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    Volume 9 Issue 19| May 7, 2010|

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Making Policy Work

Shudeepto Ariquzzaman

We Bengalis are very good at organising round table conferences, talking at seminars, advocating various measures and interventions and formulating policy guidelines. The problem is we are less concerned with implementing these policies at the ground level to achieve the desired objectives. It is much easier for experts on poverty alleviation and gender equality to advocate measures from the comfort of five-star hotels that are a whole world away from the lives of destitute women facing the twin curses of poverty and gender inequality. This was the view of a speaker at a conference at a five-star hotel -- Dr. Kaniz Siddique from the Gender and PRSP group, speaking at Hotel Sheraton on May 2, 2010. She made this complaint speaking on gender development, a component the group wanted to be incorporated into the government's next five-year plan. “Policy implementation” she said must be given topmost priority, without which there is no real requirement for policy formulation.

The donor agencies that fund groups like Gender and PRSP are equally to blame. The reality is that whether western donor agencies are operating in poverty-stricken Bangladesh or war-torn Afghanistan, there is much fanfare and little progress worth mentioning. Too much money is spent on behavioural change communication, social mobilisation and advocacy activities which in the end achieves some results but compared to the money spent it falls far short of the expected impact. Less emphasis is given to actual development work. The majority of the aid, actually go back to the west in the form of colossal salaries for the officials of these development or advocacy agencies. The rest finds it place in the pockets of the developing world's politicians and bureaucrats. Whereas the latter trend is known as corruption, there is no term to define the first trend, probably because the third world has to be content with whatever the western countries are graceful enough to donate to us and turn the other cheek if they call us beggars.

The Gender and PRSP group was formed to advocate recommendations to the government and other stakeholders on promoting women's development. The development plan shall place poverty alleviation as its topmost priority but the issue of gender development is closely related to poverty alleviation.

The overall objective of Siddique's document is analysis of the overall situation of gender issues, discussing previous initiatives to empower women, identifying the need gaps that exist when addressing gender rights issues, advocating suggestions to overcome the barriers to gender development and equality, and laying out guidelines for formulating policy that can result in the social, economic and political development of women.

Something that Dr. Siddique emphasised repeatedly was the importance of wide and deep consultation with the women who will be affected by such policies. Without consultation, it is impossible to determine the actual ground realities, the authentic socio-economic situation of the target populace whose conditions the government and other concerned stakeholders are trying to change. She also stressed that policy formulation outlined in the preparation of a national development document should be result-oriented, without which actual implementation remains in doubt.

One might wonder why special measures need to be adopted for women. People who belong to this school of thought argue that when the government adopts some project or intervention, they are supposed to benefit men and women proportionately. Dr. Siddique argues the ground reality is actually quite different. Female-headed households are more vulnerable to poverty as the income-generating opportunities are more limited and form the poorest segments of our society. Women are much more vulnerable to poverty and other external risk factors than men, owing to a variety of reasons. Traditionally, for example at the home level we often notice that the male child gets preferential treatment over the girl. This trend is present even in educated households.

A particular issue on which Dr. Siddique was very serious is that household work should be incorporated into economic activity. This is not a new concept -- progressive economists have long been trying to prepare an economic model that shall take into account household work. Without women performing household duties, economic output of men shall undoubtedly decline.

In the past there have been numerous conferences on gender development on the premises of five-star hotels that have produced few benefits for destitute women. It is time that they begin to actually make a difference.



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