Building on recent discussions of the role of public-private partnerships in governance, this article argues that we must be more critical of the goals set by PPPs, and pay closer attention to the ways in which gender-based inequalities are obscured or overlooked in the construction of global policy strategies. In particular, the Group of 8's New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition pledges to "act upon the critical role" played by women. Yet this article reveals that the New Alliance partnerships offer little in terms of substantive goals that address the gender inequalities experienced in rural land and labor markets, and instead appear to favor the expansion of trade without reference to the implications for rural food security. Keywords: gender, public-private partnerships, G8, agricultural investment.
THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT ABOUT THE COMMANDING POSITION THAT PRIVATE actors occupy in the global economy and their role in contemporary global governance. Private forms of global authority--established by non-state for-profit and not-for-profit firms--have been attracting the attention of scholars for several years. (1) Private for-profit corporate actors--such as pharmaceutical companies, food manufacturers, and technology firms--possess the wealth, expertise, and resources required to execute major aid and development projects. Through the establishment of certifications, collaborations with multilateral institutions, or observer status in international forums, private corporate actors have come to occupy a significant position in the governance realm. (2) Appropriately, literature on private actors has steadily crept into the mainstream of international relations scholarship.
Transnational public-private partnerships (PPPs) offer a new challenge to global governance scholars: broadly defined, public-private partnerships capture a wide range of collaborative partnerships between states, organizations, and private actors. This diversity makes their exact number and overall impact difficult to quantify; however, the profile that PPPs have acquired in the global arena in the past fifteen years necessitates further examination. We have seen the question of PPPs raised within the context of some of the world's most pressing transnational issues: the treatment of global pandemics, environmental issues, access to water, and the rights of children. (3) Likewise, the development of the Global Compact and the expanded role of transnational corporations (TNCs) in HIV/AIDS treatment have raised the profile of public-private collaborations. (4) Magdalena Bexell, Jonas Tallberg, and Anders Uhlin have considered the democratic legitimacy of a range of global actors, importantly questioning the "promises and pitfalls" of TNCs and PPPs in global governance and accountability. (5) Indeed, there can be little dispute about the need to interrogate the roles that private actors play on the global scene, especially with regard to global governance and development projects.
Scholars of international relations and political economy have also only just begun to examine the gendered dimensions of PPPs, including those transnational PPPs that have specifically advocated for gender equality in the realms of business and economic governance. (6) Yet we also need to look beyond the attention that PPPs have explicitly paid to matters of gender representation to assess the often unspoken gendered dimensions of institutions and macroeconomic models. (7) Given that PPPs may perform many different functions, with different ends and partners, more work needs to be done to monitor and assess their design and effects. Consequently, we must be mindful that goal setting can be imbued with normative languages and may reflect the accepted discourses and attitudes of their authors. (8) Importantly, these goals may not align with local needs: gendered assumptions have shaped development policies constructed by institutions such as the World Bank, resulting in policies that are mismatched to the needs of local communities. (9) We thus would be remiss to not turn the same attention to the goals of multibillion-dollar PPPs, particularly on projects designed to respond to important public needs, such as agricultural development, food security, and nutrition. In the case of PPPs that will have material impacts on the livelihoods of vulnerable peoples, we must consider the effects of these changes on those who may be further marginalized based on their gender.
Launched by the Group of 8 (G8) in 2012, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (henceforth, New Alliance) is a high-profile global effort that pledges to incorporate gender concerns into its projects as part of its central goal to improve people's lives through agricultural investment. (10) To "lift 50 million people out of poverty" by 2022, the New Alliance aims to mobilize private capital investments. (11) The New Alliance now has Cooperation Frameworks with ten African countries, each of which specifies goals for both public and private partners, including TNCs such as Unilever and Monsanto.
However, as others have noted, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition contains few actual references to either food security or nutrition. (12) Individual Cooperation Frameworks with partner countries instead focus on a series of state- and corporate-led goals oriented toward productivity and increased international trade, a controversial strategy for addressing food insecurity on the African continent. (13) The goals of the Cooperation Frameworks are oriented toward higher productivity in export crops and freer agricultural trade rather than a focus on solving local food insecurity and gaps in nutrition. (14) Despite references to gender equality, few of the articulated goals in the first set of New Alliance frameworks launched in 2012 made any reference to gender-focused outcomes. Though there have been minor improvements in the design of partnerships since 2012, (15) these goals continue to make scant reference to gender inequality and women's roles in agricultural production and food security. Indeed, as I show below in the case of Tanzania, it has been the civil society organizations that noted the lack of attention to gender equality issues related to food security, though only in the years following the inception of the New Alliance.
An evaluation of New Alliance projects needs to go beyond considerations of whether or not states and private actors meet their own objectives and benchmarks. And in the case of the New Alliance, we need to assess its goals and objectives through a gender lens to evaluate the appropriateness of its strategies for addressing food insecurity. PPPs in general, and the New Alliance in particular, require a gendered assessment to anticipate the impacts of these projects on the people that they are purported to help. Existing scholarship on gender inequalities within the realms of agricultural development--land and resource access, labor market inequalities, and gaps in education, both technical and political--all raise serious questions about how New Alliance projects view gender inequality. As I argue in this article, though the New Alliance claims to value local food security and the role of women in agriculture, the goal orientation of the Cooperation Frameworks is directed toward market-led development through expanded agricultural production of crops for export and the relaxation of trade and investment barriers. Ultimately, the goals of the New Alliance appear to be driven primarily by the economic interests of corporate actors and states expanding foreign agricultural investment.
I first situate this article within the broader work on private actors in global governance, engaging with Benedicte Bull and Desmond McNeill's observation that the legitimacy of partnerships with private actors is increasingly likely to turn on the achievement of their own goals. (16) I also review existing research on gender issues in both transnational PPPs and global agribusiness projects. I then assesses the broader objectives of the New Alliance as well as the more specific goals outlined in the Cooperation Framework with Tanzania, one of the initial three frameworks established under the New Alliance in 2012. In examining the Tanzanian framework in closer detail, I consider the objectives and priorities set by several private actor partners and the government of Tanzania. Here, the Tanzanian Cooperation Framework provides a focal point to assess whether the New Alliance goals respond to concerns of local food security and gender equality advocates.
I found that these objectives overlook key issues related to gender inequality in the agricultural sector--such as gender imbalances in land ownership, gender roles and agricultural labor, and gender gaps in income and political representation--in favor of a focus on creating a better business environment. It is only when feedback from civil society groups is solicited that more serious consideration of the gender implications of the New Alliance projects occurs. The focus of the New Alliance is not on what local food insecurity looks like or how women and smallholders participate in agriculture. Instead, as I show below, the primary focus is on trade and productivity, more narrowly defined as corporate agricultural output and the facilitation of agricultural trade.
Public-Private Partnerships and Global Governance
Generally, PPPs represent an interesting incarnation of neoliberal decentralization and privatization. They typically reduce government funding and control over key activities while seeking out collaborations for service delivery or other tasks with the private sector. Such collaborations have become routine for service delivery across various countries of different economic status. In North America, PPPs are increasingly involved in building infrastructure and delivering services such as public...