Rough Notes – Hearing is not listening

These are our rough notes on the blog post ‘Hearing is Not Listening‘ – our internal discussions and debates before we post. Click here for the main blog.

Q: What is the Feminist Task Force?

R: The Feminist Task Force is a global coalition of leaders of women’s organisations focused on framing poverty as a women’s issue in the lead-up to 2015, date when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will reach their expiry target. The Feminist Task Force advocates for gender equality to end poverty as the United Nations General Assembly considers its options for deciding on what will come after the MDGs, known as the post 2015 process.

Q: I’ve heard very similar arguments to your one on empowerment made about the word ‘participation’ itself. Oxfam have a great book on this – Fuzzwords – which is free and well worth a read if you haven’t already.

R: Agreed, I have read sections of this book and it’s very good.

Q: I think you perhaps put too much focus on funding. Firstly, it seems to accept money as an indicator for good development. Secondly, your framing of maternal mortality as a technical problem – “prevention methods are widely understood” – sits uneasily with your point above about a ‘vision to devise an alternate economic system’. In other words, I don’t think maternal mortality is a      purely technocratic problem, and so more money would not necessarily help. Finally, I don’t think you establish that we’re doing any worse on MDG 5 than any of the other MDGs, nor that we devote less money to it (both of which you imply.)

R: It is true that the post emphasizes funding because funding is a easily measurable and comparable indicator of donor interest in a particular cause. However I definitely agree that funding is one part of the picture, and policies must also be considered. Maternal mortality is certainly not technical issues which can be quickly fixed, but we do not that the fixing requires investments which are in part financial- investments into midwife training, etc, and in part require shifts in policies and attitudes.

I do think that several MDGs are more on track than MDG 5. According to the 2013 UN report on the MDGs, targets that have been met or are within reach for 2015 include:  targets 1.A, 1.B and 1.C (MDG 1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger), target 6.C (MDG 6 Combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases) targets 7.C and 7.D (MDG 7 Ensure environmental sustainability), targets 8.A and 8.D (MDG 8 Develop a global partnership). MDGs 3, 4 and 5 on gender equality, child mortality and maternal mortality respectively fare particularly badly.

Q: You offer two prescriptions at the end of your piece; ‘financial flows to civil society and women’s organisations’ and ‘development vision’. The former I think is risky. There is already a lot of money going into civil society in general, and I suspect a lot of it goes to women’s organisations, or at least organisations that have some kind of focus on women. However,  funding this kind of small-scale advocacy organisation is immensely difficult. Without particularly well defined outputs or short-term outcomes, I think it’s really difficult to distinguish a vibrant, inclusive women’s organisation from one that just runs workshops and soaks up the money. At the very least, there are huge overhead costs in trying to distinguish and support the ‘good’ organisations. For example, the report you cite lists the median income as $20,000. Organisations of that sort just can’t absorb that much money, and the cost of ending/supporting them are huge.

R: These are very important points. It is indeed difficult to identify grassroots women’s organisations which are effective. However, as AWID’s report points out, the lack of core funding to grassroots organisations is exactly what is preventing them from professionalising and developing scaleable programmes which go beyond piecemeal events and day-long workshops. Long-term, predictable core funding is what is needed for these organisations to develop their capacity to absorb aid money in effective ways, and to define and develop their own responses to development challenges.

Q: Can you define what you mean by emancipation?

R: It is hugely interesting to see that the term emancipation is generally absent from most sections of the international development community’s vocabulary. Similarly to ‘empowerment’, ‘emancipation’ represents a change of circumstances for the disempowered, an elevation from one condition to another. However, unlike ‘empowerment’, ‘emancipation’ carries the notion of a liberation, the idea of becoming free from something that was previously stifling. It could perhaps also be argued that ‘emancipation’ is used in contexts of collection action, such as women’s organising in the 1980s, whereas ‘empowerment’ is defined along more individualist lines, signalling one person’s gains.

Q: As for development vision – I think that is where your argument is strongest. I would be very interested to hear from you, or our readers in the comment box, more details about how you/they think the development community needs to act (or think) differently. A  very tough call for a blog post I know!

R: Very tough call indeed, and something I am thinking a lot about currently- can I get back to you on that?!


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