Ireen Dubel, the manager of the gender, women and development programme of Hivos is an active participant in discussions on financing for women and development work. She was one of the institutional experts at the Expert Group Meeting on financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women organized by the UN Division for the Advancement of Women in Oslo, Norway in September 2007. Ireen was in New York recently for the 52nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women where the main theme was financing for women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Hivos, Ireen’s organisation, is one of the few donor agencies that have consistently supported ICT for development projects. In this interview conducted by writer, Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, Ireen shares her thoughts on the links between ICT and financing for women’s empowerment and gender equality.

In preparation for the Follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development that will take place in Doha, Qatar from November 29th to December 2nd 2008, the main theme for the recently concluded session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (February 25th to March 7th) was financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women. Over 2000 women from around the world attended the CSW session to lobby on a range of issues including violence against women, peace building and conflict resolution, information and communication, the girl child, older women, and climate change and why these should be integrated in discussions on financing.

To probe deeper into the discussion, writer, Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, asked CSW participants: Is information and communication technology (ICT) relevant to the discussion on financing for women’s empowerment and gender equality? Why or why not? 
In today’s world of digital technology, the use and deployment of ICT to financing for women's empowerment and gender equality cannot be over-emphasised. As it were, neither gender equality nor women's empowerment can be achieved outside of ICT. ICT has become to the world a way of life. With it we network and reach out to people outside of our immediate environment. With it the world is in truth and deed a global village. We can connect and reconnect it all for and because of ICT. ICT to me is critical to the achievement of financing for women’s empowerment and gender equality. It is about redeploying resources from the North to the South, from the developed to the developing from the rich to the poor and the have to the have not. This in my view can only be achieved within the context of ICT.  - Celine Nkiru Okoro, Centa for Organisational Development (COD), Nigeria
Yes in general. In Japan, the level of gender sensitivity of the prefecture governments and the cultural context are very different from each other. ICT are an instrument for gender-sensitisation… In preparing our report for this 52nd CSW session, we needed to discuss a lot and in the process we got educated on issues such as gender budgeting and international cooperation. The economists who were working with us developed their feminist perspectives more. ICT became our arena for discussion and knowledge production. – Hiroko Hara, Japan Women’s Watch
Yes. It’s critical. You need to communicate… member states should support women’s access through working with women’s groups. We need ICT to access funding, do research. – Shozi Mfanozelwe, South Africa Commission on Gender  
YES! ICT is crucial to the discussion as we rely more and more on modern technology to share, spread and gather information. Accessibility to ICT in rural communities where availability to information is scarce will make possible a dialogue between national machineries for the advancement of women, government agencies and entities (ministries of finance etc) and their gender focal points, and women's organisations on the ground. Access to Information is needed to enable women to push governments to make sure that sufficient resources are allocated for activities targeting the elimination of persistent obstacles to gender equality and the empowerment of women. Helena Gronberg, Finland
Yes. Because ICT are an instrument in supporting women’s networking and organising. [They are a useful tool] in the work we’ve been doing on financing for women’s empowerment. We also need ICT to find out information about aid modalities, to actually apply for funding, submit funding proposals and reports. - Lin McDevitt Pugh, IIAV, the Netherlands
The answer to this question cannot be a straightforward yes or no. ICT are relevant to the discussion on financing for women’s empowerment and gender equality because they can offer mechanisms by which governments can aim for transparency by sharing information about their financial commitments and policies for supporting gender equality; tools for monitoring and evaluation; collaborative spaces where organisations can discuss and advocate on the issues of financing for women’s empowerment; and devices for contact and communication. Though ICT can be very relevant to the discussion of financing for women’s empowerment, the digital divide in terms of access and skills presents huge barriers to this. - Joey Bose, India
Yes it definitely is. ICT have the power to not only connect people, but also to disseminate information in a fast and effective way, on a large scale. People can share relevant information and create networks, which is an effective measure to share  experiences and best practices on, for example, financing women's movements. Information can be shared on a local, national or even global level, and as such it does not only benefit civil society, but also governments. For women in particular, it creates opportunities because they can access information from their homes, and it provides rural women with opportunities for distance learning and education. Furthermore, ICT can be used to provide access to, for example, databases, CD-ROMS and the internet, which can all contribute significantly to the discussion on financing for women's empowerment. -  Claudia Caryevschi, the Netherlands
Yes because the participation of women in a government's budget and finance planning is very minimal or not at all.
Governments come up with their budget planning every year and there is very
little time to influence this process or initiate dialogue on it. Hence ICT
could be an effective medium to initiate dialogue with diverse groups of women
and men...and this evidence could be presented prior to budget formulation.
It could strengthen advocacy in financing for gender equality however women
should have knowledge of and access to ICT. --Bandana Rana, Saathi, Nepal


Mavic Cabrera-Balleza (MCB): What are Hivos’ priority issues?

Ireen Dubel (ID):  Hivos is a Dutch development agency. The name stands for Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries. We provide financial and political support to civil society organisations in the Global South and East (e.g. this term is used for countries that used to be part of the USSR and also for countries in South East Europe that qualify for receiving Official Development Assistance). We work in over 30 countries and we have more than 800 partner organisations. Our major mission is to enable citizens—women and men— to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives, that affect their future and to enable the establishment of a fair, just and sustainable world.

Our work has two major thrusts: one is to enable people to have sustainable incomes, which is why we work in the field of sustainable economic development.  The other is to build a strong civil society. We believe that a strong civil society is important and relevant in promoting a culture of human rights, where there is active participation of citizens, where citizens are able to hold their governments accountable and where citizens are able to claim their rights. 

We broadly define our seven main areas of work as:
•    Sustainable economic production where we provide support to small producers, in particular for the niche markets for fair trade production, and promotion of corporate social responsibility
•    Financial services and enterprise development including micro-finance and small enterprise development
•    Human rights and democratisation, including the rights of specific minorities, sexual minorities, indigenous people, dalits
•    Gender, women and development, which includes our support to women’s rights organisations—the program for which I am responsible
•    Information and communication technologies (ICT) and media; and
•    Arts and culture.

We strongly believe that information is crucial for people to participate in decision-making processes, for people to make informed decisions about their lives and about their future. We believe all our partners should have information strategies—firstly, because we believe people should have access to information. Secondly, people should be able to transform that information into knowledge. Then they have to apply that knowledge in a strategic way in order to promote their rights and interests. We do think media and ICT play an important role in accessing information, in transforming information into knowledge and applying this information strategically to promote the human rights and gender equality agenda. 

MCB: How do you reconcile the big role that ICT play in information production and distribution with the fact that majority of women in the Global South do not have access to such technologies?

ID: What we do in our ICT program is we deliberately support organisations and initiatives that provide ICT access to women; that train women and women’s organisations in the strategic application of ICT.  We support organisations like the Feminist International Radio Endeavor (FIRE) in Costa Rica to disseminate gender-relevant information through radio, through ICT. We have seen that throughout history,  in societies that are gender-unequal, that discriminate against women, the access and application of new technologies will always have a gender bias. We always have to work on that. We need to make specific interventions to enable women to benefit from the new technologies.  

MCB: Apart from ICT access, application and usage, is Hivos involved in gender and ICT policy advocacy?

ID: We support a number of organisations such as APC (Association for Progressive Communications) that are working in the policy context and we try to engender policy advocacy However, I think women’s interests are still underrepresented at the policy level.

MCB: What is the link between ICT and the theme of this 52nd CSW session which is financing for women’s empowerment and gender equality?

ID: What we want to emphasise in this meeting is the need to scale up resources for women’s human rights work. For me, that applies to all types of women’s rights organisations including ICT organisations. Given the context in which the big donor countries that provide official development assistance (ODA) have made promises during the 2002 Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey in Mexico, that they will scale up their ODA, I would like to see that more than proportional resources will end up in the hands of women. I really would like to see a reaffirmation of that commitment in this 52nd CSW session.

Women should be the prime target group of ODA because they are the ones who predominantly live in poverty. They experience violence at epidemic levels. Women and girls are much more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and infection. We can go on and on and on…we know that all the development goals are important and relevant for women. Without gender equality, without equality between men and women we will never achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). That’s why I think that the expected growth in ODA should be targeted towards women.

I would love to see the donor community come up with financial targets in that respect. I’m afraid though that will not happen because the donor countries don’t want to pin themselves down. Hivos, together with other organisations that took part in the Expert Group Meeting that prepared for this CSW session came up with financial targets or percentages for ODA that should be channeled to women’s organisations. We recommended that the share of ODA for gender equality and women’s empowerment should be scaled up to 10 per cent of all ODA by 2010 and 20 percent by 2015.

MCB: You have been active in discussions on Aid Effectiveness and financing for women’s empowerment, do you see ICT coming up in these discussions?

ID: Yes but still not adequately. I speak about ICT broadly because they can be interpreted quite narrowly. I think what we need is a whole range of information strategies that are supportive of one another. We need to combine old and new media, old and new information production and dissemination strategies. When these are combined, they can actually reinforce one another. I do think that there is still an underestimation of the important role that information plays in the work towards the achievement of the MDGs; in the work towards poverty eradication; in establishing a human right culture.  

MCB: You brought up a very important point—that is the need to look at the broad spectrum of ICT. There is an observation that the policy discussions on ICT such as the World Summits on the Information Society in 2003 and 2005 are largely focused on online technology such as internet and email. Do you share that observation? Why do you think that is the case?

ID: Yes, I have the same observation. Maybe because that is so appealing to the world. We always go for the new, new, new and fast, fast, fast technologies— forgetting about the ‘slower’ technologies. What I think is an interesting phenomenon is that access to ICT and actual use of ICT is still highly problematic for women—particularly for poor women who live in the rural areas. This is because it is still very costly to access such technologies and requires a certain degree of literacy.

I think we should pay attention to the incredible increase in the use of mobile telephones –which is much easier to use—you don’t have to be highly literate for that, much cheaper, and of course it is mobile—you can carry it with you—when you’re working in the fields, plowing your land, or when you’re at home. Women in the rural areas are using mobile phones for their own benefit in much greater number than those who are using the internet. I would love to see future summits on the information society incorporate mobile technologies as well.  

MCB: Going back to the discussion on Aid Effectiveness and financing for women’s empowerment and gender equality vis-a-vis ICT, how could gender and ICT advocates strategically position themselves in these discussions?

ID: That is a difficult question because even in the wider sense, gender equality does not feature in the Paris Aid Effectiveness Agenda. It is mentioned only once—as a so-called issue that has to be mainstreamed. The Paris Aid Effectiveness Agenda contains five principles that ideally will do a service to the agenda of gender equality. In practice however, they are very narrowly interpreted. The Paris Agenda is not about effectiveness of development objectives. It is not about the effectiveness of development aid interventions towards the achievement of the MDGs such as gender equality and women’s empowerment. It is much more about efficiency in terms of aid delivery systems. It is about the cost of transfer of aid from the North to the South. Gender equality hardly comes in—let alone gender and ICT.

I think where ICT can play a role in this current stage is in making sure that women’s organisations are informed of what the Aid Effectiveness Agenda is about, how it might affect their own funding environment including the funding for their governments. ICT could facilitate women’s engagement in global policy fora on this issue.

MCB: Another point that is coming up more and more in the discussion on financing for development is the role of private sector and private foundations. We hear some bilateral organisations and even UN agencies telling women’s groups that they should be tapping the corporate foundations or private family foundations. Do you see their increasing role in the overall funding landscape? How will this affect financing for women and development work?

ID: I think the funding landscape is much more diverse today than it was 15 years ago. There are many more actors. In the old days, there were only the bilateral donor governments, some international NGOs like my own - which by the way is celebrating its 40th anniversary - and a few known foundations like Ford. Nowadays, we have private family foundations, personal foundations, we have the corporate sector exercising corporate social responsibility, and on the other end of the scale are the women’s funds which you could say are in the hands of the women’s movement—although they provide smaller sums of funding. There is also private philanthropy. In itself, the diversity is great. These different donors have their different roles to fulfill. They have different financial parameters and modalities. However, what is important is that the private sector and private foundations get into serious business in terms of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

I wouldn’t advice, or definitely Hivos wouldn’t advice women’s organisations or ICT and media organisations to be completely dependent on the private foundations or the corporate sector. I think there should be a mix of funding strategies. Where possible, of course I think we should tap into the resources of those corporations but not by compromising our own objectives. We cannot compromise our human rights and women’s rights objectives. That should be very clear.

MCB: Do you see the risk of compromising women’s organisations objectives and political positions if they engage with corporate foundations?

ID: Yes, they have to be very sure that they understand the corporate social responsibility policies of the corporate sector and really have to make a clear analysis whether the particular company does not actually conflict with their organisation’s objectives. In the Netherlands for example, there are discussions on whether the women’s funds should approach big beer companies. The principled point of view is no.  Because alcohol leads to massive abuse and is one of the major reasons for domestic violence and violence against women in general. We cannot accept funding from a beer company because it is in contradiction with the objectives we stand for. 

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Dear i am form Pakistan and working in 'One Wold Welfare Org' and we just start our work now. We are working on women empowerment and poor children education.Our main focus are villages. We need funds for the construction of our High School and Training Center.

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