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Behind The Scenes, Negotiating For Gender Commitments In The UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF)

Behind the scenes, negotiating for gender commitments in the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF)

In late June 2018 the United Nations  launched its Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) detailing the areas it will support Kenya for the period 2018 to 2022. This Framework is the culmination of numerous consultations between all the UN agencies in Kenya, government, counties, development partners, Kenyan civil society organizations and private sector players. It took place over the course of several months.

This UNDAF is clear in terms of what investments will be made to assist Kenya to realize progress in terms of gender equality, women’s rights and empowerment. Commitments span the good governance agenda, advancing peace and security, broadening equal economic opportunities for women and to improving the health outcomes for mothers and adolescent girls.

What did it take to get to these commitments? On the face of it, they appear quite straightforward and not areas that would be contested.

I hope to give you a glimpse of the behind the scenes negotiations and compromises made. By doing so, hopefully helping us understand why our institutions are succeeding or not doing as well as they could be, in helping transform various outcomes in women’s lives. As well as let you figure out ways to be allies in countering the complex and sometimes surprising push back gender equality advocates and feminists operating in this process, contend with.

By the time the UNDAF was launched there had been a lot of negotiation with things getting dropped or added sometimes for expediency sake, without much consultation. Even the choice of which indicator to use, or which text to add, would sometimes lead to such angst and a drawn-out negotiation that, by the end of the process and when the final document came out, it felt like we were emerging from a battle of sorts.  And we just wanted to put the whole business behind us and ‘get back to the real work’. Relationships were strengthened and some broken during this time. Ultimately, we are human beings, coming to these negotiations with our lived experiences as well as our professional mandate which further complicates how we view issues such as equality between women and men.

Speaking from my personal experience and having been involved in 2 cycles of developing an UNDAF, often leading the advocacy for attention to gender equality, women’s rights and empowerment issues, I have developed a more pragmatic but still feminist guided view of what is possible within the multi-lateral, political and at the same time idealistic bureaucracy that is the UN.

Going in well prepared to counter push back, lining up a diverse group of allies in government and the UN to reinforce the main message on gender equality is key to being able to withstand the pushback. And pushback is inevitable, but it will still catch you by surprise. For example, when a senior UN staffer makes a very convincing presentation about how gender equality is the game changer to achieving the SDGs, then a day later, is unwilling to understand that women’s unpaid care work hampers their ability to spend enough time earning the income needed to transform their lives and that we need to have a conversation about it! In other instances people will go against their own government’s stated policy of support for gender equality to question, why we should seek to track and address disparities in education attainment between girls and boys or address gender-based violence! All this in 2018!

Placed in context the UNDAF GEWE commitments may not seem far reaching enough. However, as other feminists working in the UN and other similar development bureaucracies have noted, we are encouraged that we are contributing to change. Aruna Rao noted in her paper on, “Moving pieces and unpredictable results: feminist activism in development bureaucracies”  that while, “bureaucracies play a limited role in engendering social change and there is a long road to walk from victories for women in bureaucratic spaces to gains for women on the ground. Yet, sometimes the kaleidoscope moves in such a way that significant changes emerge – significant to the actors involved as well as positive for the women they are meant to benefit. So, I am encouraged and re-energized that the commitments in the new UNDAF are a victory of sorts for the women on the ground and feel ready to take up the gauntlet with my colleagues, ready for the next task – allocation of resources – financial and qualified technical people to implement these commitments.


Nyambura Ngugi is a Programme Specialist at UN Women’s Kenya Office, responsible for strategic planning and UN coordination. The views expressed in this post are personal and do not necessarily reflect UN Women or the UN’s position.

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