Aid Effectiveness Forum: What Does It Mean for Reproductive Health?

By: Suzanna Dennis
Originally posted by: Population Action International

Aid effectiveness and government investments directly shape the amount and quality of funding for reproductive health.  For example, the move to greater country ownership over aid has advocates concerned that governments will not sufficiently prioritize sexual and reproductive health.

Last week, global development powerbrokers convened in Busan, South Korea to assess progress towards aid effectiveness goals, develop a more inclusive global aid framework and address issues beyond aid.  The organizers of this Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4) declared it a resounding success:  They delivered a global Partnership for Development Cooperation bringing together all development actors around a shared set of development principles.  This Partnership includes traditional DAC donors, the so-called BRICs or emerging donors, civil society and the private sector.  And the negotiators maintained agreed standards and commitments to transparency, human rights, gender equality and good development practice.  Indeed, the Busan outcome is a success in terms of inclusiveness, and at least maintaining global commitments.  And while there was some progress on untying aid and country systems, there is plenty of unfinished business.

But Busan’s inclusiveness came at a cost.  China, and India to a lesser extent, walked away from the negotiating table a number of times.  They only agreed to be part of the Global Partnership if it was based on watered down text on human rights and transparency.  And China insisted that this partnership around shared principles is based on differential commitments for emerging donors (see Nancy Birdsall’s blog for a cautiously optimistic take on China).  Furthermore, any commitments around South-South cooperation in the outcome document are explicitly voluntary.The irony is that, like previous agreements from the Paris and Accra high-level  forums, none of the commitments in the Busan Outcome Document are truly binding.

But what did Busan actually change for people working to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)?  Not much.  But it codified a number of trends already underway.  In Busan, the global development community:

  • Continued to open up space for civil society groups including those working on SRHR to more meaningfully participate in setting development priorities: 1) by including civil society in the preparation and the event itself, even with a seat at the negotiating table; and 2) by recognizing the need for an enabling environment for civil society in the outcome document.
  • Contributed to momentum around transparency and accountability in development finance and impact, including on reproductive health.  It will be more challenging for governments to keep their accounting books closed, and more difficult for donors to be opaque and keep supporting non-transparent regimes.  This increased recognition of the right to information can be used by reproductive health groups to identify investments in the sector, and push for greater prioritization.
  • Increased pressure on reproductive health providers and rights advocates to demonstrate the impact, or results of their work in the communities they serve, preferably in quantifiable terms.  Bilateral donors face similar pressure from their citizenry.  Multilaterals risk being passed up by funding if they cannot demonstrate that they are effective.  Moving forward in this new results environment, we need to be sure that the intended beneficiaries of investments are shaping the results that get measured.
  • Recognized and addressed the need to focus on all sources of development finance, including domestic resource mobilization, in addition to aid.  This acknowledgement opens up more space for governments to develop policies that keep resources within their countries to the possible benefit of health systems and SRHR.  Currently huge amounts of money leave the global South in the form of illicit financial flows and tax breaks for foreign companies.

Over the next six months, civil society groups headed by Better Aid will work hard to make sure that the new Global Partnership lays out an implementation framework and indicators to measure Busan that respond to people’s needs.  In the longer term, the collective task of PAI and others is to ensure that this new GlobalPartnership that includes China, India, and others begins to advance global human rights and transparency.  Sharing of experiences from the health sector, and reproductive health specifically, will be critical to ensure global advocacy continues to be grounded in local experience.

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