Meeting the gender target: Did DFAT succeed in 2017?

Women celebrate International Women’s Day in Solomon Islands. Photo by: DFAT / CC BY

CANBERRA — The release of the Performance of Australian Aid report in May showed the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was nearing an important target set by Julie Bishop as one her first orders of business since becoming Foreign Minister in 2013 — ensuring more than 80 percent of investments, regardless of their objectives, will effectively address gender issues in their implementation. 2017 may well have been the year it hit that goal, but the impacts on the ground are far from clear.

The target was established by a June 2014 report outlining ways to enhance the effectiveness and accountability of Australian aid. The DFAT report, which covered 2015-2016, showed that they had effectively addressed gender within in 78 percent of their programs — just two percent shy of the magic 80.

DFAT’s strategy suggests a number of ways to achieve these outcomes — ensuring women participate in decision making throughout implementation, identifying and pursuing opportunities for women to be employed through an investment, and addressing social challenges to implementation including violence and other social norms that create a barrier to the inclusion of women. DFAT has additionally created regional-specific plans to support the empowerment of women, including a strategy for Vietnam announced in February.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, the minister for international development and the Pacific, told Devex she was hopeful that the next performance of Australian aid report would reveal DFAT had achieved the target in 2017.

“What that target has actually done is that, as you have the discussion in relation to aid, it’s really made countries and organizations focus more,” she said. “How can I make this project more gender friendly?

“A little example that I use is that I went to a little island where there was a solar project being undertaken. Now, half the workforce were women. And they looked at it and said, ‘Let’s employ more women’. And now they’ve got more women technicians than male technicians because the women came forward, and it was open to everybody.”

“That’s only a little example. But those sort of little examples are all over the place. The point is that as we’ve set this target, it has made countries and organizations think strongly about how they can make a more gender-friendly project.”

Are we seeing an impact?

In 2014, DFAT suggested that there may need to be financial investment in improving sex-disaggregated data collection to better understand the impacts of an investment on women and girls, but outputs from any investment in this space have yet to be demonstrated.

Yet gender statistics from the World Bank suggest there is still much work to do to make an impact. In the countries the Australian aid program supports, there are concerning trends.

The most recent data of females outside of primary school shows the numbers are increasing in Fiji, Indonesia, Laos, Micronesia, Pakistan, and Timor-Leste.

Adolescent fertility rates — births per thousand for women aged 15 to 19 — are increasing in Cambodia, Fiji, Iraq, Philippines, and Vietnam.

The costs for women to start a business, as a percentage of gross national income, are increasing in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Micronesia, and Tonga.

Still, the data is showing strong progress in other areas, including an overall declining fertility rate, and increasing number of years of schooling for women.

For development workers on the ground who have spoken to Devex, encouraging discussion on gender norms is important. But “effectively addressing” gender for many programs is simply putting together a forum of women, leading to very limited change within communities.

Associating output to the targets, in terms of impact on households, income, education, health, and more, are considered more effective than simplicity of engaging women within communities.

A gendered case study: Female workforce participation in Indonesia

At the Indonesian Development Forum, held in Jakarta on Aug. 9 and 10, a case study presented on Indonesian female workforce participation provided an important example of the complexity of effectively tailoring and supporting women in aid and development programs — and that thinking needs to go beyond the targets.

Ilmiawan Auwaliun, from the Faculty of Economics and Business at Universitas Airlangga, explained to the audience that there were important economic and social benefits in targeting increased female participation in the workforce — including a boost to economic growth and improved development outcomes for the next generation. But for the past three decades, he said, female workforce participation had remained stagnant at approximately 50 percent.

“Studies suggest that more traditional social norms related to gender roles for family care and housework for mobility can limit women’s participation in the labor market,” he said. In particular, women learn from elder women in their household and are pressured into particular roles based on the norms of their ethnic group.

In Indonesia, Auwaliun explained, additional obstacles are posed by the large number of ethnic groups in the country — the 2010 national census identified 1,471 ethnic and subethnic groups. In each of these groups are distinct social norms on the roles and responsibilities of men and women.

Analyzing the kinship structure within ethnic groups, Auwaliun found that for women aged 15 to 60, it was ethnic groups with bilateral leadership — both men and women jointly leading the community — which had a higher rate of labor force participation for women, averaging 53 percent. Patriarchal groups — led predominantly by men — had an average female workforce participation of 36 percent. But, contrary to what one might expect, matriarchal societies had the lowest average labor force participation rate at just 34 percent, highlighting the complexity of the issue.

“Particular attention on difference of ethnic norms need to be considered in designing and delivering policies to improve female labor force participation,” Auwaliun concluded.

What are the solutions?

While there is still much work to be done, DFAT is thinking of new ways to better engage women — including through partnerships with the private sector — to better support the empowerment of women and girls.

Arthi Patel, a leading gender specialist with Palladium supporting the implementation the Business Partnerships Platform, said that while there is change and discussion, there is still marked discrimination against women within some developing countries.

“They really have to perform 100 times better to achieve being recognized,” she told Devex.

She said it is important to think beyond the work of donors to ensure that social change is encouraging the private sector to change practices throughout their supply chain — including providing better options for women to combine work with childcare as well as targeting products and solutions to improve the lives of women.

Round two of the BPP, a funding model supporting private sector partnerships to encourage and support development initiatives, required gender to be an important consideration in proposals. Women were required to be included in the plans for impact and assessment of outcomes, with monitoring and evaluation to potentially include tracking changes in income as well as surveys to look at impacts within the budgets and households of women. And it made businesses consider their support for women from the perspective of their own economic outcomes.

While the private sector is important, Patel said that NGOs are also playing an important role in changing the discussion on women and it will be a long-term and combined effort to achieve gender goals beyond DFAT’s 80 percent program target.

Read more Devex coverage on gender equality.

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.