The Women’s Forum: “Feminist Perspectives on the Third International Conference on Financing for Development” took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on July 10th, 2015. Women and feminist organizations from around the world gathered to discuss the issues at stake in the Financing for Development (FfD) negotiations and to strategize on ways to overcome global obstacles for gender justice and sustainable and equitable development. The Forum was organized by FEMNET, African Women’s Development Fund, Post 2015 Women’s Coalition and the Women’s Working Group on FfD co-coordinators: AWID, DAWN & Feminist Task Force. The Women’s Forum was a wonderful way to begin the week in Addis, as it was an opportunity to consolidate the women’s voice on FfD and to strengthen the agenda of women’s organizations in civil society.
Engaging with the Financing for Development process through the lens of gender equality, the Women’s Forum sought to address critical issues, including creating a rights-based multilateral economic and financial architecture to address structural imbalances in the current system, respecting, protecting and fulfilling women’s human rights rather than instrumentalizing women’s empowerment as “smart economic strategy”, creating investment frameworks that have binding norms consistent with human rights, including for transnational corporations, balancing global trade, and achieving progressive taxation and international tax cooperation. The Forum focused on issues ignored by the FfD process, especially the impacts women face regarding income inequality, unpaid domestic and care work, and property and assets ownership.
The Civil Society (CSO) Forum that took place from July 11-12, 2015 provided civil society groups an opportunity to narrow down our priorities and zero in on a few key issues to press negotiators on during the official FfD conference. Since nothing in the FfD3 Outcome Document had been agreed to before the conference started, there was still an excellent opening for CSOs to influence the final document.
Key issues included cracking down on tax evasion and avoidance by multinational corporations and creating an intergovernmental regulatory body to enforce global tax standards and stem illicit financial flows. CSOs also pushed for more critical scrutiny of the role public-private partnerships and so-called blended finance arrangements can and should play in advancing inclusive economic growth. Representatives pressed for the inclusion of the language that acknowledges “common but differentiated responsibilities,” that recognize the varying capabilities among countries to contribute financial and technical resources. Finally, questions remained about the future of the Financing for Development process itself. The Forum noted the change in the level of ambition in the FfD process, especially since many developing countries are trying to connect the FfD process with the means of implementation of the Post-2015 process. Developing country and civil society representatives maintain that the two processes are separate, and should remain so. CSOs expressed concern that confining financing talks to the specifics of the Post-2015 agenda could limit opportunities to discuss bigger, systemic issues related to development finance, or which fall outside the specific confines of the SDG process., and therefore committed to advocating for a strong follow-up mechanism for the FfD process.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the closing session of the CSO Forum, where he urged civil society to continue to amplify the voice of the people and support developing countries. He insisted that quality of private investment is important, and that incentives for unsustainable investment should be dissuaded. He called on the international community to be ambitious and to pursue sustainable development for people and the planet.
Following those remarks, Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations, and co-chair of the Financing for Development process Geir Pederson urged civil society groups to support the finalization of an outcome agreement, despite the concerns they might have about its shortcomings. “Continue your good work,” Ambassador Pederson said, “in such a way that you don’t stop us from reaching an agreement at the middle of the week.” He also mentioned that it is not enough for 130 countries to agree on the outcome document, referring to the Group of 77 bloc. All 193 member states of the UN must endorse the outcome document that emerges from the Addis negotiations.
The CSO Declaration, which contained the main concerns and recommendations of civil society organizations, was adopted at the end of the CSO Forum. The Declaration urged countries to raise the level of ambition and deliver actionable and practical policies to adequately tackle the systemic issues faced by the international community, to commit to true gender equality, to create new debt restructuring frameworks, to establish a universal international tax cooperation body to stop illicit financial flows and tackle corporate tax dodging, and to make stronger commitments to transparent, accountable follow-up mechanisms to ensure the robust implementation of all Financing for Development agreements.
Thanks to my year in Washington DC, a city with a large Ethiopian immigrant population, I was already familiar with injera and wat, the spongy sourdough flatbread and spicy, thick stews typical of Ethiopian food. It was a treat to be able to have authentic Ethiopian food nearly every meal. While I was in Addis, I learned that on Wednesdays and Fridays the Ethiopian Orthodox Church prescribes fasting from meat and animal products, so most foods on those days were vegan.
On Sunday before the second day of the CSO Forum, I attended mass at the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an Ethiopian Catholic church. The building looked like a church, and smelled like a church (lots of incense), but there were a few things that were new to me. In general, the congregation was separated into men on the left side and women on the right side of the church, and unfortunately I missed the head-covering memo. Fortunately, I got a few friendly and reassuring smiles, so I still felt welcome. Although some of the rituals were different than the Roman Catholic mass I am accustomed to, and I didn’t understand a word of the liturgy, which was all sung/chanted in Amharic, I’m glad that I got to see a little piece of Ethiopian culture.
After collecting our passes to the official conference, the UN provided us with one of their transports for us to get back to our hotel so that we wouldn’t have to wait in the dark for a taxi. It was pretty cool to ride in the classic white transport with giant “UN” letters written on the hood.