Governing Development : The Millennium Development Goals and Gender Policy Change in Sub-Saharan Africa

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Political Science, Stockholm University

Abstract: Recent decades have witnessed an upsurge in the use of different forms of global performance assessments as a means to influence the behavior of states. Within the area of international development, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reinforced the practice of development governance through global performance indicators (GPIs) and gained considerable agenda-setting power among the international development community. Yet, knowledge about the goals’ effectiveness in re-steering domestic policy as well as their mechanisms of influence has remained limited. This study provides a theoretical and empirical account of the workings and effectiveness of GPIs as an increasingly pervasive model of development governance. Focusing on MDG 3, intended to promote gender equality, the study uses a mixed-methods design and draws on international relations (IR) theories of international norms and domestic change to explore the extent and mechanisms of domestic gender policy adjustment. It does so by 1) comprehensively mapping MDG 3-related gender policy output across several policy dimensions in 15 Sub-Saharan African countries over the entire MDG period (2000-2015), and 2) employing process-tracing to assess the explanatory power of four different causal mechanisms of GPI influence – economic conditionality, social influence, rational learning, and persuasion – in the two country cases of Kenya and Ethiopia.The thesis presents three central findings. First, it demonstrates a significant and lasting gap between domestic MDG 3-related policy commitments and efforts to realize them, highlighting the risks of superficial GPI adjustment. Second, it shows that domestic adjustment to MDG 3 was driven primarily by the interaction of the two incentive-based causal mechanisms of GPI influence, namely economic conditionality and social influence, both of which were enabled by the intense MDG monitoring and reporting. Third, the finding of material and social incentives as the decisive triggers of domestic change, and of the limited MDG 3 socialization among government actors, helps explain why gender policy implementation was modest and characterized by continued resistance and contestation domestically. The results indicate that development GPIs can be effective tools for redefining domestic policy target-setting in developing countries and thus risk undermining national policy ownership and reinforcing North-South power hierarchies. Nevertheless, when policy change predominantly is incentive-driven, it might ultimately be unsustainable since policy is likely to be re-altered as new targets or priorities are introduced, irrespective of whether actual change has been achieved or not. The thesis makes an empirical and theoretical contribution to the IR literature on the role and power of performance assessments in global governance. The findings have important implications for research and practice pertaining to the use and effectiveness of global performance assessments, the international promotion of gender equality, and – crucially – the implementation of the current global development agenda with its the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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