda. What will be essential given this interlinkage is that the integrity of the much wider FfD agenda gets preserved.
CSOs including women’s rights organizations expect that the Forum will be the space to develop time-bound, actionable commitments on FfD. It will thus be a key space for feminist and women’s rights organizations to contribute to its shaping, and continue confronting and addressing the demonstrated failures of the current predominant, neoliberal economic model and the growing inequalities, human suffering, erosion of human rights, impunity and environmental collapse that they are generating. We must continue to work jointly and with collective power as feminist and women’s rights organizations, with other CSOs and gender advocates and allies to move towards a world where human rights and freedoms, environmental sustainability and gender justice are lived reality for all people and the planet.