Susanna Moorehead, new head of the OECD Development Assistance Committee. Photo by: OECD

LONDON — The new chair of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, Susanna Moorehead, has vowed to make gender equality a major focus under her watch and revealed plans for a new recommendation around ending sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment in the aid sector.

“I think people probably assume that half of the [aid] money goes on women and girls, but it doesn’t.”

— Susanna Moorehead, chair, DAC

After just two weeks on the job, Moorehead is still in “listening mode,” but she has already identified gender as something she wants to focus on during her time as the head of the body within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that is tasked with setting the rules around official development assistance for its members. This includes 30 of the world’s richest countries who collectively account for about 80 percent of global aid spending.

Ahead of International Women’s Day, the former British ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti said she was surprised to learn how little aid money is spent on women and girls.

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“I was shocked, and frankly ashamed, to learn that only 4 percent of ODA goes specifically on gender equality and that 63 percent has no gender equality objective,” Moorehead said, adding that, “I think people probably assume that half of the [aid] money goes on women and girls, but it doesn’t.”

Moorehead, who was announced as the new DAC chair in December but only started last month, is now seeking to understand why this is the case.

“There is overwhelming evidence … that investment in women and girls yields huge dividends on all the issues that the DAC is concerned about … The question for me is, if we know all of this, and we’ve signed up to it, why are we doing so little?” Moorehead told Devex in an interview after speaking at London-based think tank the Overseas Development Institute on Thursday.

“That is not a rhetorical question and I don’t know the answer, but that’s the issue we need to focus on,” she added.

Achieving gender equality has also been shown to benefit other excluded groups, Moorehead stressed.

“Countries where gender equality is taken seriously tend to have a far better track record on other forms of exclusion like disability … so it’s saying, ‘if you get this right, you’re creating the conditions under which other forms of exclusion and inequality are more likely to be successfully tackled,’” she said.

Moorehead, who has also worked for the U.K.’s Department for International Development, said her first step would be to “listen to the delegates” from DAC member countries in order to find out why donors, with some notable exceptions, are not prioritizing gender.

“We need to be clearer about why this is happening, and then work out an agreed strategy with the committee about how we can make progress on this,” she said.

But Moorehead doubts whether a report or gender targets are necessarily the best answer.

“I think it’s much more about advocacy, political lobbying at high levels, and reminding ourselves that this [gender equality] is potentially a success story,” she said.

It has been a busy start for Moorehead, under whose watch DAC members discussed steps to combat sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector at a meeting in Paris, France, in February. This follows an earlier commitment to prevent abuse agreed by all members last June, when Charlotte Petri Gornitzka was chair. The DAC hopes to publish a recommendation on this “as soon as we can,” Moorehead said.

“I’m extremely pleased and proud of the fact that the DAC has seized this agenda and made significant progress,” Moorehead told Devex. However, the move also posed some challenges, she explained.

“There was overwhelming support for the need to do something … but where the meeting raised some questions was that we need to be really careful we do not create a structure or framework that we then can’t deliver against,” she said.

Furthermore, while DAC can set rules to combat sexual exploitation, it is up to the development and humanitarian agencies to implement them.

“What we need to do is say ‘this is what we think best practice looks like,’ [and] ideally get it into the mandate, but then it is up to the agencies concerned … and again it comes back to changing the culture,” Moorehead said.

DAC members have also agreed on a new recommendation which aims to promote more coherent action among donor efforts on humanitarian, development, and peace programs in fragile and conflict contexts. Recommendations are official OECD instruments, agreed to by all member countries, but are not legally binding.

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.