Feminist assistance policy pivot: Will it be enough?

July 20, 2017
The development assistance landscape is always changing.  And sometimes it changes for the better. Last month Canada released its first new international development strategy in years – and the first “feminist international assistance policy” by a bilateral development partner. At the same time Canada is abandoning its long-time practice of “countries-of-focus” whereby it targeted its assistance to a limited number of countries; is emphasizing the role of the private sector in development; and is making strong linkages to both climate and fragility in the context of a feminist development approach. Likewise, Canada is making an even stronger push on Africa, ensuring that at least 50% of bilateral assistance goes to sub-Saharan African countries by 2021.

We have just recently spent a couple of days in Ottawa, where it is evident the feminist international assistance policy is a continuation of Canada’s strong role in development. In a period of uncertainty regarding global leadership on development issues, Canada (including important players such as the International Development Research Center (IDRC), MasterCard Foundation and Aga Khan Foundation Canada) continues to be a progressive and committed development partner.

There is a strong case to be made for a feminist approach to development. As indicated by UN Women and McKinsey, achieving gender equality around the world could increase global GDP by $12 trillion in a decade. Likewise, if all children (particularly girls) left school with basic literacy skills, current levels of extreme poverty could fall by 12% (UNESCO).

That said, since 2010 only 1-2% of Canada’s international assistance spending supported programs specifically designed to advance gender equality. Given that Canada may be one of the more progressive donors, it is likely that many other countries do not even break 1%.

While there is broad support for Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG5) – achieving gender quality and empowering all women and girls – can a single bilateral agency have the needed impact, no matter how big its pivot to gender?

At the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) we have also been re-evaluating the focus on gender in development. As a think-and-do tank, we have a responsibility to ensure that the disparity for women and girls disappears in Africa. Soon we will be launching the African Transformation Report 2017 on “Agriculture: Powering Africa’s Economic Transformation”. For a sectoral report, it has a stronger than usual emphasis on gender. The report shows that putting women on an equal footing to men in driving agricultural transformation and benefiting from it is not only good social policy, but it is also good economic transformation policy. The report outlines key policy reform areas for African governments such as reforming land rights laws to enable women to legally own land, as Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda have done. Likewise, where applicable, Governments should change laws governing marriage, divorce, and inheritance to remove barriers against women, as Rwanda has done. Governments can also further support schemes to adapt credit products to female clients’ needs (such as changing the terms of credit through microfinance institutions) or providing innovative types of savings instruments, such as female-owned individual accounts, mobile banking, and branchless banking. And, as Canada proposes to do, all development partners can support women farmer organizations to strengthen women’s market power in input and output markets.

ACET, through the Pan-African Coalition for Transformation (PACT), will continue to pursue gender smart approaches and encourage gender-positive policy reform. We can do this, in part, through the PACT chapters – whether in the areas of Youth and Skills, Financial Inclusion, Light Manufacturing, Regional Integration or Extractives. Working with our partners and African governments, great progress can be made. Will it be enough to meet SDG5?  Maybe if we adopt a slightly more Canadian international assistance approach…


Rob Floyd is Director and Senior Advisor at ACET; and K.Y. Amoako is the Founder and President of ACET, and was previously the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

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