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The study proposes to examine why development aid has been practically ineffective in promoting gender equality and women empowerment despite the existence of numerous policies and programmes pioneered by the donors to meet these ends. Besides, the study tends to examine whether gender mainstreaming can prove to be a constructive way out of this puzzle. Thus the focus of the study will be on aid effectiveness primarily in relation to gender and specifically with respect to women empowerment.


Aid can be said as 'the international transfer of public funds in the form of loans or grants, either directly from one government to another (bilateral aid), or indirectly through nongovernmental organizations or a multilateral agency (multilateral aid) such as the World Bank or WHO.' Development aid may come from developed or developing country governments as well as from international organizations such as the UN or the World Bank. (WHO)

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Initially, the implicit claim was that aid was a moral action that embodied a vision of international peace and prosperity. However, International Relations theory has given different interpretations for the Foreign Aid. According to Political Realism, it is a policy tool originated in Cold War to influence the political judgements of the recipient countries in a bipolar struggle. According to World System theory, it is a means of constraining the development path of recipient countries, promoting the unequal accumulation of the capital in the world. (Hattori, 2001) Even liberals, who have generally embraced foreign aid, shied away from moral claims, preferring to view it as a technical expedient, facilitating what they regard as the real means of world peace and prosperity; commerce and trade. (Hattori, 2003) However, there have been moral claims about foreign aid which the idealists uphold.

There have been considerable changes in the recent times in the way foreign aid has been envisaged by the players, both the donors and the recipients. Bilateral aid has shifted its way to increasing multilateral aid. Hattori claims multilateral aid as 'a form of philanthropy' as the donor motives is less evident here and one donor cannot affect the whole range of developmental policies. (Hattori, 2003) It has become necessary to understand the increasing claims for aid-effectiveness and recipient progress. Though the politics behind aid has remained quite explicit, opposite trends have also been reported by various scholars especially after the end of Cold War. Moreover, the issue areas have changed drastically embracing more developmental and progressive agendas.

Earlier, there has been only a scant attention paid to gender and women's issues. Currently, improved gender equality has become a global agenda and Millennium Development Goals have 'promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women' as one of its prime goals. But no society is found to treat its women as well as it treats its men. This is very much visible from the figures as no country's GDI matches its HDI. Though the agenda for gender equality and women empowerment has been an upcoming issue area, much of the attention to the situation of women has been addressed to their poorer condition, inequitable access to resources and greater need for certain services. But this rarely threatens the power relations. (Johnson, 2005) Consequently, it has been possible to improve the condition of women without hurting the condition of men or challenging the position of men. Arguably, this has been a central theme of the 'gender and development' agenda. The 'feminization of poverty' at a national level has been understood as an issue of inequality that extends to the very basis of women's position, i.e. in economic relations, in access to power and decision-making, and in the domestic sphere. (Johnson, 2005)

United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Human Development Report provides both a gender-related development index (GDI) and a gender empowerment measure (GEM). The two measures track slightly different aspects of gender-related development and empowerment. The GDI is similar to the Human Development Index (HDI) in that both include measures of longevity (life expectancy at birth), knowledge (adult literacy rate and combined enrolment ratio), and standard of living (per capita income). The GDI differs from the HDI in that it adjusts these measures for inequality between women and men. It does so in such a way that the difference between the two measures becomes larger the greater the gender disparity in the country for which the measures are calculated. The GDI is consistently lower than the HDI, which indicates that there is at least some gender inequality in every society, although the size of the difference varies (UNDP 1999, 1995).

The GEM differs from the GDI in that it focuses on whether women are in able to use the capabilities the GDI measures (UNDP 1995). It captures gender disparities in economic and political participation and decision making. The GEM includes measures representing power over economic resources, access to professional opportunities and access to political decision-making.

Thus, the study attempts to understand foreign aid from the policy-setting stage to its implementation level and see why aid fails to fulfill the desired expectations at implementation stage especially with respect to gender equality and women empowerment and if gender mainstreaming at all levels can prove to be an effective solution.


Aid: -

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The domain of aid has been extensively studied by scholars and various aspects of aid has been subjected to meticulous examination. Evolving from the provision of aid for the reconstruction of Europe in the years immediately following the Second World War, provision of development assistance to poorer countries is now a taken-for-granted function played by all major western democracies (Alesina and Dollar 2000). This substantial transfer of resources from donor to recipient countries is ostensibly guided by both recipient development objectives and donor policy priorities and has the potential to shape development outcomes in much of the world for the better or worse.

From a political economy perspective, aid has been treated as a policy action of donors, to be explained by political and economic goals. These, in turn, are products of culture, institutions, power distribution and the dynamics of competitive interests. (Gilpin 1987 and Schraeder et al. 1998)

Hattori (2001) points out that the condition from which foreign aid arises is a basic material inequality between the donor and the recipient, i.e. one has resources to give that the other lacks. For Political Realists, the material inequality between the donor and the recipient is embedded in a larger political hierarchy determined by the bipolar distribution of strategic capabilities during the cold war. For Liberal Internationalists, it describes the gap between an advanced and less advanced condition of economic development, which the expansion of international trade and finance will mitigate over time. For World Systems theorists, it is the basic operational factor behind the expansion of world capitalism, constraining the recipient's development path to a dependent rile in the World market. Thus, foreign aid can also be understood as what Pierre Bourdieu calls 'symbolic domination', or a practice that signals and euphemizes social hierarchies. Such practices constitute what he describes as "the gentle invisible violence, unrecognized as such, chosen as much as undergone".

Hopkins draws on three political and strategic approaches on foreign aid. Firstly, foreign aid is determined by the economic interests of powerful groups within donors. The second approach explains aid (bilateral and multilateral) as an effort to maximize benefits to donor states. Thirdly, aid is the outcome of bargaining among units, a kind of political market made up of donor aid bureaucracies, multilateral aid agencies and recipient government officials. (Hopkins, 2000)

Nonetheless, ethical claims for foreign aid persist and the conception of 'giving as a civic virtue' is most associated with Aristotle. Giving in his view was an expression of loyalty to the community that secured and defended a citizen's freedom (the community for Aristotle being the city-state of Athens).

Lumsdaine (1993) emphasizes several determinents of the direction of the aid flows such as colonial history, the democratic status of the recipients, income levels etc. However, he emphasizes the 'moral vision' that underlines foreign aid giving. He talks about three distinct ethical justifications for foreign aid within the liberal tradition. Firstly, he identifies foreign aid as "an imperfect obligation of the industrialized to the less developed states to provide basic needs", i.e. a fundamental human right. Secondly, foreign aid is considered as a moral response to problems that can be remedied with technical expertise and finally, as embodying the ideal of humanitarianism. The idealistic view sharply contrasts with a voluminous literature that has argues that strategic foreign policy concerns explain the pattern of foreign aid.

Proponents of this view offer compelling evidence of public support for humanitarian rationales for foreign aid. Lumsdaine (1993) makes this assumption explicit, arguing that 'foreign aid cannot be explained on the basis of the economic and political interests of the donor countries alone, and any satisfactory explanation must give a central place to the influence of humanitarian and egalitarian convictions upon aid donors'.

While Hattori (2003) assumes that foreign aid can be reconceptualised as a gift extended from one country to the next, Marshall Sahlins argues that suspending the obligation to reciprocate a gift was a powerful signal of social hierarchy between donor and recipient. Because it did not involve the use of coercive force, such a giving practice could work to naturalize a social hierarchy over time. Furthermore, Pierre Bourdieu (1990) identified the unreciprocated gift as a form of 'symbolic domination'. Aid practice transforms material dominance and subordination into gestures of generosity and gratitude. This symbolic transformation, in turn, euphemizes the material hierarchy underlying the donor-recipient relation. (Hattori, 2001) And what has been visible is that in the long run donors have remained donors, while recipients have remained recipients.

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Paula Hoy's book is worth mentioning here as it introduces us to the key players and issues in the aid business. Focussing primarily on the US foreign aid to developing countries and the various channels through which that aid is provided, her book supplies the tool required to think critically about foreign aid and the role it plays in the sustainable human development of our world. She looks into the advancing anti-aid atmosphere and carefully analyses whether there exists an international aid programme that effectively and honestly supports development. (Hoy, 1998) In a similar vein, Bird looks into the economics of aid and its effectiveness. He points out the increasing aid-fatigue among the donors. (Bird, 1999)

Though Hoy (1998) and Bird (1999) put forth a few reasons for the reduction of aid by donors, Hopkins come up with six clear-cut reasons for the decline of the aid. According to Hopkins, the decline in foreign aid occurred for six reasons. First, the end of the cold war made it less important. Second, globalisation attenuated aid tied to colonial interests. Third, growing budget pressures squeezed donor resources. Fourth, disappointment with the effectiveness of aid weakened popular support. Fifth, donor country special interest coalitions supporting aid unravelled. Finally, neo-liberal philosophies challenged some of the intellectual foundations of aid. (Hopkins, 2000)

During the Cold War aid was seen as a major tool in wielding influence. The end of Cold War and other political and humanitarian reasons has led to the reduction in aid by the donors especially after 1992. (Bird, 1999) Also the effectiveness of aid in alleviating poverty has also been seen as very meager. There has been a growing skepticism on aid effectiveness and in particular, the effects of waste and corruption. There has been a considerable shift from bilateral aid, which has always been more political, to multilateral aid which can focus more strongly on recipient needs. (Bird, 1999)

There are good indications that public scrutiny and praise has worked to shape the foreign aid programmes and policies of donor states to a more beneficent standard. Each donor is subject to extensive 'peer review' by two or three other donor states every two years using data provided by the DAC secretariat (the OECD Development Centre). They also routinely praise the programmes of the Scandinavian states as the standard of excellence. (Hattori, 2003)

Alesina and Dollar (2000) maintain that foreign aid has at best been partially successful at promoting growth and reducing poverty. They say that the political and strategic considerations are more important than recipient's policy or political institutions.

Evidently, aid has never been a cash donation with no strings attached. (Hoy, 1998) This is a reality that foreign aid doesn't come for free but with its conditionalities. These conditions typically include macroeconomic stability, noninterference with market pricing, privatization of state-owned enterprises and openness to international trade. The IMF likes to stress that it is not an aid agency. In the 1980s the World Bank embarked on a programme of structural adjustment lending, while the IMF introduced conditional lending. The initial purpose of these programmes was to change the incentives for reform; if the World Bank and other donors provided finance to recipient countries over a long period, they should in return reform their economies, particularly the price regulations that prevented the efficient use of resources. After a while, the specific parts of this programme became trade liberalisation, price deregulation, fiscal adjustment, macroeconomic stabilization and a general move away from excessive state intervention in free markets. (Erixon, 2005) All this had severe consequences on the recipient states.

Then, what is the role of conditionality in raising the effectiveness of aid? Bird (1999) argues that conditionality is not an effective mechanism for inducing policy reform. Collier and et. al (1997) propose that "aid allocation should reflect ex post growth performance and human development rather than ex ante policy conditionality." Bird suggests that the reform of foreign aid should focus first on moving away from bilateral aid towards multilateral aid, and second, on reforming the conditionality of the multilateral aid agencies, in particular the World Bank, in a way that minimizes conditionality and concentrates more narrowly on key areas on economic policy and performance. (Bird, 1999)

On the other hand, looking into the effectiveness of aid and the domestic policies of the recipient countries, Burnside and Dollar report a robust finding that "aid has a positive impact on growth in a good policy environment. (Burnside and Dollar, 1997) Another study by Mosley and Hudson (1997) offers an explanation that is consistent with Burnside and Dollar's findings. They found that the relationship between aid and growth underwent a structural change in early 1980s. They pointed out that the increased effectiveness of aid coincided with the shift to conditional policy-based lending by the World Bank and an increasing policy dialogue.

Thus, the means of increasing aid-effectiveness is still an issue for debate. And it is seen to fail at the implementation level rather than at the policy-making level.

Gender: -

Gender and women's issues have not got enough significance and acceptance that they deserve in the international arena. Instead, their issues have been much discussed and still rather ignored by the mainstream IR theories.

In 1995, UNDP emphasized the urgency and need of incorporating women into development by declaring that "development will be 'endangered' if it is not 'engendered'" (UNDP, 1995). In 2006, the World Bank, with its primary focus on economics and associated 'good returns to investment approach' noted that that striving for gender equality and women's empowerment is "smart economics". (World Bank, 2006)

Irene Tinker's (1990) comprehensive essay on "The Making of a Field" traces the UN initiatives in including women into the international development discourse and the incorporation of women's development issues into the official development aid. Women in Development(WID) was the initial theoretical base of most of the aid regimes which ventured into women's development initiatives. As noted earlier, it was closely associated with Ester Boserup's study on women's role in economic development. The theory identified women as its major constituency, highlighted the subordination of women to men in developing societies and explicitly argued for the 'integration' of women into development. (Boserup, 1970) As Irene Tinker (1990) notes " the new idea of ensuring women a fair stake in economic development carried with it the earlier ideas of equality, education, employment an empowerment". While WID theory was critiqued on several grounds, in particualr, by the proponents of the Women and Development (WAD) theory, which emerged as a counter to the ideological premises of WID. Among its major criticisms of WID was issue of "integration" of women into development. Proponents the WAD theory believed that WID ignored the fact that women, especially in economic systems of developing societies, were already integrated at the lowest level of the socio-economic hierarchy and is largely responsible for the lower status of women in the South ( Sen and Grown, 1987; Beneria and Sen 1997).

One of the first contributions to this approach was Ester Boserup's influential "Women's Role in Economic Development". Boserup (1970) argue that development processes had frequently marginalised women and prevented them from actively sharing in the benefits of modernisation. Highlighting this discrimination led to the emergence of what came to be known as the Women in Development or WID approach to development assistance. WID approaches focused on promoting means of securing women's increased participation in development processes and greater access to the benefits of modernisation (Benería and Sen 1997; Rathgeber 1990) Critics of the WID approach began to call for a greater focus on the unequal power relations between men and women that still prevented women from participating as equal partners in all facets of life. From these criticisms emerged the next stage in addressing gender inequalities in the development assistance sector, the Gender and Development (GAD) approach (Rathgeber 1990; 1995).

"Gender" replaced "women" in the GAD framework. In particular gender relations rather than "women" became the core analytic approach. Gender was analyzed as a social construct, which determined what it is to be a woman or a man in a given society. (Samarasinghe, 2010) Eva Rathgeber, a major proponent of GAD based development initiatives, notes that the "gender approach avoids the pitfalls of economic determinism" which she argues is "inevitably linked to earlier WID approaches" (Rathgeber, 1995:204). And as Kate Young argued, GAD was a more comprehensive or holistic approach in which gender is not the main principle ordering human organization. Gender was intrinsically linked to other socially created norms of human organization (Young, 1997).

Another recent shift in the GAD approach involves recognition of the need to focus on integrating men as partners for promoting gender equality and incorporating analysis of masculinities into the development process (Cornwall 2000).

Swiss argue that three key points identify this model within donor and other development institutions: (1) A focus on gender and development through a corporate level strategy/policy; and/or a separate organisational unit or personnel dedicated to women/gender; (2) efforts to mainstream gender throughout agency programming; and (3) broadening of focus on gender away from a solely WID approach to incorporate a GAD perspective, possibly including a focus on men/masculinities. (Swiss, 2010)

One area where there is growing uniformity of donor policy is evident surrounds their approaches to women and gender in development assistance (Moser and Moser 2005). Similarly, Swiss (2010) examines why approaches to gender and development within development assistance donor agencies appear quite uniform internationally despite diverse donor country contexts. He shows that the extent to which a policy priority like gender is expressed by a donor is a function of the donor's relationship with civil society, intergovernmental organisations, and the role of bureaucrat activism within donor agencies. Foreign aid donor countries have paid increasing attention to women in development or gender and development policies from the 1970s.

Looking into gender and foreign policy attitudes, Togeby (1994: 386) argued that women were more supportive of aid to the developing world than men. In a similar vein, Breuning (2005) investigates whether gender makes a difference in a specific issue area in foreign policy. Therefore, it is expected that countries in which women make up a larger proportion of the legislature and which provide relatively more development assistance will also allocate that assistance to support gender equality and women empowerment. She refers this expectation as "the global sisterhood thesis." The expectation is that the development aid will be used to support gender equality. This support could be demonstrated in two ways; one, the donor's development assistance aims to foster gender equality which does not currently exist. In that case, recipients which currently score relatively lower will be granted more aid, resulting in a negative correlation. Hence, the global sisterhood thesis is supported if a negative correlation between the distribution of the donor's development assistance and the recipient's current achievement of gender equality is found. Conversely, if development assistance rewards achievements in gender equality, one would expect to see a positive correlation between development assistance and gender empowerment. In this case, more aid is allocated to states which perform better on gender-related measures. A lack of an association demonstrates the absence of a sense of global sisterhood. Breuning (2006) concludes that gender equality has an impact on foreign aid policy.

None of these studies investigated whether the level of gender equality in the donor state influenced whether donor commitment to gender-related development was merely rhetorical or influenced the allocation of their development aid.

Presently, most development agencies have a formal policy or organisational unit to address issues of women and gender in development (Moser and Moser 2005). One of the common features of these policies is the notion of 'mainstreaming' the issue of gender across an organisation's development initiatives (Goetz 1997). Mainstreaming refers to the integration of gender as a concern for all programs and staff, rather than simply relying on targeted initiatives or the work of gender specialists or experts.

There is a widely noted tendency to adopt an integrationist approach to 'mainstreaming' gender concerns, in which they are added to a pre-existing analysis and agenda (Jahan 1995). This failure to allow gender issues to inform and shape the analysis and agenda results in gender issues being collapsed 'within the wider category of poverty', resulting in 'a fairly depoliticised and needs-based discourse which requires focus on women within poor households, rather than gender disadvantage per se' . (Subrahmanian 2004)

Efforts to mainstream gender have been mixed, with critics pointing out that mainstreaming has encouraged instrumentalist arguments for promoting equality rather than advocacy for equality on its own merits (Moser and Moser 2005). Another criticism of the approach is that agencies may tend to focus more on the mainstreaming process itself rather than the actual empowerment of women or promotion of equality (Moser 2005). Constraints to mainstreaming have also been identified where the implementation has been hindered by factors such as resistance from senior management, inconsistent training, and weak responsibility and accountability mechanisms within the organization. (Moser and Moser 2005) Other research has shown that the degree to which an organization implements gender mainstreaming is determined by its interaction with transnational civil society, its openness to influence, and the resonance of the idea with its management elite. Mainstreaming a gender approach into development assistance organisations and activities remains a contentious issue in both academic and practitioner debates on gender.

The fact that the MDGs refer to gender equality as a goal allows donors to appeal to outside authority and refer to the MDGs as a legitimating factor to justify their gender mainstreaming activities. These external referents are perceived as valuable by those working on gender within donor agencies, as they provide an external impetus for making internal progress towards gender equality. (Swiss, 2010)

Despite progress, the persistence of traditional and Stereotypic gender roles, often reinforced by legal or institutional structures, almost always are seen to impede women's empowerment. (Heyzer, 2005) The structures that perpetuate gender inequality and discrimination pervade economic, social, political, cultural, legal, and civic institutions, norms, and practices around the world. (Heyzer, 2005) Besides, gender often operates through the unquestioned acceptance of power. (Kabeer, 2005) Naila Kabeer (1999) sets out a feminist model of the empowerment of women, which clearly demonstrates the paralysing effect of economic want on women's agency to challenge inequality. However, this is not to say that addressing economic poverty will result in women 'solving' the issue of structural inequality for themselves.

Thus, it can be comprehended that the donor commitment to gender equality in development often remains stronger in rhetoric than in practice. Therefore, it cannot be assumed that more generous development assistance also translates into a greater focus on women and gender equality. Also the outcome of mainstreaming a gender approach into development assistance is very much debated. The literature linking gender mainstreaming and development aid have been found to be sparse. This study proposes to examine these two major issues and will hopefully try to fill the gap evident.


Donor commitment to gender equality in recipient countries often remains stronger in rhetoric than in practice.

Gender mainstreaming in every stage from planning to evaluation is the only way to bring about gender-responsive development assistance.


Under what conditions can foreign development assistance found to be smore effective and need-based?

How far has aid proved to be effective in improving gender equality and women empowerment?

Does a demonstrated commitment to gender equality domestically translate into aid targeted to foster gender-related development in the recipient states?

What is the role of gender in increasing the effectiveness of aid?

In what ways is gender mainstreaming at all levels important in bringing about gender responsive development assistance?

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