AWID - 26/01/2012


The Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4) which took place in Busan, Korea, from 29th November to 1st December 2011 saw some progress being made in the aid and development effectiveness process but there are still a number of outstanding concerns.

By Anne Schoenstein and Nerea Craviotto

For the first time this HLF included Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) as a formal stakeholder group, and a CSO Sherpa who was part of the negotiations. About 300 CSOs formed part of the approximately 3000 delegates who came together at the official HLF-4, including ministers and heads of international organizations. The outcome was the negotiated Busan Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation. While the new partnership was welcomed by CSOs, the Busan Outcome Document (BOD) was received with mixed feelings and has received criticism.

On the road to HLF-4

Feminists, gender equality and women’s rights activists worked together to influence the aid and development effectiveness process on the road to Busan and at the HLF-4 itself by preparing within the movement as well as with other CSOs, in order to ensure that their voices, critiques and proposals were heard and integrated in the processes. Women’s rights groups have been critical of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)-led aid effectiveness process and have been engaged at this level over the past years, including participating in several meetings in 2011 such as the International Consultation on Development Cooperation, Women’s Rights and Gender Equality.

One of the key outcomes of these engagements is the Key Demands from Women’s Rights Organizations and Gender Equality Advocates document which,among others, urges that HLF-4 produce an outcome document that provides the basis for a new development cooperation architecture that is inclusive and just and thus also responsive and sensitive to women’s rights and gender equality and that it should be situated within the United Nations.

Moreover,the CSO key messages and proposals were developed early on in the process.Women’s groups and other CSOs pushed together for their demands, proposals and human rights based vision of development effectiveness and a just development cooperation architecture including by sitting at the official table of the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness (WP-EFF)as full members via BetterAid.

Women’s organizing in Busan

Prior to the official HLF-4, and as part of the Global Busan Civil Society Forum[1], a group of women’s rights organizations[2]co-organized a Global Women’s Forum, to prepare and strategize further among gender equality advocates for HLF-4.

The political statement that came out of the Women’s Forum pushes for establishing local and democratic ownership as the core aid and development effectiveness principle.It stresses the necessity to move beyond aid effectiveness towards human rights-based development cooperation as a new framework for international solidarity to advance development and poverty eradication in ways that are coherent with international human rights standards and give adequate attention to women’s rights, the right to development and environmental justice.

Moreover, the statement points out that an equitable and inclusive multilateral forum for policy dialogue andstandard setting on development cooperation is needed that ensures legitimacy through membership of alldevelopment actors, with full representation of all developing country perspectives, based within the United Nations (UN).In addition, clear, effective and ongoing mechanisms for CSO participation in international development cooperation of all kinds, including South-South and triangular cooperation, need to be ensured.

The statement makes clear that emphasis on economic growth as a focus of development has not resulted in empowerment of women in all their diversity, particularly the most marginalized and that a rights-based approach to development is imperative to drive development for women.[3]

Initial reflections on the HLF-4 outcomes

The HLF-4 outcomes are mixed for civil society. Some important progress was made but much remains unchanged and uncommitted in terms ofsome of the long outstanding CSO and women’s rights demands.

In terms of progress, in its statement on the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, BetterAid recognizes[4] that for the first time since the Paris Declaration, democratic ownership is acknowledged as a fundamental principle of development cooperation, which should be implemented through inclusive partnerships. The new partnership shifts the focus from a technical aid effectiveness approach towards a development effectiveness one, which is more inclusive, more political and focused on results as rights-based development outcomes rather than aid delivery. In addition, through the Busan Partnership, a new global governance framework will move the development agenda towards a broader and inclusive framework, involving not only OECD-Development Assistance Committee members, but also the United Nations, South-South Cooperation actors, parliamentarians and local authorities, civil society and the private sector. The Busan document also strongly promotes a rights-based enabling environment for civil society and endorses the CSOs’ Istanbul Principles.[5]

The inclusion of a specific paragraph (§20) on gender equality and the empowerment of women is also positive and important to note. However, while women’s groups have generally welcomed the gender paragraph they have been working on improving and strengthening it, as it does not go far enough and can only really stand if it goes hand in hand with an integrated human rights based approach to development and development cooperation overall, and if there is actual implementation.

Busan broadened the development partnership to include new emerging economies that have become major development cooperation players and donors, but which operated outside the Paris and Accra commitments. However, there were challenges in the process and China would not commit to a stronger BOD and only joined the partnership at the last minute on condition that “[t]he principles, commitments and actions agreed in the outcome document in Busan shall be the reference for SouthSouth partners on a voluntary basis”(para 2) only.

Particularly disappointing and of major concern for civil society and women’s rights advocates, is that the BOD makes no explicit commitment to adopt human rights based approaches to development and development cooperation.

Moreover, as the BetterAid statement notes with concern, the few concrete commitments, targets and timelines that were included in earlier drafts of the BOD were later deleted.

The lack of implementing and monitoring agreements in the BOD, and that decisions in this core part of the process were postponed is far from ideal and will require all partners’ attention during the coming months. Equally it will be key to monitor how the invitation in the BOD to the UN Development Cooperation Forum– “to play a role in consulting on the implementation of agreements reached in Busan”- will be facilitated and realized practically.

For women’s rights groups it has been a key demand that a new equitable development cooperation system should be put in place under the United Nations and that accountability must not be based on a new OECD monitoring system and should go beyond measuring outputs (aid delivered) to examine the level of outcomes (results). Aid and development cooperation monitoring systems should be improved by building on and improving the existing indicators and accountability mechanisms.

The Busan Joint Action Plan on Gender Equality and Development

Another important discussion, especially for gender equality and women’s rights advocates, that took place during the CSO pre-meetings and during HLF-4 was the Busan Joint Action Plan on Gender Equality and Development – initiated by the Korean and United States (U.S.) governments.The action plan received criticism from women’s groups present in Busan who did not endorse the draft action plan in its current form.

In their position paper, women’s groups recognized the effort of the Korean and U.S. Governments to produce the action plan also recognizing the efforts of the Korean Government to promote gender equality as a central principle of the HLF-4 and the BOD. They also welcomed any efforts by states to increase funding to women’s rights and empowerment and urged governments to make substantial financial commitments to the advancement of women’s rights. But they were not able to endorse the action plan in its form, as it did not sufficiently promote the enjoyment of fundamental human rights and substantive equality. Furthermore, women’s groups were particularly concerned about the plan’s narrow focus on developing economies rather than on women’s full enjoyment of their rights.This remains an ongoing process and a consultation will be held on the implementation of the plan at this year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

What next?

It remains imperative for women’s rights and gender equality advocates to continue advocating for a shift in the dominant development discourse towards an inclusive, sustainable, and just paradigm that recognizes and values reproductive and care work, promotes decent work and promotes the empowerment of women and girls and human rights for all.

Women’s groups are involved in the post-Busan evaluation and follow-up work by CSOs and AWID will share in depth reflections on HLF-4 and its outcomes in its forthcoming primer 11 as part of the Women’s Rights and Development Cooperation Series.

[1]Co-organized by BetterAid, the Korea Civil Society Forum on International Development Cooperation (KoFID) and the Open Forum from 26-28 November 2011.

[2]The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), WIDE Network and Coordinadora de la Mujer/Bolivia.

[3]This article can highlight only some key areas, demands and proposals, please access the full Busan Global Women’s Forum Political Statement.

[4] BetterAid (2011). BetterAid Statement on the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. Better Aid : www.betteraid.org.

[5] Ibid 4.