Gender, Development and New Aid Architecture post 2015: Architects or Pawns in Development Engineering?

By Rosabel Agirregomezkorta

Women rights activists have gained in the current international governments processes around development, but also lost a lot in the processes. Reviewing the effects, together with a decrease in recourses because of multiple crises, it calls upon feminists to be very strategic in their resistance to mainstream neo-liberal policies. At the same time ‘now’ is the moment even more to resist and stand for our alternatives.

Assessment of the new aid: light and dark

The so-called New’ Aid Architecture effectiveness agenda calls for an assessment that is light and dark. Two aspects in particular point to this: participation and contents.

Among the positive in terms of participation is that this process has contributed to capacity building, strengthened alliances and joint advocacy among civil society (CS). At the same time, there are many dark sides. The process has decreased the spaces of women’s CS participation in official processes together with a trend of having fewer resources for participating. What is more important, the official governmental process has had a harmful impact on feminist participation and pedagogy, which is based on an alternative, a more horizontal approach. Feminists have worked hard to be more included and heard in the formal process of the new aid architecture agenda, thus becoming more part of the formal CSO spaces in this process. This increased participation encourages erosion in the feminist approach of participation.

This is a trend that can be seen over a long time. Wendy Harcourt wrote in 2006 about feminist joining the formal processes: “(R)eviewing those years, it is possible to see how women’s groups entered into a dominant set of biopolitical practices, and in doing so reinforced many of the oppressive techniques they were challenging in the first place. …It was a strategic choice, but one that misjudged the way in which power and knowledge work through bureaucracies, negotiations and the infinitesimal mechanisms that are continually renewing and reinvesting power in procedures determining “green rooms”, pass systems, invited guests and lobbying procedures, among others.” (paper number 25, published by UNRISD, August 2006).

Regarding contents, the new development agenda recognizes the neo-liberal development failure. It takes into account some CSOs´ demands such as the need for policy coherence aligned with Human Rights (right to development, women’s rights…), a Development Results focused management, accountability and the need to address UN reform. However in the implementation process, those elements were relegated by other more “technical” issues of the ODA flows. In the end, development is and remains reduced to poverty eradication, and poverty to a technical problem to be solved by technical and procedural means. This approach is far from the development approach we defend in WIDE+, as it is unfair, exploitative and gender blind.

Also in terms of contents, I think we should consider the poor results for gender equality and women’s empowerment. I mean the scarce achievements for the enormous effort and dedication of women’s groups. How else to call a single mention of gender in policy documents, or the permanent unfulfilment on equality commitments?

Architectures of renewed social orders

In my view, these post-development or new development agendas update well-known ideas and means, thus showing us little advance on the development’s imaginary and discourses. It remains aimed to perpetuate and to legitimize a concrete global social order, based on a white, neoliberal and speculative patriarchy. This social reconfiguration has been reinforced by the speculative-financial crisis of the West.

Main elements in this process of reinforcing the existing order are:

1)       The failure of the most recent long term Development Agenda and how it is explained. The failure of the MDGs now is explained by the cuts in ODA, ignoring the fact that already in 2005 the World Bank predicted the failure of its achievement. When taking into account that the MDGs are considered by many women’s groups and feminists as a very limited framework, the failure is even greater. In fact, Ban Ki Moon himself stated in Beijing +15 (2010): “the progress made in relation to women and girls (…) have been very uneven, with poor results (…) The multiple global crises (…) economic and financial, food and energy and climate change, have adversely affected the development goals agreed at the international level (…) and have put into question current approaches to development.” So, he believes that it about time: “to rethink and modify the approaches, strategies and policy measures to ensure a pattern of growth and equitable development, equal and sustainable”.

2)       The failure of the UN agenda supporting the Human Rights framework. After the 11 September attacks there was the subsequent return to a militarized Security agenda based on U.S. military hegemony. It has mortally wounded UN.

3)       Against all odds, the speculative crisis has further strengthened the neoliberal thesis based on the Washington Consensus. Adjustment policies are imposed in Europe, many welfare states are being cut and European democracies are ‘kidnapped’ by technocrats pushing for financial reforms that come about outside the common democratic processes. The wave of privatization has taken a major boost and reached development cooperation, with corporations being framed as saviors of the ODA flows. In political agendas, no mention to the multiple crises (food, care and environmental) and no responses are given.

4)       We are experiencing more neo-conservative and neo-machist attacks. These are not new but are gaining visibility and they are very active in attacking the rights of women, equal policies, and Feminism (‘feminazis’ as they call us). These attacks contain the usual mechanisms used in other contexts of crisis (for instance armed conflict and/or humanitarian crisis) where social reconfiguration is done manipulating women’s  roles and bodies.

Thus, at least in Spain, we see that all these elements are contributing to set up a renewed power distribution that is more concentrated, where social organizations, and especially feminists, are heavily attacked and criminalized. As the CONGDE´s president, Merche Ruiz Jimenez, states: “The cuts are not caused only by the current economic situation, the crisis, the so-called crisis, rather I consider it embezzlement. We also observed a change in the pattern of development cooperation that had been articulated and built in the last 10 years”[1]. CONGDE is the main network of development organizations in Spain.

I believe that not just the development Cooperation is being reshaped but a Global Social Order. It calls for our action: we need to strengthen continuums, the links between local, domestic and foreign dynamics, and to reinforce creative alliances among diverse movements and discourses.

What to do? Priorities and Challenges for feminists

Contrary to market logic, feminist organizations continue to advocate alternative models based on the values ​​of social justice, equity, participation and solidarity, even though we suffered severe cuts which affect our functioning. Our demands remain the same and we keep on claiming and defending alternatives (Good Living, Care, Degrowth, Commoning,…). And certainly I am quite optimistic about the opportunities created. Thus, now is the momentum to put ourselves, in front of the other side of the mirror, checking our proposals and ways with our peers, as, I would say that for the very first time, we are now equals to African, Asian and Latin American women. We are all victims of the same model. Moreover, we have much to learn from them and we need them for our own survival. The balance of power has been reversed. It is a good opportunity for a feminist pedagogy.

Former WIDE has been very active in the Effectiveness agenda and its processes, participating in the CSO platforms of Better Aid and the Open Forum. Now WIDE+ is part, but less actively, of the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE) created in Nairobi, Kenya, 2012. There are also many battles to fight in other processes aligned to formal governments processes, but also in those among social movements, protesting on the streets, direct political action, etc. Thus, the question is how to deal with participating and positioning in the CPDE space and other current development processes? Roughly there are two main positions to be distinguished:

  • An approach calling for continuity:

– Keep ensuring the presence of feminists in the processes;

– Mainstreaming women’s right agenda;

– Demanding the policy coherence aligned to human rights and equality commitments.

• A breaking approach or vision, passed through social mobilizations:

– A radical position and social mobilization;

– The need of re-politicizing and re-appropriation of our own agendas and priorities;

-Considering participation as a political weapon to develop, and prioritizing agendas and spaces where to participate. I believe that non-participation is a form of advocacy and political participation we should to explore.

Of course, there are intermediate pathways WIDE+ should explore. Both approaches share the fatigue that we are feminist experience: we are supposed to be everywhere defending women’s rights and a gender approach. Now that we have less resources, our strength has weakened (but not our will) while there are more battles to fight. So, we are requesting clear commitments to our allies and partners, especially CSOs, as it was seeing in the Nairobi Summit, December 2012, where by the first time a CSO Statement took into consideration feminist demands for equality and the rights of women, committing it to feminist approaches and mechanisms. However, strong resistance coexists, especially in Europe[2].

The need to choose strategically our partners is a key challenge. Shall we collaborate with everyone who ask us, or only with those really committed to equality? The former could help us implement and propose innovative experiences and practices.

What is clear to me is that we, as feminist, have to respond to one question: ‘what are these multiple crises for?’. Is it a momentum for survival and resistance? Or it is the time for transformation? I believe this is time to promote alternative practices. And these alternatives are not that new. We are demanding and defending them for decades. It is time to act and to place our alternatives and proposals in the forefront of social movements in Europe, working on the dissemination and practical experimentation glocally (global and locally).

It is time for a feminist resistance which responds and gives hope to global outrage, and generate alternative architectures based on Justice, Peace, Equality and Environmental respect. Time for Buen Vivir.

Rosabel Agirregomezkorta, direccion(at)ceim.eu, Centro de estudios e Investigación sobre Mujeres, CEIM, WIDE-E (Spanish platform) Coordinator.


[2]The feminist approach is not appreciated by the European group. We prefer to speak of gender equality and equity and the rights of women and girls, as well as the rights of all minorities and repressed groups, maintaining consistency with other external documents, such as the Istanbul Principles”. Comments of the European Group for the Document, CEPD, 2012.

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