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“The gender issue is being made a world norm”

Development Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) wants to realign her ministry's policy and is now presenting a strategy for a "feminist development policy".

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“The gender issue is being made a world norm”

Development Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) wants to realign her ministry's policy and is now presenting a strategy for a "feminist development policy". "For too long it has been considered normal for men to dominate societies," the 42-page paper says. And: "If women have equal rights and bear the same responsibility, there will be less poverty, less hunger and more stability in the world." Schulze is convinced: "It is worth strengthening the rights, resources and representation of women and girls ."

More boys than girls go to school worldwide, and more men than women sit in parliaments. Women and girls are more likely to be subjected to violence. And: women make up 48 percent of the agricultural workforce worldwide, but only 15 percent of landowners are female.

These are all examples of inequalities that are listed in the paper to justify the need for the new strategy: “Our feminist development policy aims to break down discriminatory structures. The focus is on gender equality.”

By 2025, 93 percent of the funds should only be used for projects that expressly promote equality. In 2021, this share was still around 64 percent. Other countries such as Canada, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Luxembourg and Mexico are also pursuing feminist development policies.

But what is special and really new about this approach? Antonia Baskakov from the development organization One puts it this way: "Politicians are finally showing a willingness to pay the necessary attention to women and other marginalized groups." The feminist approach emphasizes the "fair distribution of power and resources".

This all sounds very technical at first. The former Green Party politician Uschi Eid struggles with the new terminology. During the red-green government from 1998 to 2005, she was Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The then Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (SPD) had already campaigned massively for the empowerment of women, says Eid. Suddenly labeling development policy as feminist doesn't make much sense to her.

"Feminism is an ideological battle cry and tends to be exclusive," says Eid. "You should use the language habits of the people you want to reach." For non-experts, the strategy paper is actually difficult to read, and hardly any concrete measures are mentioned.

The three main areas of action described are summarized as the “3Rs”: rights, resources, representation. But how can the rights of women be strengthened? How can access to resources such as education and health be improved? And how can we ensure that more women are represented in politics, the judiciary and business?

The paper mentions African Zambia as one of the few practical examples. In the capital, Lusaka, women have a say in how the water supply is organized because they are the ones who usually run the households and know what is needed where.

Uschi Eid was also involved in this area during her time as State Secretary: “Women are important guardians of the careful use of water. In rural areas, where the precious commodity is still drawn from wells, women determine who can fetch how much and when.” In other countries, such as in arid Jordan, women are being trained as plumbers. They can fix dripping faucets and give water saving tips.

It is actually indisputable that girls and women should be given special support in development cooperation. The paper cites a study that found that when women manage household finances, they are more likely than men to invest in their families' nutrition and health.

Another study concludes that countries with high levels of equality are more peaceful, stable and less affected by corruption. The BMZ wants to work to ensure that women all over the world are involved on an equal footing in peace processes and in the resolution of conflicts.

With the approach of a feminist development policy, the BMZ places high demands on itself. Africa expert Professor Robert Kappel from the University of Leipzig criticizes the strategy paper as too aloof: "The gender issue is being made a world norm." Kappel warns that countries of the Global South may find this concept presumptuous and refuse German support.

Especially now, when Russia and China in particular are trying to expand their influence in developing countries. After all, the minister and her staff want to set a good example: At global conferences, the German delegation should be as gender balanced and diverse as possible. You only want to take part in discussion rounds if women are adequately represented.

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