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Women's Organizing: Key Demands on Development Cooperation towards Busan HLF-4 and Beyond

FRIDAY FILE: The Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4) that takes place from 29 November to 1 December 2011 in Busan, South Korea, will be a key moment where development actors gather to assess whether or not previous commitments on the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action have been met, and where important decisions on the development cooperation agenda could be made.

By Ana Ines Abelenda and Anne Schoenstein

Women’s rights organizations and gender equality advocates – many of whom gathered in Brussels for an International Consultation on Development Cooperation, Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in early June 2011[1] - are already warning that the first draft outcome document of the Busan HLF-4 falls short on mapping out the foundation for a just and inclusive future development cooperation framework, that is also responsive and sensitive to women’s rights and gender equality.

This article presents an overview of the collective key demands document from women’s rights organizations and gender equality advocates to the HLF-4 and the 2012 Development Cooperation Forum (DCF). It is intended as a basic political tool, which can be used and adapted for advocacy and mobilization purposes, as well as for debate or dialogue on development cooperation with governments and donors.

The current first draft outcome document for Busan acknowledges the need for a new paradigm for development cooperation. However, it does not advance a vision or framework where the existing internationally agreed development goals on gender justice, human rights, decent work and environmental sustainability are at the center. Women’s rights organizations are convinced that HLF-4 has to produce an outcome document that builds the foundation for new development cooperation architecture, responsive and sensitive to women’s rights and gender equality. The current draft of the Busan outcome document is not acceptable for women’s rights groups engaged in the HLF-4 process.

What is the basis of a feminist vision for transformation?

The key demands document points out that even though gender equality and women’s rights are at the core of development, the Paris Declaration (PD) is basically gender blind. Some advances and commitments on gender equality were made in the Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) as a result of major advocacy efforts and mobilizations by women's rights organizations across regions and other gender equality advocates in the lead up to the Accra High Level Forum in 2008 and in Accra itself. Women’s rights advocates are urging all signatories of the PD and AAA to translate their words into concrete actions and deepen those commitments to gender equality. The vision put forth in the demands is one of a world where aid is no longer necessary, where power relations are transformed and wealth is democratically redistributed.

Development is a right, as stated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and UN Declaration on the Right to Development. The demands document stresses this and that gender equality and women’s rights are at the core of development. It challenges the instrumentalization, by mainstream visions of development cooperation, which promote privatization and militarization of aid and which use gender equality and women as catalyzers for market expansion, investment and trade. This feminist vision challenges mainstream economic development models and proposes a shift from traditional development discourse towards an inclusive, sustainable, and just paradigm.

Women refuse to be seen as passive recipients or as victims in need of protection and rescue, while carrying the largest share of unpaid reproductive work. Women, feminists, and women’s rights organizations and movements should be fully recognized as key development actors in their own right. What they are demanding is the full realization of women’s rights as human rights, which is essential to any development cooperation framework.

Beyond the already mentioned, what are women’s rights organizations further demanding for Busan?

1. Any new development cooperation framework to be agreed in Busan should be based on human rights, including women’s rights

This means that development cooperation policies and nationally-owned country strategies must conform with international human rights and gender equality standards. Too often, the gap between economic (e.g. trade) and social policies results in increasing social inequality and the perpetuation of gender inequality and discrimination of women and girls worldwide. This gap should be closed through ensuring policy coherence. Development as a right means that all States have the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of the people.

2. A new equitable development cooperation system for gender equality and women’s rights under the United Nations should be in place

The United Nations (UN) is currently the only legitimate space that ensures equal participation of all countries, which have been traditionally excluded from decision-making processes. New ways of financial flows are also gaining momentum such as the South-South and Triangular cooperation[2]. Women’s organizations are calling on governments to include, in their technical assistance, good practices related to gender equality and women’s rights strategies. It is also important for UN Women to be recognized as a key player to advance gender equality and women’s rights, as part of the multilateral development cooperation system, and to support the meaningful participation of women’s rights organizations and integrate their proposals.

3. Development effectiveness requires democratic ownership by women and meaningful and systematic participation by civil society, especially women’s rights and feminist organizations All governments should implement mechanisms for the effective participation of all development actors, including women’s rights and feminist organizations and movements, at local, national and international level, at all stages of the development process. Women's rights organizations are demanding multiple responsibility, accountability and transparency of donors and developing countries without policy conditionalities that have a negative impact on people, particularly on women and girls. In order to promote transparency, all development partners, including the private sector, should adopt a policy of automatic and full disclosure of relevant information.

4. Promote multiple accountability systems for women’s rights and gender equality improving existing monitoring systems Women's rights organizations are demanding a multiple accountability system that includes other key development actors such as: private sector, CSOs, including feminist and women’s rights organizations, parliamentarians, local governments and others. Accountability must not be based on a new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) monitoring system and should go beyond the level of merely measuring outputs (aid delivered) toward addressing the level of outcomes. Aid and development cooperation monitoring systems must improve and build on the existing country or regionally relevant gender equality indicators and accountability mechanisms

Three GENDERNET indicators on gender equality have been integrated into the 2011 Paris Declaration monitoring, but they are optional. Women’s rights organizations want these to be mandatory and used along with other indicators linked to human rights treaties and commitments such as the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) reporting requirements.

5. Financing for Development: Gender Equality and Women’s Rights Beyond Mainstreaming

Women’s rights organizations assert that funding should be diversified to ensure that the gender mainstreaming approach and division of labour does not dilute women’s rights nor exclude other targeted work that is critical for women’s rights, gender equality and poverty reduction. Mainstreaming should include direct support to local women’s groups. Adequate investment should also be ensured for potentially controversial and sensitive women’s rights issues, such as sexual and reproductive rights, which includes divisive questions as access to family planning/contraception, safe abortion and sexual orientation.

Moreover, they strongly advocate for States to put in place innovative financing mechanisms for development by 2015, such as the Robin Hood Tax[3]. This could create a democratic international system to finance development, overcoming existing disparities inherent in the current development cooperation system.

6. Development cooperation to fragile States and countries in situations of conflict has to acknowledge the differential and disproportional impact of armed conflict on the lives and rights of women and girls

Women’s organizations demand that donor countries ban arms sales to countries that are undergoing armed conflict and acknowledge the differential and disproportional impact of armed conflict on the lives and rights of women and girls. This means they should guarantee enough financing to address these issues, including the rights to equality, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition for women who are the victims, as well as effective participation in peace processes and post conflict reconstructions. Donor and developing country governments must commit to supporting feminist and women’s rights organizations and particularly human rights defenders under threat.

Get involved:

To learn more and get involved on the aid effectiveness agenda and related processes particularly from a gender equality and women’s rights perspective, join the Google group listserv hosted by AWID: by contacting

BetterAid is a diverse global platform that brings together CSOs that engage in development cooperation. It enables their voluntary pro-active participation in dialogue and policy influencing opportunities on a wide range of issues to deepen aid and development effectiveness. Learn more on how to join at and access the CSO key messages and proposals on the road to Busan, and other related papers and information.

[1] The consultation, supported by BetterAid, was hosted by WIDE Network and co-organized with the other women’s organizations of the BetterAid Coordination Group: the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), the African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) and Coordinadora de la Mujer from Bolivia. UN Women supported other activities around this consultation.

[2] South-South Cooperation describes the exchange of resources, technology, and knowledge between developing countries, also known as countries of the global South. Triangular cooperation is a relatively recent mode of development cooperation. It normally involves a traditional donor from the ranks of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC), an emerging donor in the South, and a beneficiary country in the South. For further reading see BetterAid's Policy Paper on South-South Development Cooperation.

[3] A Robin Hood Tax means a tiny tax/levy on (large/institutional/business -not personal) financial transactions such as stocks and shares and currency speculation. The money collected can then be used to fight poverty and climate change. It was proposed by a campaigning group largely composed of CSOs and has been supported by economists, politicians and civil society organisations from around the world. See for more information.