A Panel Discussion at the MCC

The Millennium Challenge Corporation's Gender Policy

Caroline Moser, Brookings Visting Fellow, participated in a panel discussion on the Millennium Challenge Corporation's gender policy. Other panelists included: Frances McNaught, Vice President for Congressional and Public Affairs, Millennium Challenge Corporation; Ambassador John J. Danilovich, CEO, Millennium Challenge Corporation; Virginia Seitz, Director, Social and Gender Assessment, Millennium Challenge Corporation; Sylvia Torres, MCA-Nicaragua Gender Specialist; and Ritu Sharma, Co-Founder and President, Women's Edge Coalition.

A partial transcript follows.

McNaught: Good afternoon. I'm Fran McNaught, Vice President for Congressional and Public Affairs. I'd like to welcome you all to the Millennium Challenge Corporation. We are pleased that we have such a good turnout and so much interest in our gender policy.

We consider our gender policy key to achieving our mission, which is reducing poverty through economic growth, and you're going to hear much this afternoon about the importance of taking gender concerns into consideration in making our programs as effective as possible as we go about our mission.

We have four very distinguished panelists, each with a very impressive resume. But in order to not spend the entire time introducing them instead of letting them talk themselves, I'm just going to give very brief remarks about their credentials, and I'll do it in the order in which they will present.

First, Dr. Ginny Seitz, MCC's Director of Social and Gender Assessment. She will provide an overview of our policy. She's responsible for developing our gender-integration strategy to ensure that gender analysis informs and improves the design and implementation of programs in our partner countries. She also coordinates internal capacity-building in the area of gender and development. Ginny has more than 25 years in research, evaluation, training, program design and management, and has worked in more than 20 countries.

Our second presenter will be Sylvia Torres. She's MCA- Nicaragua's gender specialist and is tasked with implementing our gender policy throughout all of MCA-Nicaragua's program efforts. Certainly she can offer the perspective from the field. Currently a PhD candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, Sylvia has worked on gender equality issues for various international and regional organizations, including UNIFEM, Save the Children, and Grupo Feminista de León, all in her native Nicaragua.

Third, we're pleased that Ritu Sharma, Co-Founder and President of the Women's Edge Coalition, has joined the panel. Ritu will discuss the role of the U.S. NGO community in relation to MCC's gender policy. She is a leading voice on international women's issues and U.S. foreign policy. She's played a pivotal role in ensuring that the interests of poor women worldwide are incorporated into U.S. economic assistance and trade policies and, in some cases, into U.S. law itself.

And Dr. Caroline Moser, our world-renowned scholar and practitioner and author of many publications, including the very influential book, Gender Planning and Development. Caroline is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a senior research associate with the Overseas Development Institute. In addition to her work on gender and development, she has expertise in the areas of social policy and development, urban poverty and inequality, social protections and human rights. She will discuss MCC's gender policy within the larger context of international development.

Moser: Thank you. I would like to start my comments by, first of all, congratulating the MCC for their development and adoption of this gender policy and, like others, to acknowledge the critical importance of Ambassador Danilovich and the whole senior management team in achieving this.

I have been asked to comment on the policy in the context of international development. As the last speaker, I will just make three short points.

First of all, I would like to address the policy's underlying approach. In the past 25 years, as many of us know, we've come an incredibly long way in our conceptualization of gender issues. We started with women and development; we moved to gender and development; and now we have gender mainstreaming. And yet, it is clear that we still have a lot of challenges, or we wouldn't need a gender policy. I think we have to start by recognizing that a gender policy, as MCC recognizes, has a role to play; we wouldn't need a policy if there wasn't that need.

Underlying the policy approach has been a shift over the last 20 from what we used to call "welfare" to "equity" to "efficiency" and, most recently, to "empowerment" and even through to rights-based policy. Given the MCC's focus on poverty reduction through economic growth, I would like to endorse the gender policy's adoption of the economic efficiency approach. They have adopted an approach that relates them to, and positions them within, the economic approach of the overall MCC policy. And while, from a gender perspective, this may not go far enough for some, it's a very realistic approach for a policy that needs to be mainstreamed into MCC country practice.

When Karen Mason and her team at the World Bank developed the World Bank's gender strategy a few years ago, she made the same strategic decision. It means that valuable time is not spent justifying the policy approach and that this can be focused on more important issues of implementation.

I think that that's a good decision, and it brings me to my second point: challenges in the implementation of the policy. As my colleagues here have said, we know getting a policy in place is only half the story. It's the implementation in practice that is now the litmus test of its success.

As many of us know only too well, we have a lot of what we call policy evaporation -- when good policy intentions fail to be followed into practice. However, this is a slightly more complex issue.

I recently did some work on gender audits for the U.K. Department of International Development of their program in an African country. I found that, yes, there was evaporation, but there was also "invisiblization", when monitoring and evaluation procedures failed to document what is actually occurring on the ground. So the issue of monitoring and evaluation and getting that right is also important.

And secondly, there is resistance: when effective mechanisms block policy implementation with the opposition essentially based on power relations -- and, as we know, often on gender power relations -- rather than on technocratic or procedural constraints. Now, such resistance can be both internal inside MCC, or it can also be external within the country teams designing the compacts.

I think the other thing that we need to consider in looking at this, which is really interesting, is the terminology the team has chosen to work with. They're talking about "gender integration" rather than "gender mainstreaming." This is very interesting, in terms of the way they go forward. There is so much contention around the whole concept of gender mainstreaming. I think that what we know is the need to be constructive. We need to move forward, whether with gender mainstreaming or gender integration, recognizing that this has two components.

One is to ensure that men and women's concerns are equally integrated into policy and programs. The other is to recognize that there may be a need for specific measures and programs required for women themselves, to empower them, to assure them that they can be integrated into such processes. I see this as a twin-track process and I acknowledge that for the MCC adopting the term, "integration," is useful.

So how can successful implementation be guaranteed? I have four comments that I think pull this together, and they're similar to those of my colleagues.

I think strong leadership is absolutely critical. This must go beyond endorsements of the policy to provide substantial support as the implementation process rolls out.

Secondly, a highly skilled technical capacity is critical. And here I would like to really congratulate MCC on their appointment of Ginny as director of this work. As her bio shows, she not only has a lot of knowledge of gender analysis, but for me what she brings, even more importantly, is a professional background in gender policy and planning -- the whole implementation process, which often gets ignored.

In the past decade, I think we've seen extraordinary steps forward on gender analysis, and that current policy reflects this. But actually how you get it right in the implementation process is essential. If you listened to Ginny talking, she was talking about the institutional processes, the institutional structures that you need to put in place, the operational procedures, the TORs; these boring things that actually have to be in place.

It's much easier -- the gender analysis is the easy bit. It's the planning and implementation that is so difficult. I think you have an extraordinary person in leading this here, somebody who's rolled up her sleeves and has actually worked in the trenches, which is essential for this type of job.

To ensure this goes further, as has already been mentioned, there's been discussion of building up the technical capacity, strengthening the capacity within the MCC staff, both here and in-country, with appropriate entry points.

And I think here we also have to recognize that we've moved beyond generic gender training. It's not a panacea. What we need is more tailor-made, operationally focused types of capacity strengthening, which is specific, rather than just rolling out a general program. This, to me, is very important.

Finally, I think we need the support of highly skilled, gender-aware women in the South in the MCC-eligible countries. We have one right here; I have one such person sitting right here on the panel.

I think the monitoring of women's organizations in the North is essential, and we've heard about from the role that Women's Edge has played, which has been so critical, but so, too, is the participation of women in the South, whether it's members of women's organizations working as consultants or bureaucrats within government ministries.

I think that this is the most important resource that will ensure success and will ensure country ownership. So, therefore, we have to think very seriously about giving space to these types of social actors and also to the political positions that they hold within their societies.

Gone are the days, thank goodness, when gender and development was considered a Northern construct exported to the South. Women in the South are highly aware of gender issues with their own culturally specific interpretation. Many of them have undertaken graduate work, and they are authorities in their own right. They are inside government; they are outside government. They are playing important roles all over the world.

Thus, to end, I'd like to say that I hope that the MCC does not "invisiblize" this critical resource, but ensures that such women are incorporated into the design and implementation process. Many of these women face a lot of resistance in their own contexts. I think that Nicaragua is a very poor country, but it's a wonderful example of a country that has a very articulate and highly organized civil society and a very strong women's movement. And I think, even then, there's a way to go. But let's consider some of the other countries where you work, where you neither have such a strong civil society, nor do you have a long, historical process of the role of a strong women's movement in pushing the agenda.

It's those women in those countries where I think the MCC can play an important role, as a catalyst -- and we've heard an example from Africa of this already -- to assist in leveraging the gender priorities that they identify.

I wish you lots of luck with this challenging endeavor. I hope the MCC will have a similar event in a few years so we can review the progress with a similar level of transparency as today's event.

Thank you very much.

Applause

McNaught: We are ready now to take questions for the panelists.

Question: I have a follow-up question, a clarification, for Dr. Moser.

You discussed gender mainstreaming or gender integration. Are you really using those concepts simultaneously or with similar meaning? Or -- the reason I raise that question is because there could be some problems with mainstreaming in comparison to trying to integrate into a new policy.

The second question is probably for Dr. Seitz and other members of the panel, and that has to do with the assessment and the evaluation, which is a follow-up to the previous question.

The first response seemed to be more generic in nature, but are there particular plans, say, for example, in Nicaragua, to do some types of specific assessments in-country that would really make it helpful and then might have lessons for Lesotho and other places?

Moser: Thank you very much.

What I was actually saying -- and I probably rattled off rather fast -- is that gender mainstreaming, as a term, has become very contentious, and there is a lot of debate and discussion about what it actually means, and a lot of concern about the, quote, "failure" of gender mainstreaming. I think that it is very adroit of this policy to avoid that term and to use the word "integration."

All I was saying is that in some other work that I've been involved in, we have really tried to unpack what mainstreaming means, and, for me, it is around integration of both men and women's concerns.

But I think there's a second track which we also need to think about, which is that there are contexts where women are so excluded that we need to focus on interventions that specifically address their needs.

I was really saying that I think, by avoiding this word, "mainstreaming," they're getting away from a lot of contentious debate which has gone on around such a term. Really, what they are talking about, as the policy shows very clearly, is integration.

Seitz: For some specific examples, I can point to something that I thought Margaret might have mentioned but she didn't have the mic long enough.

For example, if women in Honduras were to be full beneficiaries of one of the agricultural projects, we knew that best practice was that you needed female extension workers in order to be able to reach these women. And so, when the compact was designed, there was a condition in the compact about the involvement of female extensionists.

And what makes this story very interesting is the learning process that went on from this early example. The implementing entity came back and said, "Well, we developed an ad for female extensionists, and we said we wanted agronomists with 10 years of experience in extension." And, lo and behold, they had only had women involved in this training for 10 years, so obviously they couldn't find women with 10 years of experience.

So there was a negotiation back and forth, and finally a decision was made that they still had to have women involved in the extension activities, and that women who had less experience or who were new graduates in agronomy would be mentored and employed and their skills, as extensionists, developed.

So the lesson for MCC in this was that the goal was to involve women farmers. The best practice that we knew of were female extensionists. But there was a moment to learn that even the reviewing of the terms of reference of the implementer about the qualifications of the extensionists was a place where you had to think about gender. So it was an organizational learning.

And I think those are the kinds of examples that will build our capacity to really implement this policy.

Sharma: I wanted to add two points on monitoring.

I think the fact that this gender policy follows through to monitoring and evaluation is hugely significant, because that has also never happened with the U.S. government, but also because it directs that data collection much be sex-disaggregated.

And, for those of you who've worked in the field, you know that one of our biggest challenges, in many of these economic areas, is that there's no data on women's participation vis-a-vis men.

And so, I think that as the monitoring for the MCC rolls out, it will list the whole field of monitoring and evaluation for gender in general, as it encourages countries to begin collecting data.

The second point on monitoring is that many of the MCC countries -- in particular, we've been doing a lot of work with the women's movement in Sri Lanka -- are setting up an independent monitoring coalition, similar to Nicaragua, where they will be monitoring the MCC project parallel to the official government process. And that, so far, what we've seen in Sri Lanka is a really fruitful collaboration -- independence, but collaboration -- with the MCC on monitoring.

McNaught: Once again, I want to say thank you for joining us today.

And I know it was such an interesting discussion that no one nodded off, but just in case you were a little distracted at some point and didn't get it all, we will have a transcript on our web site by tomorrow. So you can go back over and see what all was said here today.

Our web site is mcc.gov, and we invite you to go there for all kinds of the latest news and information about our work. It's obviously available 24-7.

Again, thank you for joining us today.

Applause