Third Conference on Financing for Development: A missed opportunity for African women?

Why are African women not satisfied with the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD3)’s soutcome document? We need to understand how Africa stands currently in relation to development policies by looking more closely at patterns of women’s employment, and the social and gendered challenges they face in relation to the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

The presentation by the African Women’s Groups in Addis Ababa made specific recommendations based on their regional priorities and critical analysis on systemic issues to be addressed under the Financing for Development process.

The rationale of such an initiative is that despite being the backbone of economic development in the region, most African women are still employed in the informal sector, subjected to precarious and low-skilled employment, overburdened by unpaid care work, and are often marginalised in decision making particularly in the collection, control and redistribution of resources for sustainable development.

The prevailing ‘Africa Rising’ narrative based on the current growth performance of African countries is challenged by the realities of African peoples in general and African women and youth in particular.
They still confront growing unemployment, increasing illegal immigration, conflict escalation, inequalities and poverty, de-industrialisation, lack of economic diversification, unmet Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the inability to mobilise sustainable funding among other things.

Moreover, Africa cannot ‘rise’ when the linkage between women’s ability to participate in the labor market and their control over their bodies and their sexual and reproductive rights are neither recognised nor addressed.

While Africa is seeking to shape its future through the African Union’s Agenda 2063, development programmes experimented on the continent aiming at ‘reducing poverty’ need to be assessed for their gendered outcomes especially for women.

Additionally, women’s human rights need to be included in the ‘shaping and making’ of new development policy initiatives and not just as a residual category. This is a step to avoiding the danger of ‘ventriloquising women’s voices’ and promoting sloganism with vague concepts such as “smart economics” or “womenomics”.

Last but not least, the terms of the global partnership between Africa and the rest of the world need to be revisited to be more equitable and grounded in the Rio principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities.

Furthermore, “development” needs to be country-led and people-centered, with governments playing their rights-bearer role. Hence, development finance cannot be privatised.

To ensure this, transformative leadership and political will should be de rigueur alongside sustainable financing for development resources through progressive fiscal policies, limitations to tax evasion and exoneration, repatriation of illicit financial flows, transparency and accountability mechanisms, and ending of corruption at all levels.

Despite these concerns and the strong mobilisation of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and the Women’s Working Group on Financing for Development (WWG on FfD), the outcome document adopted on July 16, is disappointing and there is little to be optimistic about, since African governments were pushed by developed countries to reach an agreement that does not benefit their people. In addition, there are a number of other reasons for African women to not be content with the outcome document:

• On Trade: It does not take specific measures and deliverables to protect women’s businesses and share of markets, as well as infant-industries, female-job intensive sectors and small women producers and traditional knowledge nor does it specifically recommend public disclosure as well as ex ante and periodic human rights impact assessments of trade and investment policies.

• On Official Development Assistance (ODA): Where the Monterrey Declaration called upon developed nations to commit to 0.7% of GNI as ODA, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) seems to be a retrogression since it strongly relies on other sources than ODA such as blended financing, the private sector and regressive taxation to mobilize the resources needed for financing development. This is done without stating how the above would be done without harming the needs of women and adolescent girls, especially access to public services such as sexual and reproductive health services.

• As for the Domestic Resource Mobilisation (DRM) sources identified, too much emphasis is placed on taxation, especially through value added tax (VAT) on essential commodities such as food products to ensure tax regimes, which place an undue burden on women and girls. Transformative tax reforms would have targeted progressive taxation, removal of indirect taxation on essential goods, whilst a more comprehensive definition of DRM would target other channels such as domestic philanthropy, natural resources (with better governance, transparency and accountability), remittances, et cetera.

• Financial inclusion is still falsely equated with ‘more access to microcredit’ for African women whereas there is a need to recognise the adverse effects of such programs and instead encourage alternative gender responsive financial facilities to complement grassroots financial mechanisms to enable access of interest-free credit facilities to strengthen women’s autonomy.

• African states have made progress in formulating continental policies to promote investor accountability on issues such as land acquisition. However; more binding instruments are needed in addition to the current voluntary guidelines. States should also commit to additional measures such as better, transparent and accountable contract negotiation, the elimination of the secrecy of beneficial ownership and public registration.

• Regarding extractive industries, energy, and water: emphasis should be on addressing structural issues including funding. Sustainable funding must prioritise local, decentralised and clean energy, which Africa has huge resources to tap into in order to challenge current energy systems that rely heavily on fossil fuels like coal and oil, which disproportionately impact communities particularly women and children. Water and sanitation should be accessible to everyone. All of this is a matter of both ecological and gender justice.

• States and not just the private sector must remain accountable for the respect of rights, including ending all sexual and gender based violence and discrimination, and the provision of social services, infrastructure and programmes including social protection, education and sexual and reproductive health services for women.