Published 7 March 2023 in News
Ahead of March 8, International Women’s Rights Day, Focus 2030 aims to provide a snapshot of women’s rights around the world and to highlight the actions of those who are mobilized on a daily basis for gender equality and, more broadly, for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Focus 2030 : You are the coordinator of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) GenderNet, a network of gender equality experts from international development cooperation agencies aiming to improve gender equality and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals through development policies. A gender equality policy marker was put in place by the DAC in the mid-90s, and although some countries have increased the share of aid for the promotion of women’s rights, the OECD average remains stable at 44% in 2020-2021. From your perspective, why is the situation progressing at such a slow pace and how can we encourage member states to increase their funding for gender equality ?
Jenny Hedman : This is indeed THE question, which also forms the basis for much of our work. This year we are observing that the share of aid with gender equality objectives is even decreasing a little bit for the first time in a long time. We hope that this is just a temporary dip, but will be exploring together with GenderNet members why this may be.
Overall, I think that there are several reasons why members’ focus on gender equality in ODA programming is increasing or not, of which political leadership for gender equality is very important. We see very high shares of ODA for gender equality from the members that have had clear and sustained political support for gender equality over a longer period. Other members with more recent political focus seem to be starting to increase their shares of ODA for gender equality.
That said, in order to strengthen support for gender equality and women’s empowerment the entire system needs to be in place, with policies, strategies, expertise, human resources... This is why we developed the Guidance for the development partners on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls together with GenderNet members. The Guidance identifies good practice when it comes to being a development partner wanting to work towards gender equality, providing examples and check lists for everything from preparing policies and strategies and designing programmes, to monitoring and evaluation, and making sure that your own house is in order – looking at to what extent the development institution’s own human resource policies for instance are gender responsive. We identified the essential elements that should ideally be in place in a development institution to raise the shares of aid with gender equality objectives and contribute to positive outcomes – which of course remains the end goal.
Beyond that, I think the peer learning and exchange that we do in the GenderNet is helpful. There is a wealth of experience within the network and almost always someone who is doing very well in a specific area, that others can learn from and replicate. And last but not least there is the peer pressure amongst members : we publish data on ODA for gender equality every year and of course most members prefer to be top of the class !
Focus 2030 : What are Member States’ top funding priorities for gender equality, and conversely, what sectors or issues seem to be underfunded ?
Jenny Hedman : If we look at bilateral ODA dedicated to gender equality as the main objective, much of this is allocated to reproductive and maternal health, and in the governance area to programmes supporting women’s political participation or law enforcement reforms. Some also goes to ending violence against women and girls, and support for local women’s rights organisations and movements. These are all essential areas for gender equality and it is positive that members are providing funding for this, but one also needs to keep in mind that we are only talking about USD 5.7 billion on average per year in total, globally. This corresponds to 4% of the total ODA examined against the DAC gender equality policy marker – a share that has not budged over the years and that even decreased from last year.
Looking at the programmes in different sectors that integrate gender equality as one of other policy objectives, the areas with the highest shares of ODA with gender equality as an objective are social infrastructure and services such as social protection and employment policies, as well as agriculture and rural development, and education. In these sectors, 65-70% of ODA integrates gender equality objectives.
On the other hand, the focus on gender equality is very low in humanitarian aid and in the energy sector. These two sectors are consistently the "low performers" and I think we can do more as a community to increase the focus on gender equality here. Even if a project or programme does not focus on gender equality specifically, it is important to at least ensure that it will not have negative impacts on gender equality.
Focus 2030 : One of the GenderNet’s focus area of work is gender equality in fragile and conflict-affected situations, a topic that resonates particularly in today’s world affected by multiple and interlinked crises. Can you tell us more about this work ?
Jenny Hedman : Gender inequality and fragility are inter-connected. We know that more could be done to take gender-responsive approaches to humanitarian crises and to support fragile environments. One of the strengths of the GenderNet is that we can bring together gender equality experts with other policy communities. For several years now, we have been working with the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF), facilitating peer learning across these actors and preparing policy advice. Most recently, the OECD States of Fragility report promoted lessons learned. In addition to this, we engage with the Generation Equality Forum Compact on Women, Peace and Security, mainly to support the accountability process and provide data on financing for this area.
We are also working with members to implement the DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Harassment in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance. This is an important tool to ensure that development partners "do no harm" for gender equality in general, and in particular in fragile contexts where women and girls are often placed in vulnerable situations.
The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Focus 2030.