Campaigns

Is aid getting better? Time to ask difficult questions

Iñigo Macías-Aymar's picture
Iñigo Macías-Aymar Aid & Development Alternatives Policy Advisor

The Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) meets in Mexico this week to discuss how best to deploy international aid for developing countries.  ActionAid UK's policy team is on the ground joining aid donors and NGOs to ensure that people in developing countries get a fair deal.

Although aid provided by donors won’t solve all the problems of developing countries (and is not intended to do so), it does represent a big chunk of public money earmarked exclusively for this purpose. Despite continued pressures on donors’ national budgets, development aid recently reached record levels, driven in part by increased amounts from the UK. While this is in itself an achievement, it goes without saying that it is vital that this money is well spent.

That is the issue that the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) High Level Meeting taking place this week in Mexico aims to address.

Hundreds of donors and as many business and NGO stakeholders will discuss how best to ensure that the international principles on aid effectiveness, notably those agreed in Busan in 2011 (download), are being implemented and what should be done to take things further.

Empowering countries to define their own futures

These principles concentrate on committing to put developing countries in the driving seat of their own development as much as possible. Donors also committed to be more transparent, better coordinated and more aligned with recipient countries’ needs.

It is fundamental that we all get it right this week, as the international community is currently working on a new post 2015 framework for tackling poverty over the coming decades, and aid must be used in the best way possible to contribute to delivering this new framework.

Unfortunately, the Global Monitoring Report, which evaluates progress since 2011, shows that we are way off track.  One of the key problems is country ownership.

After almost 60 years of development and a decade of commitment to let poor countries define their own future, donors still seem reluctant to completely deliver on this. Can countries end their dependence on aid if donors continue to bypass their governments and instead establish alternative systems and aid delivery mechanisms?

Problems with private sector solutions?

Worryingly, it seems this won’t get better as many donors are starting to resort to the private sector to solve their problems. There is concern that this does not focus on strengthening what already exists in the country but rather acts as a bandage, if not actually undermining governments.

Donors must be clearer about their intentions with the private sector and how they will ensure that aid delivered through these channels will respect the Busan Principles and not unravel them.

These questions are at the centre of the ActionAid briefing that we released today in Mexico.

I will be working hard this week with colleagues from ActionAid Zambia, ActionAid Italy and ActionAid UK to ensure that the final communique from the Mexico High Level Meeting provides us with clear answers!

Follow me on twitter @IMaciasAymar to hear the latest from #GPHLM

Meet your MP to help Clean Up Barclays

Natasha Adams's picture
Natasha Adams Activism Officer

Together, we're doing a great job of keeping the pressure on Barclays to stop promoting tax havens in Africa. Thousands of us have taken action by emailing our MPs, and we know MPs are already starting to contact Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins passing on the concerns of constituents. The support from MPs we've generated so far has even caught the attention of the media. This is great news - this kind of pressure will be hard for Barclays to ignore.

Flooding MP's inboxes with emails is a great way to get an issue on their agenda, but speaking to them in person is the best way to explain exactly what they problem is and convince them to act. We need your help to hammer the message home and make sure that MP's take action.

Meet your MP

ActionAid supporter David Watkinson (right) meets his MP Jeremy CorbynWill you take the next step and join people like David to meet with your MP to ask them to take action? If you can't find the time to meet, a telephone call is great too!

Contacting your MP is actually really easy. You can find the number of your MP's constituency office on their website. When you call, you'll either speak to an assistant or get an answer machine. Either way, if you explain what you're calling about you could arrange to meet at a convenient time in future, or wait for them to call you back. 26 of our Community Campaigners like David (pictured right) have already asked for meetings with their MPs.

Our lobbying guide will walk you through arranging a meeting, preparing, what to say when you get there and how to follow up.

>> Read our step by step guide to lobbying your MP

>> Download a briefing to pass on to your MP, and to help you prepare 

There are three things your MP could do to make a real difference:

  1. Write to Barclays' CEO Antony Jenkins, passing on concerns about Barclays promotion of tax havens in Africa.
  2. Sign the Early Day Motion other MPs have tabled (a kind of Parliamentary petition).
  3. Ask a question in Parliament about the activities of Barclays' Offshore Corporate Division in Africa.

There's a lot at stake here. If Barclays stops promoting tax havens in Africa, this could help developing countries raise much more from businesses, to fund basic services like health and education. It would also send a strong message to banks and businesses across the UK - promoting tax havens is immoral and the British public have had enough.

Need support?

Let me know if you're up for speaking to your MP, and I'll do everything I can to help make it easy. You could join a campaigner teleconference to go through everything you need to know on Monday 31st March at 7pm, or Thursday April 10th at 6:30pm. To book to attend a teleconference, ask questions or just to let me know you have approached your MP, call me on 0203 1220 683 or email me at natasha.adams@actionaid.org.

Thanks for your support!

Tax justice, inequality, and the general election

Richard Pyle's picture
Richard Pyle Interim Tax Justice Campaign Manager

After a 20-year silence, the political mainstream is talking about inequality again. What does it mean for our tax justice campaign in an election year?

Tax pays for children in Zambia to be in school
Tax pays for children in Zambia to be in school
Photo: ActionAid

So far 2014 has been a year of revisiting old problems. From ethnic tensions in Europe, to the very make up of the UK, the political agenda is now chock-a-block with arguments that we thought we’d settled and problems we’d duly forgotten about altogether.

Indeed, for the last 20 years our politicians seemed to have wholesale forgetten about the problem of wealth inequality. The general consensus seemed to be that inequality was an outdated concept and best replaced with terms like social mobility - or equality of opportunity.

But inequality never went away: It got much worse

So it was that last week Oxfam and the Equality Trust added to the mix of new-old issues with two reports that demonstrated in stark terms how inequality had ballooned in our society - and now represented a fundamental threat to poverty reduction and prosperity in the UK and in developing countries. 

They’re not alone. Calls for action to combat inequality have come from powerful (and unusual) places in recent weeks including Barack Obama, the Pope, and even the IMF, who argued in a recent report that inequality is a threat to the very fabric of our society. Strong words indeed and perhaps why the ‘i word’ crept into the Chancellor’s budget statement this week.

Recent reports even suggest that Ed Miliband is going to make inequality the centre plank of the Labour campaign towards May 2015, using it to give new depth to his cost of living narrative.

So what does this mean for ActionAid’s tax justice campaign?

Well, first and foremost it means tax justice is destined to be at the centre of the political debate in the run up to a tightly contested general election.

As the IMF suggests, one of the simplest ways to reduce wealth inequality is to redistribute wealth through the means of progressive taxation. Crucially, that also means plugging the holes in the global tax system that allows those taxes to be avoided.

Secondly, if inequality is to become the political centre-ground, it means we must be more ambitious about the reforms we seek.

That means challenging the belief that tax avoidance is an unshakable norm but that it is, instead, the result of a series of political choices undertaken by governments in the thrall of a powerful elite. 

Tax justice matters at home and abroad

We need to accept that we cannot exist in a development bubble, but that we need to engage in a wider debate that rejects the false divide between rich and poor countries, the global North and global South, the developed and the developing.

The UK is in a position to dramatically shape the global approach to tax and inequality and we have a responsibility to make the most of the opportunity that the general election presents us with. 

Let’s show our representatives that inequality is not something that can be ignored or forgotten. It is a fundamental imbalance that causes poverty at home and in other countries. And through sorting out the global tax system, it can be permanently rebalanced to the advantage of everyone.

The 58th meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58) is still in session at the United Nations' Headquarters in New York.

While negotiations on the outcome document will last at least until 21 March, the new - already third - draft of the agreed conclusions was released on 17 March.

Zainabu Kamato, Kenya, whose unpaid work includes looking after her sick husband and six children
Zainabu Kamato, Kenya, whose unpaid work includes looking after her sick husband and six children
Photo: Kate Holt/Shoot The Earth/ActionAid

ActionAid has had sight of the new draft and notes that, although strong language on some of the aspects of women’s economic rights has been kept, some of the critical issues have already fallen through the cracks.

The good news is that the new draft proposes quite strong language on recognising, valuing, reducing and redistributing women’s and girls’ disproportionate share of unpaid care work. Unfortunately it doesn’t go as far as recognising unpaid care work as a collective responsibility and recommending to address this key human rights issue in the new development framework post 2015.

Disappointing outcomes for women at work and macro-economic policies 

The new CSW58 draft keeps the references to women’s rights to work and their rights at work, however, the call for ensuring a living wage, the application of human rights principles to macro-economic policy, and addressing accountability of the private sector for violations of women’s rights have all been dropped.

There is no reference to the extraterritorial obligations of the State (download)in regards to their trade regulation and investment policies. We see no mention either of the behavior of transnational corporations.  

These are all very serious omissions that fall far short of an adequate response to the harsh reality of economic exploitation and discrimination of women across the globe, especially in the Global South.

In this sense, the concerns of ActionAid – as expressed in my previous blog – have largely been confirmed.

On a more positive note, the new draft conclusions hold onto language which expresses the need for a stand-alone goal on gender equality, empowerment of women and women’s and girls’ human rights.

Still 4 days (or more) to go

Officially the CSW negotiations will conclude on Friday. With the review of Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and forthcoming high-level discussions on the new development agenda post 2015, the stakes this year are exceptionally high.

Reaching agreement won’t be easy as strong differences between Member States persist on topics such as their approach to the interconnection between development and human rights, as well as on the need for CSW58 to lay the ground for the replacement of MDGs.

While some Member States would like to see more strategic engagement, others refuse to pre-empt the post 2015 discussions.

Nothing is certain until the end of the negotiations and the current draft of the CSW58 conclusions is likely to undergo substantial changes.

ActionAid UK: Where do we stand?

The struggle for women’s rights is global. ActionAid representatives join forces with women’s organizations and other gender equality advocates calling for strong human rights based CSW Conclusions and a just development agenda post-2015 (download).

CSW is a key principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and women’s rights. We believe that this is a key space in which to achieve momentum to lay the much-needed solid transformative ground for high-level debates on the new development agenda post-2015.

Our specific focus this year is on economics, yet we call for full realisation of ALL women’s human rights including eradication of all forms of violence, and sexual reproductive health and rights.

Human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, and no compromises should be made to water down the existing international agreements.

It is thus imperative that this year's CSW conclusions take only big steps forward and no steps back.

Follow Kasia on twitter at @KasiaStasz

The 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is taking place right now at the United Nations' Headquarters in New York. ActionAid is in attendance, joining women's rights organisations and gender equality advocates from around the world to call upon commission members to make a strong stand for women's economic rights.

Cover of the ActionAid report: Making Care Visible: Women's unpaid care work in Nepal, Nigeria and Kenya
Cover of the ActionAid report: Making Care Visible: Women's unpaid care work in Nepal, Nigeria and Kenya
Photo: ActionAid

Despite this call coming as a timely response to the harsh reality of the exploitation of women across the globe, some Member States are trying to water down the wording on the realisation of women’s economic rights - for example women's rights to work and their rights at work - in the draft CSW document.

The language calling for macro-economic policies, which are to be aligned with the existing human rights standards and obligations, faces similar fierce opposition.

Furthermore, on the premise of not ‘pre-empting’ the new development goals, some Member States refuse even to discuss their government’s responsibility to recognise and redistribute the burden of women’s unpaid care work.

Unless all parties come to an agreement that preserves this critical aspect of women’s rights, the CSW outcome will be disappointing.  Its inclusion is vital to lay the much-needed transformative ground for the forthcoming high-level debates on the New Development Agenda post 2015.

Why is addressing the exploitation of women at work so important?

There is no doubt that on virtually every global measure women are more economically excluded than men. More and more women have entered the labour market in recent decades. This has coincided with high rates of informalisation and deregulation of labour, especially across the Global South. In general women are concentrated in temporary, low paid and insecure employment, lacking benefits such as health coverage, paid leave or the right to collective bargaining.

The International Labour Organization estimates that in 2012, more than half of all employed women worldwide were in informal vulnerable employment, while in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, over 80 per cent of all jobs for women are in the informal sector work.

Invisible workers

Furthermore, women’s paid work is only one part of most women’s total workload, much of which remains invisible in national statistics. Women across the world are disproportionately responsible for unpaid care work which includes cooking, cleaning, taking care of children, the ill and the elderly – work done both at home and in the community.

Such a heavy and unequal unpaid care workload affects women’s enjoyment of their rights to education, decent work, political participation or leisure. 

For countries where data is available, women spend, on average, roughly twice as long than men on domestic work including family care. The disparity is starker in India with women spending six hours and men only 36 minutes.

This work is intensified for women living in contexts of poverty, social exclusion, economic crisis, environmental degradation, natural disasters, and where there is inadequate access to infrastructure and public services.

Women’s work and human rights: where do we stand?

It has been more than 30 years since the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979) obliged States to take all appropriate measures to guarantee women’s equal rights.  These include the right to decent work, job security, equal pay for equal work, social security and safe working conditions.

Furthermore, the recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights positioned unequal distribution of unpaid care as a key human rights issue that keeps women in poverty and stunts progress towards gender equality.

It is thus imperative that this year's CSW conclusions take no backwards steps. 

Alongside women’s organisations and gender equality advocates, ActionAid calls upon the Member States to agree on conclusions that recognise women’s work in its entirety - from the care of ailing parents, to the long hours on the factory floor – and address the intersecting and structural forms of discrimination that women face in accessing decent work, a living wage, and universal protection, alongside recognising and redistributing their unpaid care work.

Follow Kasia on twitter at @KasiaStasz

Reclaiming Feminism

Kayshani Gibbon's picture
Kayshani Gibbon Campaigns Volunteer

With the passing of International Women’s Day last week, I seem to have had an extraordinary amount of conversations regarding women’s rights. One of particular interest was with a good friend of mine, who challenged my desire to be called a Feminist - I knew him to be in touch with contemporary movements at university, and his views came as a surprise to me. You don’t hate guys, he said, and why is it called feminism if it’s all about equality? You don’t need feminism in this country anyway; women in the West already have rights. I recognise that this is probably what the majority of people in our society think, but I had hoped he was one person I wouldn’t have to win over.

) Maybe the issues of gender inequality are more blaringly obvious in some of the developing countries ActionAid works in, where many women don’t have access to education, work, or rights that protect them from violence. However, I was taken aback by his claims that there was no room for improvement in the UK, after all there are still some nuanced differences in the way society treats men and women. Women have less economic power, earning less than men in the same positions. Women have less political power, as there are fewer women in parliament representing their views (only 23%).

One aspect in particular that I thought wouldn’t have escaped his notice while we were studying together, is the objectification of women. It plays a huge part in lad culture at universities, which in turn has extremely negative effects on women – impacting their mental and physical health, and preventing them from reaching their full potential.

In fact I asked him, don’t you find the current discourse on this topic patronising? Is it true that as a young male you just can’t keep your thoughts and hands to yourself? Isn’t it ironic that girls and women are taught to cover up, rather than men taught to have some manners?

So far, men have set the parameters of the system, and thus the system favours men. The reason I want to change this is not because I hate men, but because I want all women, regardless of race, class or religion, to have access to the same economic, political and social opportunities as men, so that we may be considered equals.  That is why it’s called a feminist movement, as it strives to bring female voices to the table where men are already listened to. It’s an issue that affects women worldwide, and I think by standing up for our feminist beliefs across the world we can start to change the system together.

Are you on my side yet? I asked - and he said he’d think about it.

If you need further persuasion, then here is a good place to search for some inspiration. Nevertheless, if you’re not up for joining, that’s fine – just let me get on with it.