CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness and its feminist approach in Europe

A new civil society structure has been set up that will advocate and work around the Aid Effectiveness agenda. In this new structure, feminism, women’s rights and gender equality play a role. The feminist approach was also part of the discussion among European CSOs when discussing the new structure. A report of the recent developments fromJoanna Szabunko at KARAT, a WIDE + platform member.

After the High Level Forum (HLF) on Aid Effectiveness in Busan from 29 November to 1 December 2011, civil society organizations (CSOs) have continued their engagement for development effectiveness. Two main platforms involved in this process, the Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness (OF) and the BetterAid coalition (BA) decided to merge, and established the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE). The new structure and its strategy are being developed through the regional and sectoral consultations.

The European consultations for the CPDE took place in Belgrade on 3 and 4 July 2012. 34 participants from 23 European countries (EU and non-EU) and from regional and global organizations participated. The main objectives of the consultations were:

  • seeking consensus on European CSOs’ priorities on the development      effectiveness agenda,
  • providing input to the set up of the CPDE,
  • selecting the European focal persons, and
  • deciding on the sub-regional divisions in European structure and on      the roles and responsibilities of the European CSOs.

The basis for the discussions was the draft of the paper that established the CPDE: “Towards a CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE)” prepared by a working Group of 13 members in April 2012 in Amsterdam. This document is composed with three main parts:1.WHO WE ARE – explaining the history and planned membership of the new structure, 2. WHAT WE WANT TO ACHIEVE – presenting the goals, outcomes and strategies, 3. THE WAY WE WORK – describing the structures and governance of the CPDE.

The commitment to gender equality and women’s rights is stressed throughout this document. The CPDE envisions the realization of human rights, social justice, equality (especially gender equality) and sustainability in development. It also promotes: “human rights-based, bottom up, consensus-based and feminists (meaning in this context challenging to power relations) approaches and decision-making”. Gender equality, women’s’ rights and a feminist approach are also mentioned in the context of the structure and governance of CPDE. The representatives of governing bodies are to be appointed by regions, sub-regions and sectors, one of which are ‘women’.

The document recognizes that: “Gender equality is a crosscutting issue that goes to the heart of social justice and equality. As such, beyond the recognition of the major role of women as a sector, all of our work is contingent on the advancement of women’s rights and gender equality. The feminist approach, focusing specifically on women’s rights and gender equality, must be represented to a just extent to contribute to all working groups (including other sectors and thematic groups), governance bodies and coordination bodies. Therefore, a quota of 20% of representatives is to be assured at all levels”.

This provision along with the references to the ‘feminist approach’ throughout the whole document was problematic for the majority of the participants of the European consultations. The majority of participants agreed that gender equality and women’s rights but definitely opposed the language of feminist approach, suggesting to maintain the values and language used so far by the Open Forum and its documents. As a result of the discussions it was stated in the “Feedback of The European Group to the CPDE Document” that: “The feminist approach is not appreciated by the European group. We would rather speak of gender equality and equity and women and girls rights as well as rights for all minority and suppressed groups, keeping consistency with other external documents, such as in the Istanbul Principles”.

Only few women’s organizations and supporters of a feminist approach were present at the European consultations. The voice of feminists, especially those previously involved in the Open Forum and BetterAid, was not strong enough. The absence of WIDE was visible. The reactions of the participants to the wording of the document and its proposed mechanisms proved that the real dialogue on how to effectively ensure gender equality and women’s rights (already supported in previous OF and BA documents) in the CPDE work and in the activities of its members is still necessary. On the other hand, even if the proposals for mainstreaming a feminist approach and representation of feminists in the governing bodies of CPDE is approved, there will be a little chance to implement them without greater engagement of feminist organizations at European level as well as on national levels in Europe.

Besides the issues directly related to gender equality, women’s rights and a feminist approach, the participants proposed a number of improvements to the draft of the CPDE paper, re-defining the structure, strategy and ways of work of the new body. It was agreed that the document should be shorter and less bureaucratic to make it clearer for large constituencies. It was stressed that there must be a better balance between the advocacy work of CPDE and the emphasis on the CSOs development effectiveness. The participants also agreed that the members of the future CPDE must agree with the Istanbul Principles including the Principle 2: Embody gender equality and equity while promoting women and girls´ rights. They should also support the Key Asks agreed by the CSO Open Forum and Better Aid. For its own structure, the European group proposed to have 3 sub-regions. And at the end of consultations, the group selected Justin Kilcullen, director of Trocaire and former president of CONCORD, as CPDE representative of the European region.

The process of establishing CPDE continues. The feedback from the regional and sectoral consultations was given to the Group of 13 drafting the document. Further discussions were planned for the coming months, in which further consultations on CPDE will take place in sub-regional groups.

Written by Joanna Szabunko, KARAT

Further information: Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness and BetterAid