Financing Discussions on Global Development Miss the Mark

Written with Saida Ali, IWHC Program Officer

This week, IWHC joined dignitaries, diplomats, business representatives, and activists from around the world in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the third Financing for Development Conference. Leading up to this, we had heard much talk about increasing financing for development from “billions” to “trillions” in order to implement the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But the outcome of this conference didn’t necessarily live up to the hype. While the final agreement contains some incremental steps forward, it ultimately lacks the ambition and strong leadership needed to bring about transformative change.

Ahead of the conference, IWHC and more than 600 representatives from civil society organizations agreed to a shared vision of what a progressive and fair financing agreement should look like. In particular, we wanted to ensure that the agreement addressed the impacts of global economic inequalities on women’s and girls’ lives. We advocated for strong commitments on financing for gender equality, and recognition of the value of women’s unpaid care work. We called on governments to address the systemic drivers of inequalities within and between countries, to establish fair tax policies, to stop illicit financial flows, and to address inequalities in international trade regimes that disadvantage the poorest countries.

In the end, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda does include commitments to women’s economic empowerment. For example, it calls for reforms to ensure women’s rights to inheritance and access to and ownership of land and other property, credit, and communication technologies—all of which are important in improving the status of women. It also reaffirms commitments to adopt policies and enforce legislation to promote gender equality.

Yet, while it calls on governments to “promote gender-responsive budgeting,” there are no concrete commitments to fund gender equality, either through domestic resources or official development assistance. And rather than prioritizing investments in women’s equality and human rights, the Action Agenda only argues for investment in women’s empowerment on the basis of their contribution to economic growth and productivity. As a result, the Action Agenda largely misses the mark on many of the issues that disproportionately impact women and girls.

For example, the Action Agenda fails to account for the structural barriers that stand in the way of women’s economic rights, such as unpaid work. Women’s heavy burden of unpaid work is one of the main barriers to their education, political participation, and economic opportunities. It is a major reason for their lower participation in the formal labor market and over-representation in informal, low-waged, and precarious employment. Yet the Action Agenda fails to recognize the need to reduce and redistribute women’s unpaid work through policies and services that support paid parental leave, public child care and elderly care, and social protection.

The Action Agenda gives prominence to the private sector in driving development, but fails to take into account the harmful impacts that privatization can have on women and girls. Experience from Bolivia to India has demonstrated that when essential and basic services such as health, education, and water are privatized, women, girls, and marginalized groups are less likely to access them. Amongst other things, this has major consequences for women’s and young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights by making contraceptives, maternal health care, and other life-saving services unaffordable or otherwise out of reach.

More broadly, the Action Agenda contains almost no concrete steps toward inclusive, sustainable development. For example, it encourages governments to foster private sector investment and prioritize public-private partnerships, without adequate mechanisms to ensure private sector accountability for their business practices. It fails to crack down on corporate tax evasion, but proposes expanding the tax base to include informal sector workers, most of whom are poor women.

Further, it makes no new commitments to increase public financing in order to achieve the SDGs. While existing commitments to official development assistance and domestic resource mobilization are reaffirmed, new sources of financing are expected to come from an unaccountable (and so far, ungenerous) private sector.

To be sure, some commitments in the Action Agenda will help accelerate implementation of the SDGs. The establishment of a UN Technology Facilitation Mechanism that would help developing countries transfer, adapt, and develop new technologies is one such step forward. Better data collection and better analysis of existing data, including gender disaggregated data, will help ensure that the Post 2015 agenda is fully and successfully implemented—and that women and girls are not left out of the picture. A formal Forum on Financing for Development will now meet annually to assess progress on the Action Agenda and past agreements, and ensure there are necessary resources for implementing the SDGs. This is a significant advance.

With the Financing for Development discussions now concluded, the focus shifts back to New York and the final negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. IWHC and our partners will be in the negotiating rooms to push governments to go beyond Addis, and ensure a concrete, actionable, and fully resourced implementation plan. The world can afford nothing less.

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