Robert Fox, Oxfam Canada’s Executive Director, reports from the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, taking place this week in Busan, Korea.
Negotiations are heating up on the eve of a global agreement that will establish new rules for development cooperation. The stakes are high, with donor countries hoping to dodge accountability for commitments made, new donors such as China and India trying to avoid obligations to which they were not party, and developing countries anxious to ensure donors deliver on their discourse.
Civil society representatives – from NGOs, women’s organizations, unions and others – are also playing an active role. For the first time, civil society organizations (CSOs) have a seat among the sherpas – the representatives of the key governments charged with the responsibility to reach an agreement on a new framework for development cooperation. But as you would expect, we are not only at the table, we are in the corridors, in the streets and in the blogosphere, trying to move governments to put human rights, gender equality and environmental sustainability at the centre of any accord.
With ministers arriving, negotiations are down to the wire. Key stumbling blocks are the unwillingness of donor countries to recognize that restrictions on basic human rights – the right to assembly, to free speech, to organize – make it impossible for people living in poverty to mobilize citizens in support of development and to hold governments to account for their international obligations to respect and protect rights. CSOs have been pressing for explicit language that guarantees an enabling environment conducive to participation.
Priorities Must Focus on the Poor
CSOs have also been pressing for explicit reference to rights as the foundation for development. We believe that a rights-based approach to development will help ensure priorities are informed by the needs and views of women and girls men and boys living in poverty. Their voices must be heard. With the increased focus on “results” we need to ensure that we are targeting the results that matter most, tackling inequality and ending discrimination that leaves women, indigenous peoples, rural communities, disabled and other marginalized groups at an even deeper disadvantage.
CSOs, working under the banner of Better Aid, are also calling for changes that would make clear that the private sector can play a role in support of effective development but that our aid budgets should not be diverted to support the interests of private capital. Social partners such as small and medium business, cooperatives and others can help create decent work and vibrant economies. But there is deep suspicion that certain provisions of the draft agreement are intended to subsidize Northern industry rather than Southern development.
The current draft of the agreement includes some encouraging language on gender equality but there’s no mention of women’s rights. Moreover, concern has been expressed that one of the showcase initiatives from Busan, focused on women and entrepreneurship, could add to women’s burden without increasing their power. Sponsored by Hillary Clinton and supported by the government of Canada, women’s organizations in Busan have underscored the critical need to address the underlying issues of power, violence and marginalization if this initiative is to have any lasting impact.
Canada is not one of the countries directly at the table in these negotiations but it will be important that it continue to bring pressure on the talks to overcome these barriers and bring forward an agreement that will not only represent a success at Busan but also lay the groundwork for real progress on development effectiveness for years to come.