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What makes an expert expert?

zohra moosa
27 February 2008

At a session on gender equality and aid effectiveness today I listened to five women presenters speak about the Paris Declaration in full technical detail. They reviewed the purpose of the agreement, the history of its development, its relevance to the women's rights agenda, and the best ways to influence it. They outlined how the Declaration relates to other international frameworks such as the CSW, and also explained why the Declaration, despite including only the OECD countries, is so important (the answer: the OECD countries are influential at the UN and other global arenas and can be used to set new benchmarking standards).

Brita from Womankind Worldwide debriefed on new research into how women's organisations influence international gender policy. Another presenter outlined key issues for September's review of the Declaration that will be happening in Accra. Rose from FemNet discussed how the Accra meeting is being planned, who wil be coming, how the sessions will be structured. Thoughout, the women appeared expert: knowledgeable, informed, able to advise.

Yet during the session we learned that of the 800 delegates that will be attending the Accra conference in September, only 80 will be from civil society organisations - with no guarantees for women's organisations. Of the 18 co-chairs of the nine roundtables that will be handling the conference's core business, only one is a woman.

In her presentation, Gigi from DAWN made a case for what she called 'democratic ownership' of the Declaration and its outcomes arguing that civil society organisations should have as much influence on decision-making as civil servants because they know the issues at least as well. Cecilia from AWID echoed this call in her presentation when she reminded the room that the role of women's organisations is not just to fully understand the technical issues but to influence the politics as well.

Based on the five presentations I heard, and knowing that civil servants certainly do get it all very wrong sometimes, I'm convinced that the participants around the Paris Declaration table could only ever be called expert if they included women such as these.

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