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White House releases first-ever gender equity and equality strategy

Following the creation of a White House Gender Policy Council in the spring of 2021, President Biden released the first-ever National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality with relevant applications both domestically and globally.

The strategy - a whole-of-government approach - identified 10 interconnected priorities, which set forth a comprehensive agenda and vision to achieve gender equity and equality across sectors.

In addition to the 10 priorities, which include economic security, gender-based violence, climate change, and democracy, the strategy uses an intersectional approach to account for compounding forms of discrimination that add additional barriers to reaching equity and equality. 

Strategic priorities include:

  • Improved economic security: the strategy calls for COVID-19 pandemic recovery to account for women and families, thereby improving equal access to workplace participation, investments in infrastructure and care workers, and equal educational opportunities; 
  • Enhanced prevention and response to gender-based violence: the strategy calls for stronger laws, policies, and prevention services, commitment to addressing sexual violence in conflict settings, and promotion of fair and safe treatment in the immigration and justice systems;
  • Increased access to health care: the strategy charachterizes health care access as a right rather than a privilege, encouraging the expansion of access to health care for all, protection of the right to choose, promotion of sexual and reproductive rights, and commitment to addressing maternal mortality and morbidity; and
  • Advanced participation of women and girls in social, economic, civic, and political life: the strategy outlines stronger equality laws and practices which ensure equality in leadership for critical processes, including peace, humanitarian, national security, global health, climate change, and STEM fields.

Report - The White House

Press release - The White House

UK ODA budget cuts will undermine long-term COVID-19 response, according to independent review

The UK's Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI) published a new review concerning the UK government's use of its international development assistance to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

The review praises the UK government for its initial response to the pandemic, which resulted in the rapid allocation of £773 million (US$1.0 billion) in UK official development assistance (ODA) for COVID-19 response by mid-April 2020. This swift response made the UK one of the largest international donors in the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. The review highlights, that despite the lack of an official COVID-19 development assistance strategy, the UK government focused on three core strategic areas: 

  • providing direct support to the most affected low- and- middle-income countries (LMICs); 
  • supporting the development of vaccines, tests, and treatments; and, 
  • addressing the economic consequences of the pandemic.

However, the review argues that the government’s recent decision to reduce its ODA from 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) to 0.5% negatively impacted the UK government's ability to continue to effectively respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The review found, for example, that many ODA programs linked to addressing the pandemic were impacted by large budget cuts. The review cites the significant reduction in key sexual and reproductive health investments as examples of detrimental cuts; previous global health crises have established the importance of maintaining women's access to sexual health, making program cuts in these areas more concerning. 

The report made three recommendations to the UK government moving forward:

  1. Build upon investments in vaccine development to increase supply and equitable roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines to address continuing inequitable global vaccine access;
  2. Ensure that program leaders are given the discretion to adapt and repurpose programs to address the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling an efficient and effective response; and,
  3. Review the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office's (FCDO) strategy to repatriate staff during crises to enable a more refined approach based on risk and individual preference. This recommendation was made following the UK's blanket approach to repatriating staff, which contrasts the selective approaches adopted by other donors.

Report - ICAI

Japan provides US$75 million for MSMEs in Vietnam, highlights financing for women

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) announced that it will provide US$75 million in loans for micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) through the Private Sector Investment and Finance (PSIF) mechanism. The loan is co-financed with the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) and is JICA’S first PSIF project with a Japanese private institution in Vietnam.

In Vietnam, MSMEs account for 98.7% of total enterprises, 45% of gross domestic product, and more than 63% of employment. However, access to financial services for MSMEs is limited, especially for women.

Loans for the MSMEs will be provided through the Vietnam bank, Vietnam Prosperity Joint Stock Commercial Bank (VP Bank).

Press release – Japan International Cooperation Agency

Each US$1.3 billion in UK recycled IMF Special Drawing Rights to LMICs will result in US$416 million net loss, says Center for Global Development

The Center for Global Development (CGD), a leading international development think-tank, published a new report criticizing the UK’s proposal to count some of its recycled International Monetary Fund (IMF) Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) as official development assistance (ODA).

CGD calculated that for every £1.0 billion (US$1.3 billion) of SDRs that the UK recycles, low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) will experience a £310 million (US$416 million) net loss in development assistance. The UK will count 31% of its recycled SDRs as part of its commitment to reach 0.5% of gross national income (GNI) as ODA, reducing resources from the UK ODA budget that are available to LMICs. CGD has described the UK’s decision to count its recycled SDRs as ODA as "giving with one hand while taking with the other."

Other donor countries that have also decided to recycle their SDRs to LMICs have chosen not to count them as ODA; this decision will ensure that the full amount of SDRs is available to target countries in addition to planned ODA budgets.

The report is heavily critical of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) rules which enable the UK to count IMF lending, via its Poverty, Growth and Reduction Trust, as ODA, arguing that rules do not appropriately reflect the low-level risk of the loans.

The report recommends that:

  • In the short term, the new UK Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, push the UK Treasury to ensure all of its recycled SDRs are additional to the UK’s 0.5% of GNI ODA budget. If this is not possible, the report recommends that the IMF actively draw on other countries' flows that are not counted as ODA; the funding only counts as ODA when it is drawn down by the IMF and released to countries. It is not counted as ODA when it is merely committed.
  • In the long-term, if a new fund at the IMF is used to channel the additional SDRs to LMICs, it should ensure that any funding that is counted as reserves and subsides by other donors should not be counted as ODA.

Report – Center for Global Development

Canada's Justin Trudeau announces selection date for Minister of International Development

Following the Canadian federal election on September 20th, 2021, re-elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced that the Cabinet swearing-in ceremony will take place on October 26, 2021, and that Parliament will return on November 22, 2021.

The Cabinet selection will include a new, or reinstated, Minister of International Development who will set priorities for Canada’s international development portfolio. The resumption of Parliament will be accompanied by a Throne Speech, which will outline the government’s plans to tackle international development issues such as COVID-19 recovery, climate action, gender equality, and humanitarian crises.

Press release - Prime Minister of Canada

UK government calls on World Bank to support strong, sustainable, inclusive economic growth

The UK government called upon the World Bank Group to do more to support strong, sustainable, and inclusive growth in low- and middle-income countries.

In its statement to the 104th Meeting of the World Bank Group’s Development Committee on October 15, 2021, the UK government identified six key policy areas for action: economic development, infrastructure and financial development assistance, gender equity, pandemic response, climate change, and crisis response. 

The UK government also called upon the World Bank to ensure its International Development Association (IDA) – the low-income country financing window within the Bank - makes better use of its balance sheet to meet IDA countries' financing needs.

The UK government specifically called for World Bank Group to:

  • Trade: Strengthen supply chains, improve low-and middle-income countries' (LMICs) capacity to meet global standards, and mobilize greater investment in most-vulnerable countries;
  • Build Back Better: Work with additional multilateral development banks to provide financing at scale for target countries’ national climate, development, and poverty plans;
  • Gender equality: Help LMICs achieve 40 million more girls in school by 2026 and increase access to social protection systems that help women. The UK also called upon the World Bank to do more to address gender-based violence in its programs.
  • COVID-19: Implement its US$20.0 billion COVID-19 support package and enhance co-operation with the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Initiative, COVAX, and the African Union’s Africa Vaccine Acquisition Trust to enable equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and tests.
  • Climate and Nature: Develop a plan to mobilize greater amounts of private climate finance, work with additional multilateral development banks to mainstream nature into all operations, and develop a new methodology to track and report on nature financing; and
  • Crisis preparedness: Improve LMICs' pandemic and crisis preparedness by providing more flexible financing and increasing investment.

The UK also called upon the World Bank to ensure its IDA 20 replenishment process makes better use of the IDA’s existing balance sheet to address the financing needs of partner countries. The UK indicates financing should be provided in ways that enable the IDA to scale up its financing capacity while protecting financial sustainability.

Press release - UK Government

Spain renews Partnership Agreement Framework 2021-2024 with Mozambique

In a public event held at the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation's (AECID) headquarters on October 15, 2021, the Spanish State Secretary for International Cooperation, Pilar Cancela, announced the approval of the Partnership Agreement Framework (MAP) 2021-2024 between Spain and Mozambique.

With an overall budget of €47 million (US$55 million) over the 3-year period, the partnership agreement outlines Spain’s development priorities and bilateral assistance allocations in Mozambique. Spain will prioritize the promotion of health services, democratic governance, and humanitarian assistance in the country among other programs. All development cooperation interventions will be implemented under principles of gender equality, women's rights, human rights, and climate change. 

Press release – MAUC (in Spanish)

Japan pledges US$190 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan at G20 emergency summit

During the G20 emergency summit, Japan’s Prime Minister, Kishida Fumio, pledged US$190 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

Struggling with droughts and severe poverty following decades of war, Afghanistan faces a major economic and humanitarian crisis. G20 members agreed to provide assistance, and Japan announced that it will provide US$190 million through international organizations to help address this crisis.

Kishida affirmed the need to protect the rights of all citizens and to safeguard environments where women can study and work.

News article - Japan Broadcasting Corporation

Press release – Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Japanese)

G20 leaders commit to ensuring humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan

At the G20 extraordinary meeting on Afghanistan, the G20 head of states committed to supporting humanitarian assistance in the country, focusing primarily on vulnerable groups, such as women, children, and people with disabilities.

The G20 leaders called upon leaders to find solutions to maintain essential services; in particular, they desire for strengthened education and health sectors. Furthermore, the leaders flagged the importance of a functioning payment system and overall financial stability in the region. The G20 leaders committed to cooperate with international organizations, international financial institutions, including multilateral development banks, and humanitarian actors in the field. The G20 countries invite the World Bank to explore possible ways to redirect support to international agencies for humanitarian efforts.

Finally, the G20 leaders emphasize the importance of ensuring a rapid vaccination campaign and fully administering previously donated vaccines via COVAX and stand ready to provide more.

Chair summary - G20 website

Canada must do more to address humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, critics say

Since Canada’s federal election is over, critics at Canada’s Institute for Research on Public Policy are calling for urgent policy change in response to the Afghan crisis.

The organization created a post-election to-do list for the Afghan crisis, which includes urgent action to:

  • Get people out: Canada should intensify its diplomacy work to encourage the Taliban to allow safe passage out of Afghanistan;
  • Increase government-assisted refugees: With Canada recently committing to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees, at least half should be government-assisted refugees;
  • Speed up the resettlement process: Fast track Afghan refugee claims in Canada;
  • Clarify the new humanitarian program: The government announced a promising new program to resettle vulnerable Afghans, including women leaders, human rights advocates, and LGBTQ+ individuals, but the government must do more to communicate the eligibility and processes of the program; and
  • Increase international assistance: Identified as the most important task on the to-do list, the Canadian government must increase humanitarian aid for organizations working on the ground in Afghanistan and in neighboring countries, such as Pakistan and Turkey, which are experiencing large migration flows from Afghanistan.

Op-ed - Institute for Research on Public Policy 

Sweden adopts new development cooperation strategy in Western Balkans, Turkey

On October 7, 2021, Sweden adopted a new development cooperation strategy for Turkey and the Western Balkans, including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.

The strategy, which will be implemented by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Swedish Institute, Folke Bernadotte Academy, and Consulate General of Sweden in Istanbul, covers the period between 2021 and 2027 and comprises a total of SEK 5.6 billion (US$645 million). Through the program's implementation, Sweden primarily seeks to strengthen conditions for human rights, democracy, the rule of law, gender equality, inclusive economic development, as protection of the environment.

As one of the largest bilateral development partners in the Western Balkans, Sweden’s support complements that of the EU, which includes supporting countries' reform efforts and their EU rapprochement.

Press release – Government Offices of Sweden (in Swedish)

Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to improve gender mainstreaming approaches following IOB evaluation

The Policy and Operations Evaluation Department (IOB) evaluated the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding Gender Mainstreaming. The evaluation, which covered the 2015-2020 period, noted that while major progress has been made, gender work has not systematically translated into a concrete gender strategy. 

The Ministry responded by announcing that it will implement the IOB's recommendations by increasing internal gender expertise, training its employees on gender, and by improving its own gender mainstreaming instruments.

Press Release – Dutch Parliament (in Dutch)

UK NGOs raise concerns over additional cuts to UK development assistance budget

UK NGOs raised concerns over the UK Treasury's plan to make further cuts to the UK’s development assistance budget as a result of so-called ‘accounting tricks.’ 

The UK government announced that it will only spend 0.5% of its gross national income (GNI) on official development assistance (ODA) from 2021 onwards. However, UK NGOs are concerned that in addition to this cut, the Treasury will count the following spending items in its ODA budget, further reducing the discretionary funds available to the UK in 2021-2022:

  • Cancellation of a multi-million-pound debt owed by Sudan to the UK, despite the debt having been written off years ago;
  • 30% of Special Drawing Rights given by the IMF, which the UK has agreed to recycle and hand on to low- and lower-middle-income countries in order to help with the economic fall-out from the COVID-19 pandemic, despite this funding providing additional new resources to the UK budget; and,
  • The cost of giving COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries as official ODA, which could amount to £1 billion (US$1.4 billion).

While these spending items are all allowed under the international rules for measuring ODA set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation, UK NGOs argue that they either don’t represent current real flows of money (Sudan’s historic debt relief) or should be given in addition to the UK’s ODA budget as they come from an additional budget or are responding to exceptional circumstances.   

NGOs note that if the Treasury decides to count these items as part of its ODA spending, the discretionary spending of the UK’s development assistance budget will be significantly reduced. The budget has already been cut by £4 billion (US$5.4 billion) due to the government’s decision to reduce the volume of ODA to 0.5% of UK's GNI in 2021/22. However, these additional costs could cut the UK’s discretionary spending by a further £2 billion (US$2.7 billion), leaving the UK with only £8 billion (US$10.7 billion) for its discretionary ODA budget in 2021/22.

News article – DEVEX

Japan issues US$181 million in bonds for women’s empowerment

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) launched its first gender bonds to promote women’s empowerment and education. The bonds are valued at ¥20 billion (US$181 million) and were issued in two tranches, 10 years and 20 years of maturity.

The COVID-19 crisis has seen women spending more time at home, resulting in increased domestic violence. In addition, the pandemic has deprived women of educational or employment opportunities. JICA’s gender bonds will help address the global challenges faced by women and contribute to the achievement of the UN's Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Five - Gender Equality. 

News article – Kyodo News

FCDO’s annual report reveals striking ODA cuts to UK bilateral country programs

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and, Development Office's (FCDO) newly published '2020-2021 Annual Report and Accounts' reveals some of the impacts of the UK's cuts to official development assistance (ODA) in fiscal year (FY) 2021/22. 

The report indicates decreases in ODA allocations to the FCDO central programs. Expenditures of the global health central program departments will fall 27% to US$1.2 billion (GBP£916 million). ODA spending on education, gender, and equality will also fall by more than half to £124 million (US$167 million).

The report also reveals that the FCDO plans to spend £1.8 billion (US$2.4 billion) in direct country bilateral ODA in FY2021/22. This entails a concerning 45% cut compared to FY2020/21, mainly driven by reductions in funding to the poorest countries.

While some partners on the Asian continent will receive large cuts, analysis by Devex shows some evidence of an Indo-Pacific tilt: 

  • £32 million (US$43 million) will be allocated to the FCDO’s newly established South East Asia & Pacific Department; 
  • ODA to Indonesia will increase by 22% to £14 million (US$18.8 million); 
  • India’s ODA will also increase by 33% to £55 million (US$74 million); however, 
  • ODA to Bangladesh will fall by 62%; and
  • Pakistan, historically the largest recipient of UK bilateral ODA, will see a funding cut of 40%, from £160 million (US$215 million) to £97 million (US$130 million).

The Devex analysis also shows that fragile states and countries on the African continent are scheduled to receive large cuts.

  • Lebanon’s ODA is set to fall by 85%, from £85 million (US$114 million) to £13 million (US$18 million);
  • ODA to Somalia is set to fall by 41%, from £121 million (US$163 million) to £71 million (US$94 million); 
  • ODA to Nigeria is set to fall from £209 million (US$281 million) to £95 million (US$128 million); 
  • Ethiopia's ODA is set to fall from £240 million (US$322 million) to £107 million (US$144 million); and
  • ODA to Kenya, a primary UK development and security partner, is falling by 39%, from £67 million (US$90 million) to £41 million (US$55 million).

News article - Devex

Report - FCDO 2020-2021 Annual Report and Accounts

Canada must improve corporate accountability on human rights and environmental protections, critics say

The green energy transition is key for Canadian mining, according to the Minister of Natural Resources, Seamus O’Regan, and the Mining Association of Canada’s president and CEO, Pierre Gratton. However, Canada's corporate accountability standards concerning human rights and environmental protections are relatively weak and threaten to undermine Canada’s international development policies. 

The gendered impacts of global resource extraction by Canadian companies are alarming. Gender-based violence and Canada’s extractive sector are intertwined, according to sources like the 'Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.' Women in low- and lower-middle-income countries (LMICs) generally experience the most direct consequences of corporate misconduct. Lack of corporate accountability in this sector undermines Canadian international development policies, such as the Feminist International Assistance Policy.

The National Observer argues that if Canada intends to lead the green transition globally, the government must address the lack of legally binding corporate accountability measures, which have had devastating consequences within and beyond Canadian borders. Furthermore, the National Observer calls on Canada to stand by its international assistance policies and take action to protect international human rights from corporate misconduct. 

Op-ed - National Observer

Spanish development minister visits Honduras and Guatemala, announcing new partnership

In her first official trip since her appointment as State Secretary for International Cooperation, Pilar Cancela visited Honduras and Guatemala to gather information about Spain’s development cooperation programs in Central America related to education, climate change, gender, and water and sanitation.

Cancela met with government officials, parliamentarians, and representatives from multilateral organizations and local NGOs during the trip. She also participated in an event with the Guatemalan Secretary General for Planning, Keila Gramajo, to announce the approval of the new Partnership Framework Agreement (MAP) 2021-2024 that outlines Spain’s development priorities in Guatemala.

Press release – MAUC (in Spanish)

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party wins minority government in Canadian election; platform promises increased international development spending

Canada’s federal snap elections on September 20, 2021, ended with a minority government led by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, similar to that of the previous formation. The Liberal Party’s campaign platform made several promises regarding Canada’s global engagement, including new spending for international development.

The Liberal Party campaign platform promised to:

  • Increase Canada’s international development assistance each year until 2030 to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
  • Quadruple Canada’s annual investment in the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives to enable Canadian embassies to support the work of feminists, LGBTQ2 activists, and human rights defenders;
  • Donate at least 200 million vaccine doses to COVAX, the World Health Organization's (WHO) vaccine alliance, by the end of 2022 and provide additional funding to support testing and production efforts in low and middle-income countries;
  • Continue engagement with international allies to raise humanitarian funds and support the establishment of enduring democracy in Lebanon;
  • Continue Canadian support for global education, including new funding for girls’ and refugees’ education;
  • Provide increased assistance to people with disabilities in low and middle-income countries; and
  • Double Canada’s funding to grassroots women’s rights organizations and continue to make significant investments in comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services

Platform - Liberal Party of Canada

News article - Cooperation Canada

Liz Truss appointed as new Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development in UK Cabinet reshuffle

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, appointed Liz Truss as the new Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development (FCDO). 

The move is part of a broader cabinet reshuffle by the Prime Minister. Dominic Raab, the former Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development, was demoted to the role of Secretary of State for Justice, but will take on the Deputy Prime Minister title. The move was largely seen as a result of Raab’s management of the UK withdrawal from Afghanistan, with many Conservative Members of Parliament highly critical of his approach.

Raab is the second western world leader, following Sigrid Kaag in the Netherlands, to leave their post following Afghanistan withdrawals. 

Truss was the Secretary of State for International Trade between 2019 - 2021 and holds the title of Minister for Women and Equalities. She will retain her role as Minister for Women and Equalities in her new post as the Foreign Secretary. Devex reports that civil society and development commentators’ views of her appointment have been mixed but all agree that she will have a challenge ahead, managing the COVID-19 crisis, climate change, and conflict on a limited budget.  

Other political appointment changes within the FCDO include the appointment of Amanda Milling as an FCDO Minister of State, replacing, Nigel Adams, former Minister for Asia. Vicky Ford replaces James Duddridge as Minister for Africa. Deborah Stedman-Scott joined the FCDO as Minister for Women, but simultaneously maintains a role at the Department for Work and Pensions. Finally, Kemi Badenoch joined the FCDO with responsibilities concerning equality, which she shares with Truss.

Truss penned an article in the Sunday Telegraph in which she acknowledged the UK's status as a global leader in development, champion of girls’ education, and supporter of freedom, free enterprise, democracy, and equality around the world.

News article - Devex

News article - The Telegraph

Global Citizen wins appeal for nonprofit status in Australia, signaling importance of advocacy for poverty reduction

Global Citizen won its case to be classified as a public benevolent institution (PBI) in Australia, allowing the organization to seek tax-deductible recipient status among other financial benefits. 

Australia’s charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, sought to deny PBI status for Global Citizen. The Commission argued against PBI status, claiming that Global Citizen operates as an advocacy entity that does not provide direct relief, disqualifying the organization from benefits.

An appeal against the original decision was successful with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal asserting that Global Citizen organizes direct relief for the reduction of poverty through advocacy. Advocacy in the political process was labeled as a “regular and indispensable part” of their work.

The appealed decision affirms the importance and necessity of advocacy to promote poverty reduction. 

Media report - The Guardian Australia