What We Are Reading: October 2022

Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung and Fair Share of Women Leaders

Written by Hilary Clauson

In recent months, we’ve seen new momentum around feminist foreign and international development policies – and pushback. Colombia, Chile, Germany, the Netherlands, and Liberia have announced they will develop feminist foreign policies, and Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy has turned five. Yet the first to have a feminist foreign policy (Sweden, since 2014) this month announced a policy reversal

So we’re looking at three publications that dive deeper into these issues. All three share a conviction that the time is now for feminist international development.

This paper, part of a series on feminist foreign policy by the Australian Feminist Foreign Policy Coalition, zeroes in on feminist development assistance. 

While it compliments the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) 2016 Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Strategy for bringing greater weight to gender equality in DFAT programming, it criticizes the strategy’s neoliberal framing (i.e., investments in women as a conduit for economic growth), and the department’s lack of programming with gender equality as the principal objective and funding to Global South women’s rights organizations. 

The paper argues that Australia needs a feminist aid policy, under a broader feminist foreign policy. The authors call for this policy to: 

  • Address the broader intersectional needs of women, girls and gender-diverse individuals – particularly those who are the poorest and most marginalized.
  • Set targets for funding for gender equality as a principal or significant objective (they propose 80%, a doubling of 2020’s 40%). 
  • Increase funding for women’s rights organizations overseas to at least 5% of the overseas aid budget (up from 2020’s 0.72%).
  • Address women’s rights, not only empowerment – including social, economic and political and civil rights (e.g. expanding a narrow understanding of economic empowerment to include rights to land, safe work, social protection, access to healthcare and safety nets).

By juxtaposing Australia’s existing Strategy with a truly feminist approach, the authors show how much higher states can aim in their gender equality and women’s empowerment efforts. 

Brief: Feminist Development Policy: A Pathway Towards Feminist Global Collaboration, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung and Fair Share of Women Leaders

This brief, by Heinrich Böll and Fair Share of Women Leaders, pushes the feminist ambition even further. It provides recommendations for international development practitioners to disrupt the status quo of “development” and move towards “feminist global collaboration.” 

Rather than viewing feminism as an add-on or another mainstreaming item and a requirement we set for “others”, let us seize this opportunity to create a visionary, transformative redefinition of development. Let us learn new ways of working together that are based on solidarity, anti-oppression (with regard to race, gender ability, class etc), honesty and critical self-reflection. 

Recommendations, organized by individual, institutional, and cultural levels, centre on reflecting on, questioning, interrogating – everything from the good intentions traditional development practitioners take for granted, to how we work, to our current extractive economic system, to power asymmetries. 

The brief concludes that feminist global collaboration policy requires: a vision of racial and social justice; overcoming power asymmetries globally and within our own institutions; embracing Feminist Leadership in organizational culture; and changing the current economic system to one based on sharing, reciprocity, and care. 

While the first two resources are aspirational, the third examines a real feminist international development best practice. This brief, one in the OECD’s Development Cooperation Tips, Tools, Insights Practices In Practice series, describes how the Government of the Netherlands partners with and supports women’s rights organizations and feminist movements through its €500M Sustainable Development Goal Five Fund. 

It reminds us that women’s rights organizations and feminist movements are critical actors in the protection and advancement of gender equality and women’s empowerment, but they lack the flexible, predictable, abundant resources required to best carry out their work. It acknowledges both women’s rights organizations’ barriers to accessing resources (like lack of access to technology and training, administrative burdens, and remote locations) and development cooperation partners’ barriers to disbursing funds (small grants are labour-intensive). 

It holds up the Netherlands, and specifically its Leading from the South programme, for overcoming these barriers and achieving strong results. Leading from the South is a feminist alliance led by four

Global South women’s funds that resource and support feminist and women’s rights organizations, networks, and movements working towards gender transformative change and the advancement of women’s rights. 

Leading from the South’s phase one (€42M over 2017 to 2020) saw direct support to 290 Global South grassroots organizations. Identified results include: empowering women often overlooked by the mainstream development community; transforming unfair policies and practices into ones that rebalanced power and created pathways for change; and “fundamentally [shifting] perceptions regarding the capacity of WROs and southern-led women’s funds to receive and manage large grants.” The programme has been renewed to 2025, with almost double the budget (€80M).

While the feminist international development bar is high, these three resources describe how it could be done, and demonstrate that advances are possible. 

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