GLASGOW - Even though seven out of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) impact on women, both donors and governments receiving aid overlook the need to make resources available for gender empowerment.
At the 8th Civicus World Assembly, which concluded in the Scottish capital on Saturday, civil society leaders asked serious questions about the lack of gender budgeting. The annual Civicus meeting brings together a global network of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and foundations whose aim is to strengthen civil society.
The four-day event in Glasgow focused on participatory governance in the run-up to a high-level meeting in Accra, Ghana, in September to discuss aid effectiveness. More than a 100 ministers, heads of multilateral organisations and civil society representatives present there will review the Paris Declaration and the performance of both donors and recipient countries.
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, executive director of African Women's Development Fund told IPS in an interview that far too little money is made available for gender empowerment.
"How you allocate your resources tells much about where your priorities are. Women are 50 percent of the world's population. They should be a priority," she argues.
She fears that the paucity of funds almost guarantees the failure of the MDGs, particularly goal 3 - promote gender equality and empower women. The world's governments are committed to meeting the eight MDGs by 2015.
"Many guarantees have been made, including the Beijing Plan of Action. But this has not been matched with adequate finances to ensure empowerment of women at all levels," she points out.
The Beijing Plan of Action was adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. Bilateral and multilateral aid organisations had pledged to release adequate resources to bankroll the commitments made.
Neither the promises made in Beijing nor in Monterray, Mexico, in 2002 at the International Conference on Financing for Development have been honoured, raising questions about the lack of political will. In the Monterray Consensus, governments agreed to incorporate gender in all development policies.
In addition, the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness acknowledged the importance of financing gender development.
Yet, funds for gender remain "insignificant and untraceable in many places," according to Adeleye-Fayemi who heads Africa's first continent-wide fund to finance programmes that develop and promote women's leadership and issues like economic empowerment.
A 2007 report by the Association for Women's Rights in Development analysing present trends of aid showed that women's organisations are grossly under-resourced.
The report, Where is the money for women's rights, concludes that women's NGOs are in a state of "survival and resistance". This, according to the report, is substantiated by the fact that all together, 729 organisations raised a total annual budget of just 77.5 million dollars, which is nothing at all considering the mammoth task of gender equality.
"Unless leaders both at the international and national level ensure that money reaches women, no real development will take place," Elisa Peter, deputy coordinator of the United Nations Non-governmental Liaison Service, asserts in an interview with IPS on Jun. 21.
"Women are at the centre of development. If goal 3 is not reached, I do not think we can achieve any other MDGs. We have to address seriously the issue of resources to build capacity of women in all sectors," she says.
The U.N. has calculated that realising MDG 3 would require "dedicated external resources" amounting to between 25 and 28 billion dollars in the low-income countries.
This, analysts say, requires renewed political will at the international and national levels - which the organisers of both the meetings in Accra and in Doha, at the end of the year, are hoping. The Doha conference will review the Monterray Consensus.
The presence of a wide network of women's organisations is expected at the September Accra meeting, where leaders will be asked to honour the pledges made.
"Civil society can only advocate and propose. It is up to the governments to implement. They will then be held accountable," Adeleye-Fayemi said. Nevertheless, as donors and governments dillydally over crucial finances, women continue to make progress at snail-pace, particularly on the political front.
"The lack of finances has resulted in poor representation of women at the decision-making level. They lack capacity to compete on an equal footing with their male counterparts," points out Jennifer Chiwela of the African Network Campaign on Education for All.
As a result, her country, Zambia has 23 women in the 158-member parliament. This is just 14.6 percent of the parliamentary representation - way below the 30 percent target set by the Southern African Development Community, an inter-governmental organisation of 15 southern African states.
The situation is not very different in other African countries, which have continued to witness minimal numbers of women in parliament, and other decision-making spheres.
"How can we expect gender-friendly laws to be passed if the majority of members of parliament are men?" Chiwela asks. "We need resources to help women campaign and participate in politics on an equal playing field with men. That is the beginning of development," she asserts.
At CIVICUS and other national and international for a, women civil society leaders are demanding change and equal participation for men and women in politics and finance for development.
Copyright © 2008 IPS-Inter Press Service