Development Effectiveness process – what is next for feminists in Europe and worldwide?

In July 2012 two representatives from WIDE+ participated in the International Women’s Organizations and Networks Consultation on the CSO partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE) held in Nairobi, Kenya. The CPDE is a new structure for civil society organization’s (CSO’s) joint efforts in the Aid and Development Effectiveness agenda which will replace the two structures BetterAid and Open Forum in order to channel CSO’s official participation in the implementation of the Busan agreement. Feminist and women’s rights organisations were meeting in Nairobi mainly to provide input into the CPDE proposal, and select focal organizations for international and regional coordination. Katarzyna Staszewska WIDE+ coordinator on the Aid and Development process reports.

Setting the ground

WIDE+ participation in the Nairobi meeting was an outcome of the long-standing critical engagement of WIDE in the Aid and Development process. Particularly it resulted from the joint work of WIDE with other regional and global networks (AWID, FEMNET, APWLD, Coordinadora de la Mujer) to advance a feminist approach to the development effectiveness agenda. Till the end of 2011, WIDE was an active member of the BetterAid Coordination Group (BACG) where, together with the 4 above mentioned organizations, we strived to ensure that feminist voices and perspectives are represented.

BetterAid is a full member of the OECD Working Party on Aid Effectiveness and it has remained engaged in the negotiations on the post-Busan monitoring framework and new development architecture. It proved to be a strong ally in pushing for gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights as essential to a people centered development. With the changing Aid and Development Effectiveness process, the BACG is currently reviewing its structure, terms of reference and the means for inter-active communication. Since the early 2012, BetterAid and Open Forum have been working together to develop a new structure for CSO’s joint official engagement in the aid and development effectiveness process. The proposal for a new structured engagement has been drafted as the CSO partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE).

Feminist input, discussion and endorsement of the CPDE proposal were the Nairobi meeting rationale. It was imperative for us – feminist and women’s rights groups – to hold a consultation under the auspices of BetterAid, on how to sustain the gains we have made over the years in this agenda; how to organise ourselves to effectively engage in the process and ensure representation and leadership of women’s rights organisations in a new CSO formation.

What is CPDE?

The CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE) aims to be an open platform that brings together CSOs from all over the world. The CPDE envisions the realization of human rights, social justice, equality (especially gender equality) and sustainability in development. The platform will work on the application of principles, strategies and initiatives that promote development effectiveness, especially in development cooperation. Any CSO that endorses its vision, believes in its objectives and adheres to its principles will be able join and actively participate. Such CSOs will be able to engage through international and regional levels or through sectoral formations (women, rural, labour, faith groups, INGOs). Representatives that are democratically selected by their own constituencies in these aforementioned levels and processes will govern the platform. The CPDE has an ambition to be country focused. At the global level it will aim to critically engage with the Post Busan Interim Group – and later secretariat of the Global Partnership –to participate, monitor and hold accountable all signatories of the Busan agreement.

As for the moment, CPDE presents a very complex structure with a global governance body to be called the Global Council (GC), a smaller Coordination Committee to oversee day-to day work at global level, and similar regional and sub-regional (where relevant) coordination bodies.The challenge is to ensure that all regional, sub-regional and sectoral groups are equally represented at all levels of the governance structure.

What happened in Nairobi?

During the Nairobi meeting the draft proposal for the CPDE structure was critically reviewed from a feminist and women’s rights perspective. The review was part of the larger process of review simultaneously conducted by all regional and sectoral groups that have been BetterAid members to date. The point was to endorse (or not) the proposal and bring critical remarks to finalize its approval.

Generally speaking, women participating in the Nairobi meeting welcomed the CPDE proposal with a great scepticism. We missed a more radical, straight-forward and political language clarifying our critical position towards a neo-liberal model of development. We were extremely overwhelmed with the level of bureaucracy behind the proposal. And were very concerned about the efforts of some regional and sectoral groups to dilute and/or delete feminist language and quota for feminist representation. At the same time all participants agreed that leaving the new structure would mean giving up the work done so far and consent for feminist groups to work in vain.

The outcome of the meeting was that we have agreed to endorse the CPDE proposal but with the following amendments:

  • Vision: the CPDE vision should reflect our feminist aims and acknowledge that development is both a condition for, and contingent on women’s rights enjoyment.
  • Unique recognition of women’s rights: every sector and every region as a part of CPDE must integrate a feminist perspective to empower women as agents of development and recognize their centrality.
  • Quota for feminist representation: we reserve a minimum quotas of 20% representation at all levels for women’s and feminist organizations to ensure the CPDE is guided by a feminist perspective at its core. In addition, the CPDE should aim to have 50% representation of women as representatives throughout the structure.
  • Co-chairs: we propose having at least 1 co-chair as a feminist organization that will be accountable to this constituency, provide feminist leadership and content analysis derived from the broader membership.
  • Accountabilities: we need specific mechanisms to ensure all representatives have some level of accountability to their constituencies and to the CSOs in the CPDE at large. In addition, participants of the Nairobi meeting elected their own regional representatives to the CPDE governance structure (all but Europe), and requested AWID to continue representing women’s and feminist groups at the global level.

What about Europe?

With regard to the current capacity of WIDE Plus, we have not taken up the role to coordinate mobilization and engagement process of women’s and feminist organizations at European level within the women’s group sector of CPDE. There was also no other volunteers to do so, although space in the CPDE governance structure is provided.

Disappointingly, women’s groups have hardly been reached out to by the European coordination body, which is CONCORD. Furthermore, European region is the strongest advocate to delete the feminist approach and quotas for feminist organizations from the CPDE proposal. This points to the critical gap of the structured and regular feminist engagement in the development debates at European and Brussels level.

What next?

Outcomes of the Nairobi discussions, concrete suggestions and language proposals were taken by one of the feminist groups representatives to the BetterAid meeting held in mid August in Madrid. Although some negotiations were successful, there are still some issues that require further consideration and decision (for example, negotiations with the European region on the feminist perspective). The final draft of the CPDE proposal should be released in early October and officially approved at the end of the month during the face-to-face meeting of BetterAid and Open Forum in Latin America.

Insider’s reflection

As a person actively engaged in the Aid and Development Effectiveness process since Accra in 2008, I am very concerned about the direction the civil society engagement is taking. As civil society united in the BetterAid platform we are today a party to the Busan Partnership for Development Effectiveness which, although ‘nicer’ and more ‘gender friendly’ than previous agreements, reinforces the neo-liberal model of development we are rejecting. Secondly, by focusing on a heavy bureaucratic model structuring the CSO engagement we risk diluting our radical feminist positions and directing our attention to organizing between CSOs rather than watching over the international institutions and state actors doing harm. Last but not least, being a party to Global Partnership uniting states, multilateral institutions, private sector and others position us as a partner from the inside, rather than – in my opinion – an independent actor from the outside.

In Nairobi, women’s organizations made a choice. The decision was taken to endorse and engage with the CPDE, otherwise we work in vain. Nevertheless there were some initial ideas to create a Feminist Partnership for Development Effectiveness, which may be further elaborated in the future. Personally, I understand this decision, I think it is a right one, yet – referring to the arguments mentioned above – it is difficult for me to enjoy it.

As for Europe, it became clear that there is a big challenge and a lot of work to do in order to ensure support or even consent for feminist engagement with our colleagues. It seems to me that as WIDE+ and as individual platforms of WIDE we should further clarify our approach and relations with such crucial actors like CONCORD. Also in this context it is evident how WIDE and feminist voices are missing at the EU level.


Katarzyna Staszewska, WIDE+ member.