International Development – The future women want

International Development – The future women wan

There is often a problem with high-level development and aid. Very rarely does it meet the actual needs of the people it claims to help. There has always been a vaguely paternalistic top down approach to aid. Furthermore meaningful consultation in terms of aid is incredibly difficult and requires navigating a myriad of cultural norms and thinking very carefully about the approach that is taken.

From the article:

To ensure that grass-roots women have a voice in Rio+20, U.N. Women supported an online survey of women around the world; findings will be widely disseminated at the meeting. A number of women’s advocates will participate in the conference, including at a Women’s Leaders Forum on June 19 in Rio hosted by U.N. Women. A Women Leaders’ Summit on the Future Women Want on June 21 will convene women heads of state and government to issue a call for action.

It is hard for me to believe that any comprehensive evaluation of the concerns of “grass roots women” could be done via an online survey.  I have seen over and over again in my work how the people who are aid recipients are talked about rather than spoken with.

Yes sustainable development is a lofty goal, yes it is something we should all strive towards, a more just, a more egalitarian future, where exploitation of people and resources is not the norm. However I do think we need to think more carefully about how we will do it. In theory platforms like Rio+20 provide the space for these discussions about how development should happen, but what practical outcomes are actually achieved at the end of the day? Why are “grass roots women”  the people that aid is meant to benefit only invited to participate by means of an online survey? This smacks of tokenism. Aid needs a better marriage of macro principles with micro concerns. There has been much evaluation over the years of the what, these goals have changed dramatically over the years, but the same amount of energy needs to be spent on the how.

I have written about some of these issues specifically in relation to water and sanitation as a development concern before in my article linked in the side-bar (a drop in the bucket – why a gendered approach to water and sanitation is needed.) Meaningful consultation is possible, it does however need to be managed very carefully. A shift in thinking is needed whereby consultation becomes more important that getting the best and the brightest all in one place to talk about the theory of development. Yes this does have its place, but it should not be placed higher than the practicalities of development and all the little things that get forgotten.  From whether this well is actually positioned properly for the women who use it rather than the men who talk about it, to how these wells will  be maintained once they are put in place and the development agency has moved on.

Aid needs to be appropriate, contextual and collaborative and it is fundamental that the people who receive aid are brought into the conversation in a meaningful way. Tokenistic or symbolic consultation is not consultation. Lofty goals are all well and good, but it is the small, less glamorous steps taken in between that actually provide concrete results for individuals and communities.

What are your thoughts?

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