I am doing a series of articles on the book “Rethinking Canadian Aid” (University of Ottawa Press, 2015), and now it’s time for “Chapter 11: Gender Equality and the ‘Two CIDAs'” by Rebecca Tiessen. I need to confess up front that I probably won’t have as much to say about Tiessen’s chapter — while I agree with the “facts” she relies on, I’m not sure I share her interpretation of them as setbacks. Most of this is because I am not looking for rhetoric or inventing academic paradigms, I’m a professional government manager who has to interpret policies like these and figure out how to implement them.
Over the forty-seven years of its existence, CIDA progressed from a “women in development” (WID) approach to a gender equality approach to development programming. However, between 2009 and 2013, two key developments set back the progress CIDA had made in this area: (1) the partial, but significant, erasure of the term “gender equality” from official policies and government speeches when the Harper Conservatives shifted their language to “equality between women and men”; and (2) the introduction of the Muskoka Initiative on maternal health, signalling a further retreat from gender equality programming by targeting mothers as “victims” and beneficiaries of development services rather than active agents in the design and implementation of development programs. These initiatives heralded the return of a WID approach, at best, and the increasing prevalence of a charity model under which the government assigns money to solve development problems without the active participation and engagement of local communities in the design and implementation of their own development projects.
To account for the change, Tiessen talks about the difference between the public face and the operational face as being different. I agree with her, wholeheartedly, because much of what was done was public positioning. As with my complaints about earlier chapters, relying on the “public” pronouncements is a bit risky since often they are about playing to particular audiences more than about actual change. Private sector development, country concentration, links to trade and development all showed large-scale announcements on new approaches, but as Swiss showed back in Chapter 2, the change was more rhetorical than real. CIDA has kept doing development for developmental reasons, regardless of what the press releases say.
The 1999 GE Policy acknowledged that women and men have different perspectives, needs, interests, roles, and resources, and that development programming must address these differences (DFATD 2013b). The hard work that went into developing the GE Policy can be attributed to a commitment to gender equality among mid-level CIDA staff members. Over time, critiques of CIDA’s 1999 policy and programs began to emerge. In particular, CIDA’s official evaluation of the implementation of its Gender Equality Policy (Bytown and CAC 2008) and the civil society response by the Informal CSO Working Group on Women’s Rights (WGWR 2009) identified a number of areas for improvement within CIDA’s gender equality efforts. CIDA was criticized for having a tendency to compartmentalize its gender equality processes; a propensity to spread the responsibility of gender mainstreaming too thinly across the organization; and a lack of clarity from CIDA to its stakeholders and development recipients regarding their gender equality documents and programs. CIDA staff members and critics alike attributed the shortcomings on the gender front to the lack of funding for GE programming. Indeed, the official evaluation of CIDA’s gender policy noted that the agency, while recognizably committed to long-term GE initiatives, had not committed resources to GE-designated programming initiatives that were commensurate with its stated GE policy objectives (Bytown and CAC 2008). It attributed the failure largely to senior management officials who had not made gender equality a priority and so allocated insufficient financial and human resources to GE in programs and projects (Bytown and CAC 2008).
There’s a number of nuances in that extended excerpt that I think require a bit of tweaking. First of all, yes there was hard work completed in developing the GE policy, and some of it was from mid-level staff. But there were also ADMs, DGs, and junior staff who played quite heavily on the file in terms of supporting it, demanding it, pressing for guidance and a clear document to guide programming. When it was finished, it was lauded by the GE network — while a bunch of non-GE specialists read it and said, “huh?”. The policy had 9 great principles, but when it came to saying how to operationalize it as a mainstreamed principle, most of it reduced in operations to saying women had to be consulted on program / project design. While Tiessen and the cited evaluation says not enough resources were spent on GE projects, the policy very clearly argued that GE was not a one-off programming category (like WID) that required separate and unique programming, but rather one that would be fully integrated into all programming. There’s also no mention of the impact of the Social Development Priorities of the early 2000s on coding.
Take for example a project targeted at basic education and girls in Africa. Let’s assume it is a $10M project, or rather, two almost identical projects in two neighbouring countries, aimed at involving women in educational programming, increasing participation, etc., ticking off 5 out of the 9 principles and goals of the GE policy. If the project was created in the late 90s, the GE specialist who ran the one project would code it as a GE project; the education specialist doing the identical project in the neighbouring country would code it as an education project. Some would get creative and do percentages that made no sense — how could a fully GE-integrated project be “40% GE and 60% education”? But the SDPs of the early 2000s forced a much more stringent coding process — if it was health and nutrition, education, child protection, or HIV/AIDS, CIDA learned to code it as 100% of those initiatives. Nothing that was GE-focused was left coded that way. So not surprising that a few years later, everyone was still coding things as not uniquely GE, and the evaluation found little separate funding. Which, according to the 1999 policy, wasn’t the right way to do programming anyway. It was a cross-cutting file, not an unique target category, partly out of the philosophical approach to avoiding old school WID-type projects that had been deemed less effective.
I don’t disagree, personally, that management may have devoted too few resources or spread their HR too thinly, but that’s a pretty subjective line. There’s no mathematical formula that says there should be x FTEs alloted per area, and to be blunt, there were far more demands than there were resources available. Relying on the GE folks as the citation to say too few were devoted (as both Tiessen’s research and the evaluation did) is not surprising — equally, health evaluations say not enough resources are devoted to health; evaluators of evaluations say not enough money is spent on evaluation; auditors will tell you more money needs to be spent on audits. To come to that conclusion for the paper, I would need to see a lot more international comparative data, and in the end, it’s still managerial discretion. There’s no universal normative guide to determining how many FTEs are needed for a horizontal theme.
The SDPs also caused a number of sources of external funding to appear to “dry up”. Except just as the NGOs and CSOs who were GE-specialists no longer had GE-earmarked resources, the funds going to social development projects with strong GE components went up.
CIDA, like many international agencies and development organizations, was criticized for integrating gender equality — or gender mainstreaming — “everywhere but nowhere” (Tiessen 2007). Maneepong and Stiles (2007) note in their evaluation of CIDA project monitoring that some of the major challenges of integrating gender included ingrained institutional attitudes that regarded GE as unimportant. They found that senior managers failed to appreciate the importance of gender dimensions and achieved relatively little in advancing women’s equal participation in decision making and reducing gender inequities in access to — and control over — resources.
Again, I’m not sure that senior managers didn’t think it was important so much as they had 22 things they were supposed to consider, all competing for attention, and the support from the GE side was not as strong as it could have been. In some ways, the failure to garner more support in concrete terms is not unlike other parts of CIDA that were arguing for a “rights-based” approach to development. Except when operational managers said, “Great, show me how to do a project in that manner”, all they got was fluff. The GE material was much more advanced and with better examples than human rights, yet still you had training offered by the GE folks that would frequently leave people scratching their heads with rhetoric and hortatory policy language and few examples of what to do on the ground to fully mainstream GE in their project other than “consult”. This is not the same for the GE specialists in programs themselves, who could speak project management, but it was typical of all large-scale policy work in CIDA from 1996 to about 2005 (perhaps longer, but I can’t judge that as well).
In short, policy people spoke in policy terms, and were very disconnected from actual project management. So policies would go to committees for approval and then dissemination, and would mean very little to the people managing projects — there were no steps to follow, models to choose, processes to implement, all the things that project managers look for when managing projects. The “vision” was completely disconnected from the “operations”, and while we are talking here about GE, it applied equally to human rights, much of the environmental work, most of the private sector and trade work, and to a lesser extent, health. (I note that health and nutrition work was disconnected to a lesser extent because development and health policy, by and large, is frequently linear from lines of evidence to policy goals, and back again to operations, thus making it easier to interpret without a policy-to-operations translator.)
Anything that had to do with gender equality sat on the minister’s desk for long periods of time without obtaining approval for funding (interview participant). Other studies have noted that removing the words “gender equality” from funding proposals was essential if NGOs wanted to improve their chances of having their projects approved (Caplan 2010; Carrier and Tiessen 2012; Plewes and Kerr 2010). The kinds of projects that CIDA funded under the Conservative government were those that demonstrated service delivery and outputs such as “health care services to so many women, getting so many girls to school … [because] that’s something you can count and it was what could be promoted and approved” (interview participant). Several interview participants noted that the Harper Conservatives did not support projects that might not have numbers attached, such as gender mainstreaming or capacity building, because they believed these approaches to development would not resonate with Canadian taxpayers.
That paragraph is pretty powerful stuff. Sounds completely damning. Except for a few small facts omitted. Like for example a lot of projects unrelated to GE were also left sitting on the Minister’s desk. The GE participants interviewed didn’t think about that because they only know their area, but ask a few ADMs how many files were sitting unapproved, and if they were unique to GE, and GE probably wouldn’t even make the top 5 list of reasons. However, if you ask about how many pending projects were there without clear demonstrable results identified, the list would be quite high. It was the fundamental shift in approach — and, sorry to burst CIDA’s bubble, not limited to CIDA. All departments got hit with the same questions — what are the results? When will we see them? How many are tied to current funding? Why are we doing core funding of organizations where we get general results and not project funding where we can see if they perform or not? With the light on those two facts — not just GE and not limited to CIDA — the complaint that it was all GE is not quite so damning.
In sum, the Muskoka Initiative failed to penetrate the gendered societal norms that prevent women from accessing health services even when they are available and has limited potential for improving the quality of life for women who still have little or no say over reproductive rights and child spacing.
The overall analysis on the Muskoka Initiative is accurate for facts, but seems a little bit off to me on policy, particularly in light of past G8 announcements on development. It didn’t do all the good things mentioned because it wasn’t supposed to — it was designed (and directed to be designed) as a high-profile G8 initiative that could and would produce demonstrable short-term results. If you treat the MI as a nutrition project, or a health+ project, rather than a GE project, than most of the criticism disappears. It doesn’t deal with reproductive health? Not within scope. It doesn’t deal with rights? Not within scope. One can argue that perhaps it was a missed opportunity, but arguing it was another giant shift is a bit light on evidence. You can only assume that if you first say “the public face” is the only one, and saying it is about women “makes it GE”, when the evidence of the rest of the chapter was that it wasn’t. So why would you use one initiative that wasn’t designed as GE as the vanguard evidence of a sea-change in GE programming? I can understand it from the GE specialists (they all got excluded from what they thought was going to be a huge pot of money for them to spend), but I expected that an arms-length academic might have pulled a little more and obtained some better evidence.