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close this bookPoverty Elimination and the Empowerment of Women (DFID, 2000, 51 p.)
close this folder4. Meeting the challenge
close this folderKey actors
View the documentGovernments
View the documentCivil society
View the documentPrivate sector
View the documentDonors

Governments

4.4 The fundamental responsibility for the achievement of gender equality rests with governments. Gender equality is a human right, but it is also a public good bringing benefits to all. It is, therefore, the duty of governments to ensure that commitments to equal rights and opportunities are upheld and delivered. While some governments have shown a real commitment to gender equality, others have either given it a very low priority or actively obstructed progress.

4.5 It is governments which set the enabling environment for gender equality at the country level, and also in the global community through the formulation and implementation of conventions and other international agreements. They also command the public resources needed to deliver basic services in an equitable way, and set the 'rules of the game' for actors in civil society and the private sector.

Civil society

4.6 Gender inequalities are played out in civil society, and it is in the community that fundamental change will occur. Organisations and groups in civil society, both formal and informal, national and international, provide focal points for debate and advocacy. They support activities and programmes which can promote gender equality. They can lobby governments and the private sector to ensure that policy commitments are delivered and, where necessary, appropriate changes to policies and laws are made. Organisations in civil society can also assist and empower citizens to call governments to account over their commitment, or otherwise, to gender equality goals.

Private sector

4.7 The private sector - at all levels, and in all sectors - is the engine of economic growth and development, and is also a standard setter in relation to the rights of both workers and consumers. Businesses, whatever their size, must act responsibly and recognise their social obligations, as well as their obligations to shareholders. Governments and international bodies can regulate the private sector but, in the end, a commitment to social responsibility and the maintenance of ethical standards must come from within. Women's advancement will continue to be held back as long as companies discriminate in employment practices and terms and conditions of work, or reinforce and perpetuate gender stereotypes through marketing strategies and the media. Many businesses adhere to strict standards of social and ethical responsibility, but many others are still lagging behind.

Donors

4.8 The donor community is made up of a number of key actors, each of whom has a slightly different role, and each of which faces challenges in strengthening its contribution to the achievement of international gender equality goals.

4.9 The funds and programmes and specialised agencies of the UN have the task of helping to deliver the global, normative framework for development set down by the various UN conferences and conventions43.

43 Key partners for DFID in gender equality work are the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS-Habitat), and the International Labour Office (ILO).

4.10 The smallest of the UN funds, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), has the central strategic role in promoting gender equality work in the UN. In the past UNIFEM was considered to be limited in its effectiveness and too small to make a major difference for women in developing countries through its own projects and programmes. Under the wider umbrella of the UN reform programme, however, it has made major strides in establishing a more strategic role for itself. It has taken on a more significant role in knowledge development and capacity building, and supporting greater co-ordination within the UN and between the UN and the wider donor community44.

44 Working in Partnership with UNIFEM - United Nations Development Fund for Women. DFID Institutional Strategy Paper, London, 1999.

4.11 Other funds and programmes and specialised agencies have performed in a rather mixed way, and there is considerable scope for improvement. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for example, has made a major contribution through its global analysis and the establishment of new measures like the GDI and GEM, but the extent to which gender equality has been a focus of country programmes has been uneven. By contrast, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has put considerable resources into meeting the needs of women, as well as children. This has tended to focus, however, on their practical needs as mothers rather than their wider strategic needs as members of society entitled to equal rights. Others, including the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the United Nations Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), are actively working to strengthen their gender equality work, but all acknowledge that a lot more needs to be done. The UN reform programme offers important opportunities, particularly in seeking to establish more integrated country programmes and more sharing of analysis and expertise, and the establishment of a common framework for assessment and progress measurement.

4.12 The international financial institutions, most notably the World Bank, but also the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, are key partners for development work and command the biggest share of financial resources earmarked for development purposes. In the past, all of these have been weak in their approach to gender concerns. This situation is rapidly changing, however, as new knowledge is emerging of the constraints imposed by inequality on economic development. The development banks have also shown more willingness during the 1990s to improve the skills mix in their staffing and bring in more social scientists to help them gain a better understanding of the important linkages between economic and social policy issues.

4.13 The World Bank has made a particularly important contribution to understanding the costs of gender inequality for growth and poverty reduction and has, as a result, added considerable weight to the instrumental and practical arguments for more investment in women45. This has been an essential complement to the normative, rights-based arguments advanced through the UN.

45 In 2000 the World Bank is issuing a new Policy Research Report, Engendering Development, which provides further evidence of the crucial linkages between poverty reduction, economic growth, and women's empowerment.

4.14 The European Union is the world's biggest channel for donor funding. The international development efforts of the European Commission (EC) have been the subject of considerable criticism by member states, including the UK46, and a great deal of work is required to bring about reforms which will allow the EC to perform to its full potential. Organisational and procedural problems, along with an inappropriate skills mix, is currently constraining its capacity to turn good policy into effective practice. Like all big agencies, however, it has produced very good work in some areas and the foundations exist for real progress to be made.

46 Working in Partnership with the European Union. DFID Institutional Strategy Paper, London, 1999.

4.15 The Commonwealth Secretariat also plays an important role, and is particularly well placed to help member governments address controversial and politically sensitive issues. Despite having modest resources, it has been making an important contribution in bringing issues like violence against women to the fore, and has led ground-breaking work on public spending reform making use of gender-sensitive analysis of the implications of different public spending choices. The Commonwealth as an organisation also provides an important framework for strengthening global consensus around key economic and social policy issues, bridging the divide between rich and poor countries.

4.16 The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is the main forum for bilateral donor co-ordination. This makes international policy in relation to bilateral development assistance and provides guidelines and other support to donor activities. DFID's policy on gender equality is fully consistent with guidelines issued by the DAC in 199847, which in turn draw upon the key agreements set out at the Beijing conference. The substantive work of the DAC is undertaken through Working Parties and other subsidiary bodies, including a Working Party on Gender Equality. The DAC subsidiary bodies have been at the forefront of development thinking, and will remain a vital forum for future work.

47 DAC Guidelines for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Development Co-operation, OECD, Paris, 1998.