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Development financing still gender-blind

When the U.N.'s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) held a special high-level meeting to discuss the new challenges facing the international community, the focus was largely on the credit crisis, rising commodity prices, declining development aid and the devastating impact of climate change on developing nations.

But one of the gender-sensitive issues - the feminization of poverty - was left out in the cold.

"While we are pleased that some governments stated that gender equality must be incorporated into development cooperation strategies, there were no proposals on how this actually would be achieved," Nadia Johnson, Economic and Social Justice Coordinator at the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), told IPS.

"Women's groups are thus concerned that words will continue to be met with little action," she added.

According to the United Nations, about 70 percent of those who live in extreme poverty are women and children.

The meeting, which took place Monday and was attended by high ranking government officials and senior U.N. staffers, was part of a preparatory process for the upcoming international conference on financing for development (FfD), scheduled to take place in the Qatari capital of Doha in late November.

But the FfD process, which began with the 2002 U.N. conference on financing for development in Monterrey, Mexico, has continued to marginalize or downgrade the gender perspective in development financing, according to women's groups.

"Today the majority of people living in poverty are women and girls," Cecilia Alemany of the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) told IPS.

"And if the international community does not take a serious political commitment (at the FfD meeting) in Doha to change these trends, we will lose another decade," she warned.

Johnson of WEDO said that when governments agreed on the 'Monterrey Consensus'- spelling out the priorities for development financing- at the first FfD conference six years ago, "they made scant commitments to women's empowerment and gender equality."

The chapter addressing official development assistance (ODA) did not have a single gender reference or commitment, she said.

"It's not surprising that since Monterrey little has changed to advance the economic conditions of women worldwide," Johnson said.

She also pointed out that the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently reported that ODA is actually on the decline: down from 0.31 percent of gross national income (GNI) in 2006 to 0.28 percent in 2007.

In 1970, the U.N. General Assembly set a target of 0.7 percent of GNI as ODA to the world's poorer nations. But only five countries - Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and Luxembourg - have either consistently met or surpassed- that target. And according to a 2005 report by two non-governmental organizations, Eurostep and Social Watch, only 0.1 percent of ODA is actually spent on gender equality.

"It only shows that women are often still an afterthought by governments when crafting economic policy," said Johnson.

This marginalization of gender comes despite the active participation of the women's movement in the FfD process; despite common knowledge that women and girls not only comprise the vast majority of the world's poor but remain the poorest of the poor; and despite the consequent numerous commitments linking gender equality to sustainable development and poverty eradication. (Inter Press Service News Agency)

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