DFID's economic development work failing to include women, watchdog says

A tailor in Uganda. Photo by: Pete Lewis / Department for International Development / CC BY

LONDON — The United Kingdom Department for International Development needs to do better at ensuring women and marginalized groups are benefitting from the economic development programs it supports in Africa, according to an aid watchdog.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which evaluates Britain’s aid spending, gave evidence before members of parliament on Wednesday about the overall credibility of DFID’s work to reduce poverty through economic transformation and job creation in Africa.

In January 2017, DFID published its first economic development strategy, which outlined plans to boost developing country economies through investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, agribusiness, construction, and improving financial institutions, as well as through health and education. The ambitious strategy made strong commitments to ensuring programs deliver inclusive growth and promised to “place the economic empowerment of girls and women at the heart of our approach and help marginalised groups.”

On Wednesday, members of the parliamentary International Development Committee discussed the findings of an ICAI June 2017 review into DFID’s approach to supporting inclusive growth, especially in Africa, which was chosen as a focus since the continent is set to see 10 to 12 million young people enter the job market annually.

While ICAI said they were impressed by the “ambition” of DFID’s strategy, implementing it is proving challenging, especially when it comes to reaching marginalized groups. ICAI commissioner Tina Fahm told the IDC that DFID needs to do more to ensure job creation and economic development programs benefit everyone.

“We know economic development initiatives can … lift people out of poverty,” she said, “but it is important DFID recognizes there will invariably be winners and losers and [ensure the] poor and marginalized are kept in view.”

DFID officials, who also gave evidence before the committee, said the programs that ICAI assessed predated the new strategy, and that many had since improved their inclusivity efforts.

DFID has been steadily increasing its work around economic development in recent years, doubling its investments from 934 million British pounds ($1.3 billion) in 2011-12, to 1.8 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) in 2015-16. This shift was underscored by the decision to recapitalize its private investment arm, the CDC, increasing the ceiling for DFID investment from 2 billion to 6 billion pounds ($2.78 billion to $8.34 billion), as Devex reported at the time.

Missing targets

The ICAI report revealed that none of the programs reviewed contained specific measures to target women and girls, although three-quarters highlighted women and girls as target beneficiaries. Furthermore, the analysis found “no examples of monitoring tools designed to assess whether programmes were inadvertently benefiting one group at the expense of others,” the report states.

“Many of the programs under review had useful language around addressing women on an abstract level … [but this was] not necessarily being carried through into specific interventions that would benefit women,” Marcus Cox, a lead evaluator for ICAI, told the IDC.

“Gender is still a gap,” he said, and while program plans included “simple disaggregated data” about gender, they lacked the “really detailed analytics to see whether the benefits were being shared” among women and marginalized groups, Cox said.

He called on DFID to be “much clearer about what are the commitments that have been made … and what are the processes that need to come into place to deliver those commitments for the next generation of programming.”

DFID’s response

Speaking during the session, Rachel Turner, director of economic development at DFID, said that a number of improvements had and were being made, so much so that ICAI commissioners will find “a very different situation” when they do their one-year review. Turner specifically mentioned the impact of the “work and opportunities for women” scheme launched by DFID in September 2016 to help women get better jobs, improve labour conditions, and to collect more data on where women work in supply chains and the barriers holding them back.

She also said DFID had “significantly stepped up” its approach to disability in recent months, as highlighted by the new Secretary of State Penny Mordaunt, and said this is something the department is “weaving much more strongly into all our programming.”

Melinda Bohannon, head of DFID's growth and resilience department, also gave evidence before the committee and said that while “women’s economic empowerment” can pose a “very difficult challenge” for some programs, it has been a key DFID priority since 2015. As part of this, she said the department has been looking into “innovative” approaches and investing in “cutting edge research” to help with questions such as how to bring women into supply chains.

Bohannon said she hopes ICAI will talk to some of the DFID offices that have “tried this innovative work” when they come to do their next review.

Read more Devex coverage on the future of U.K. aid.

About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.