4 September 2008

Africa: Lost in a Haystack - Gender Equality in Aid Effectiveness

Photo: United Nations
The UN assists refugees in the Sudan.


Early in September 2008 the world will hold another one of its mega gatherings in Accra Ghana - the third high level forum on aid effectiveness. World leaders will convene to append their priceless signatures to a document now popularly called the triple A, which stands for the Accra Agenda for Action. The triple A, an outcome document ostensibly from the three days of intense discussions and lobbying is actually a prepackaged condensation from evaluations of the implementation of the Paris declaration and consultations about them conducted between 2006 and 2008 in all the regions of the world. It includes promises to expand and include more of the actors/agents of development such as the civil society organisations (CSOs) who were sidelined in the earlier rendition of the Paris declaration. It charts the broad actions that will no doubt occupy many development actors between now and December 2011 when the fourth high level forum on aid effectiveness takes place.

This paper attempts to show how and why the text of the triple A had to be different from the Paris declaration. The custodians of the Paris declaration insistently make the point that the triple A does not overtake, override nor overwrite the Paris declaration. The former only reasserts the latter.


For over three decades assertive programming in human rights, social justice and in particular women's rights have generated and expanded the literature and instruments, created a number of global and local institutions and, above all, popularised the notion and language of (universal and attainable) human rights. The investments have been massive and in many instances the gains have been significant. But the results cannot be said to be equivalent to the value of investments.

Despite being on the international development agenda as a programmatic commitment for over 30 years and with a good number of multilateral, bilateral and private development institutions in addition to many international non governmental organisations pursuing the cause, gender equality and women's empowerment has still not been fully achieved in most parts of the world as in Africa. This is despite the multiplicity of signed, ratified and even domesticated legal instruments designed to protect (and assure) these rights. It would seem that development aid has failed women and the cause for gender equality. Clearly a paradigm shift is required to assure aid effectiveness. Has this come in the form of the Paris declaration?

The global aid architecture has undergone significant changes since the turn of the century. Spurred by development failures in many developing nations, rising donor disenchantment with the reach, depth and sustainability of NGOs (non governmental organisations) led and inspired transformation coupled with their generally weak governance, many donors renewed their commitment to working directly with and through developing country governments. On the other hand, calls for good governance and participation in public policymaking were growing louder and louder. Beginning with the Millennium Declaration in 2000, which gave birth to the contemporary global development framework - the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), a number of significant high level meetings led to the charting and adoption of a number of landmark declarations. The Monterrey consensus in 2002 together with the Marrakech roundtable in 2004 led to the crystallisation and juxtaposition of the notions of ownership, alignment, harmonisation, and managing for results in relation to aid effectiveness. In March 2005 a declaration was signed in Paris now popularly called the Paris declaration, which has become the lighthouse document for aid effectiveness currently shaping the contours, architecture and discourses of global aid. The Paris declaration consolidated commitment among a sizeable number of donors and their development partner countries and actors to implement changes in the planning, coordination, monitoring and evaluation of aid.

Major reviews of the Paris declaration suggest that the narrow focus of the Paris declaration on efficiency and structural reforms of aid delivery mechanisms has limited positive impact on development or aid effectiveness in general and gender equality in particular.


The European network on debt and development suggests that aid is effective if it is helping to tackle global inequality and poverty. The advisory group on civil society and aid effectiveness states in a concept paper of 2007 that 'Aid effectiveness means the extent to which aid resources succeed in producing sustainable development results for poor people'. According to the advisory group on civil society, aid effectiveness is important because it:

- draws attention to the big picture, to ensure that the ultimate objectives of the aid system as a whole are being met;

- can help to ensure that the international aid system remains true to its primary purpose in the face of competing interests of a political or bureaucratic nature, institutional imperatives, foreign policy goals, or commercial objectives;

- provides a framework for enquiring into broad lessons of good practice and establishing a consensus on how aid could be improved', (Paragraph 46).

From a gender equality perspective aid would be considered to be effective if it reaches and sustainably transforms the lives of poor women and men, if women and men equally contribute to and benefit from the investments and from the fruits of development. Aid is thus said to be effective if it delivers on development, reduces poverty, brings about gender equality, the advancement of women and the protection of their human rights and national growth.


The Paris declaration is currently the guiding framework for aid effectiveness. This three year old declaration with targets for the year 2010 is shaping the contours, architecture and discourses of global aid. As the lighthouse document for aid effectiveness, it has been described by the organisation for economic cooperation and development (OECD, 2007) as:

'An ambitious attempt to increase the impact of aid on development by promoting more mature partnerships between donors and partner countries. It also seeks to enhance partner countries' ability to manage all development resources more effectively; and enable their citizens, and parliaments, to hold governments accountable on its use. As well as committing all parties to the Declaration to a clearly specified set of actions and behavioural changes, it also calls for periodic monitoring at the country level, so that the governments of developing countries and their external partners are increasingly accountable to each other for the progress being made' (OECD, 2007,Chap 3).

The Paris declaration is laid out in three sections namely the statement of resolve, partnership commitments and indicators of progress. Much of the discussions and contentions to date have revolved around the five principles that underlie the partnership commitments: ownership, alignment harmonisation, managing for results, and mutual accountability.

The statement of resolve highlights the raison d'être of the declaration as the scaling up of aid, identifying the management and implementation processes of the new approach, including the adaptability to differing country situations, the specification of targets and their timelines. It also suggests a monitoring and evaluation schema. Two monitoring and evaluation exercises have been conducted to date in 2006 and 2008.

The second section, of the Paris declaration contains 50 partnership commitments in relation to the five principles of ownership, alignment, harmonisation, managing for results, and mutual accountability. The commitments are partner specific so that the responsibilities are clear.

The third and final section of the Paris declaration is the table of 12 indicators and targets to be achieved by the year 2010. Each of the five principles has one or a set of measurable indicators: ownership has one indicator, alignment has seven indicators, harmonisation two indicators, managing for results one indicator and mutual accountability also has one indicator. It has been suggested, on account of the heavy emphasis on the principle of alignment, as shown by the number of indicators attached to it, that the Paris declaration is principally an instrument to improve the efficiency of aid not necessarily its effectiveness.

The new aid agenda dominated by the Paris declaration is seen as attempting to perform two related functions:

1. increasing the resources for doing development, and;

2. better management of aid in order for it to more effectively deliver development and poverty reduction.

To this extent the declaration of principles and commitments attempts to shape (change) the conduct of both aid-givers and aid-takers to ensure that aid does indeed lead to genuine development and the transformation of lived realities. Yet the Paris declaration is silent about the most disadvantaged poor, many of who are the world's women. There is one mention of the words 'gender equality' in the entire Paris declaration. Many of the major reviews of the Paris declaration to date suggest that the narrow focus of the Paris declaration on efficiency and structural reforms of aid mechanisms will have a limited positive impact on development effectiveness in general and gender equality in particular (DCD/DAC, 6-2006, 7).

Gender equality is a fundamental human right, an issue of social justice critical for growth and poverty reduction. No global instrument or mechanism purporting to be at the service of transformatory development can be insensitive to dimensions of poverty, which is itself sensitive to gender, social exclusion, illiteracy etc. To be effective therefore aid in any modality must necessarily support gender equality, the advancement of women and the protection of human rights.

As the Paris declaration moves from formulation through implementation to monitoring, and to the target year of 2010 there is an urgent need for activism around its accountability for gender equality. One practical way to do this is to engender the Paris declaration.


On account of the global reach and critical importance that the signatories, the participating countries and organisations ascribe to the Paris declaration, it is imperative that all development workers treat it with weighty seriousness. Thus if a critical dimension such as gender equality is left out or is given treatment that does not correspond to its important role in development effectiveness, it must not be left unchallenged and unheeded. The words gender equality appear in paragraph 42 of the Paris declaration as follows: 'similar harmonisation efforts are also needed on other cross-cutting issues such as gender equality and other thematic issues including those by dedicated funds.' Although the Paris declaration provides the framework and principles that could support gender equality and women's empowerment, the inescapable conclusion is that in its current or original form, the Paris declaration is gender blind.

It is this paradox of gender insensitivity on the one hand, and the great potential to foster gender equality and the empowerment of women on the other, that has captured the attention of gender equality advocates, activists and researchers. Globally, gender equality enthusiasts, women's rights activists have been working to make this potential lodged in the Paris declaration evident and overt. Organisations such as UNIFEM, Association for Women's Rights in Development, the OECD's Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Network on gender equality, to mention a few, have supported the engendering of the Paris declaration and this work is still ongoing.

Although all the sections of the Paris declaration require revision to make them gender sensitive, much of the engendering to date has centred on the commitments, their underlying principles and the indicators. The DAC network on gender equality suggests that the donor community 'use the implementation of the Paris declaration's principles and commitments to:

- harmonise approaches to support for gender equality;

- implement concrete actions, focussed on results and impacts;

- be responsible and accountable for ... gender equality and women's empowerment'.

They offer specific suggestions as do many other women organisations about how some, each or all of the commitments, can be made more gender sensitive so as to respond to gender equality and women's empowerment.

Work supported by UNIFEM in Africa and undertaken by a six member expert group on new aid modalities, along with the African gender and development evaluators network, resulted in the generation of 29 gender sensitive indicators to correspond to each of the 12 Paris declaration indicators. It cannot, therefore, any longer be said that measurements and assessments cannot be made of the gender equality and women's empowerment dimensions of aid effectiveness because there are no indicators.

In addition to the twenty nine gender sensitive Paris declaration indicator set now available as a global public resource, many commentators have suggested that the performance assessment frameworks that include gender equality indicators be used as one way to go.

The clamour for good governance and accountability has popularised results oriented management and/or managing for results in development evaluation. These approaches deploy frameworks that are based on the logic model. Since it has been observed that none of the current assessment frameworks of the Paris declaration explicitly incorporate the monitoring of gender and social equity, one model was generated by Florence Etta working with and as a member of the UNIFEM new aid modalities expert group since 2006.


Gender equality assessment and accountability framework is a results oriented assessment framework, which can be used for any monitoring or evaluation exercise sensitive to the issues of gender equality and women's rights. The framework matrix (7x4) identifies the monitoring and evaluation dimensions/issues at four levels (rows in the matrix) of input, output, outcome and impact. Each row has an identified and corresponding expected or desired result as well as their indicators. These in addition to other desirable/common dimensions of a monitoring or evaluation plan such as sources of information/data; methods of collection etc constitute the columns. Aid flows constitute the input or first level/row. At this level the desired result is high aid volumes for the 'right' programmes, sectors, projects or institutions, which target women and girls, their empowerment and or gender equality.

The entire Paris declaration with its 12 indicators along with the corresponding or complementary gendered indicator set, are regarded as output indicators. The expected results at this level are aid efficiency and effective aid management.

Full scale support for gender equality otherwise known as gender mainstreaming is treated in this framework as fitting at the third or outcome level. The desired results would be gender mainstreaming in all sectors, projects, programmes receiving aid irrespective of their nature where there is routine use and application of gendered tools and techniques in project implementation and in the monitoring and evaluation of results and impacts.

At the fourth and highest level of impact, the transformation of gender relations, more equitable sharing and control of and benefits from resources (and development) would be the expected result. At the lower first and second levels the place and role of aid is very visible but at the higher third and fourth levels the fact that aid is effective ought to translate into more global development outcomes so much so that the direct contribution and thus attributions of change from the effects of aid and of growth become increasing difficult to disentangle. It is for this reason that the indicators at this level appear less and less tied to aid. We however acknowledge that aid by itself will not lead to development.

The programme logic/model subsumed by the framework can be represented as follows: aid flows (input) â,' efficiency and effective management of aid effectiveness (Paris declaration) (output) â,' gender mainstreaming in all in aid interventions (outcome) â,' gender equality and women's human rights upheld globally (impact).


Aid can be no more effective than the Paris declaration is blind. So perhaps it is just as well that the text (of the Paris declaration) cannot be changed as the custodians tell us. For lost in its power and beauty is gender equality and women's empowerment. The triple A however shows great promise for in its embrace of multilevel consultations and changeability a rich harvest for aid effectiveness is possible.

On account of this we are hopeful. Hopeful and encouraged to use the opportunities offered by the new aid modalities and the tools that have been and continue to be developed in a new way to generate pictures of aid effectiveness that are not partial but whole in the hope that a future we envisage of genuine, sustainable and equitable development can be reached.

History, however teaches that hope alone never delivers justice. Gender equality and women's rights activists, programmers, supporters and all who fervently desire a world rid of gender based injustice should continue the militancy that has accompanied the preparation for the Accra high level forum well beyond September 2008. As this work moves forward it will be informed and guided by strategies, approaches, tools and techniques that are suited to the task in hand. Never before has this convergence happened.

* Florence E. Etta is currently an independent research, monitoring and evaluation consultant in the fields of Information and Communication Technology Policy, Information and Communication Technologies for Development, Education, Environment, Gender and Development.

* This article is an extract from a longer paper which will be included as a chapter in the forthcoming "African Perspectives on Aid in Africa" book published by AFRODAD and Fahamu

*Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/

REFERENCES: Accra Agenda for Action, Second Draft, June 2008

Civil Society and Aid effectiveness- concept paper (draft of September 17 2007) http://sitesources.worldbank.org/ACCRAEXT/Resources attached 4/7/08

Etta, F, Reference Guidelines for Integrating Gender Equality in the Aid effectiveness Agenda, Final Report of paper commissioned by UNIFEM NY, June 2007.

Eurodad, Turning the tables Aid & Accountability under the Paris Framework, 2008 April

FEMNET, Recommendations of the International Consultation of Women's Organisations and Networks and Aid effectiveness, Communiqué at a Regional Consultations On Aid effectiveness 26th & 27th May 2008

OECD, DAC Network on Gender Equality: Paris declaration Commitments and Implications for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment, July 2006

OECD, Regional Workshops on the Paris Declaration, Emerging Common Themes and Key Messages, November 2006

OECD, Working Party on Aid effectiveness and Donor Practices, Consultation with Civil Society Organizations, February 2007

OECD, Working Party on Aid effectiveness and Donor Practices, Draft Concept Note for the Accra High Level Forum on Aid effectiveness' March 2007. OECD- Development Co-operation Directorate, Development Assistance Committee, Gender Equality, Women's Empowerment and aid effectiveness, DAC, April 2008

Payne L. & S. Neville, Aid Instruments, Social Exclusion and Gender, Background Paper for DFID's internal guidance on Aid Instruments, March 2006,

UNIFEM, NY, National Ownership and Gender Equality key to Development Effectiveness, April 2008

United Nations, Trends and Progress in international development cooperation, Secretary General, New York July 2008

Wikipedia http://er.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aid-effectiveness

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