Mind the Gap: The Girl Effect and ODA

Debate has begun on gender considerations and ODA
Debate has begun on gender considerations and ODA

This week, the House of Commons in the UK Parliament passed a law addressing gender biases in the UK’s international development aid. The law calls for a closer examination of British ODA to see the impact it has on gender development. Essentially, it asks whether British aid promotes equal assistance and opportunities for men and women. While the bill is still under consideration in the House of Lords, supporters expect it to quickly pass thanks to its cross-party support.

Britain is not the first DAC country to incorporate gender into its programming. USAID passed the Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Act in 2012 which incorporated gender considerations into all of the organization’s programming. The country’s differ, however, in how they approach gender inequality. The USAID approach incorporates gender into their own development programs but does not address gender inequality in aid recipients or partner organizations. Britain, on the other hand, focuses on gender discrimination primarily in partner organizations and aid recipients, by limiting their ODA based on recipient treatment of gender. Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses.

The UK makes new strides in closing the gender gap
The UK makes new strides in closing the gender gap

The Girl Effect, a campaign started by the Nike Foundation in 2008, supports the development of females as essential to global development. The campaign shows that gender equality largely affects economic development. According to Girl Effect, increasing female employment could improve GDP by at least 1.2% every year. Both the US and British governments’ take on the Girl Effect could be a huge step forward in achieving several Millennium Development Goals. If every DAC and developing nation prioritized gender the way the US or Britain does then there may be improved economic development across the globe.

Additionally, both laws protect gender considerations in development aid from political influence. No matter which party controls the government, they have a legal obligation to consider gender in all development decisions concerning programming for the US and funding for Britain. This ensures that gender equality is a long-term development goal and not just initiative of a single political party. The law could transform the way all DAC countries approach gender and development. It is no longer just an issue for one party to campaign on but a development issue with cross-party support. 

UK's Department for International Development could revolutionize foreign aid
UK’s Department for International Development could revolutionize foreign aid

In an age where ODA is already on the decline, Britain’s approach could further decrease ODA. If the government finds that part of its assistance disproportionately favors the development of one gender, this law gives the British government a reason to withdraw their foreign aid from that country or program and does not stipulate that the funds must be reallocated to a more gender-friendly program. This could result in an overall decline in British foreign aid, which could harm the development of aid beneficiaries who are not at fault for the gendered nature of development aid and programs. Which begs the question, is gendered aid better than no aid at all? There is no evidence that British aid will decline, other than the stringent gender requirements creating the possibility. But Britain has previously threatened to decrease aid for homophobic nations.

With USAID’s approach, it is possible that the efforts to incorporate gender are simply posturing. The policy claims to hold programs accountable for their treatment of gender but there are no consequences when programs violate the policy. Program coordinators have no incentive to change their programs, especially if it interferes or delays the achievement of overall goals. USAID has yet to publish any statistics on the success of their policy in creating gender equality since its implementation. While the program could be successful, it could also just be more red tape for employees to work through in an organization constantly facing bureaucratic challenges.

It will be interesting to track the efficacy of Britain and the US’s attempts at eliminating gender equality. Will one program be more effective than the other? Examining the progress of each over time could provide indicators for other countries wanting to incorporate gender into development work.

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