Monday 29 December 2008

The learning contract

In a recent conversation with Charles Shamas, humanitarian law expert with a background in cognitive sciences, we discussed connections between “law” and cognitive development. We believe that the success of a development programme depends to a great extent on cognitive development processes, i.e. the acquisition of new perceptions and knowledge systems, i.e. learning, among the actors involved. In a nutshell: if you want to gain fresh insights and skills, or support others in their learning processes, you must leave the safe territory of familiar knowledge so as to accommodate new, previously unknown mental objects. “Old” certainties may be shattered by new discoveries. “Can you live with ambiguity?” is a key question for job interviews in development NGOs. People deal differently with change. Individual life histories shape people’s ability to accommodate, to welcome the sense of destabilisation that comes with cognitive change. Situational factors play a role, too: experimentation feels less risky in a friendly, stable environment than in an oppressive or very unpredictable one.

Monday 15 December 2008

German CEDAW Report - the personal remains political

Today, experts from 28 German NGOs have submitted the 2008 CEDAW shadow report to the Ministry of Family, Senior Citizens, Health and Youth. Given our demographic structure, this Ministry should be the most powerful of all, serving the majority of the population... It isn't. What if someone sneakily added "Men" to the Ministry's list of clients? Would its budget see a steep increase?

Sunday 30 November 2008

Dealing with change

Development is about change. People in development agencies deal with change at many levels – including the personal one. Working in changing settings, meeting different people, eating different food, living far away from what we consider our homes require constant adjustment. This can be stimulating and enjoyable. It may also create tensions, which generate distress, conflicts... and ineffective work. Some humanitarian agencies offer optional counselling to staff in particularly difficult situations – but since it's not mandatory, people hesitate to ask for counselling or mediation.

We Can end All Violence against Women – Kenya

We Can was launched in Kenya on 27 November at the KICC, site of the 1985 World Women's Conference. The We Can Kenya alliance had arranged 1.500 chairs in a spacious tent, hoping for at least 1.000 visitors. But soon after the opening, another 500 chairs had to be brought in! Women and men of all ages and walks of life, from all over the country, came together to show their determination to end violence against women (VAW). We Can makes it clear that everybody, women and men, can and must take responsibility to stop violence in their own lives, in their own communities. The inclusive character of the campaign was underlined by the presence of two interpreters, who translated speeches and performances into sign language for a group of people with hearing impairments, seated near the front. It is a little-known fact that women with disabilities are at greater risk of VAW than able-bodied women. Overall, some 50% of Kenyan women have experienced VAW: one in two.

Thursday 20 November 2008

White Charity = white trash?

Commit Berlin, a young German NGO, has organised a series of lectures on eurocentrism in development co-operation (EZ = Eurozentrismus, full programme on Last night's session focused on racism in German NGO fundraising; it was animated by Timo Kiesel, whose main theses can be found on Timo presented posters and billboards, chiefly by major Christian NGOs, and collected students' comments. None of the examples shown challenged common stereotypes about Africa; the anonymous children and women depicted suggested a reality in which they were helpless victims or, at most, quaint schoolgirls and farmers in folkloristic outfits and florid tropical settings. It was pointed out that, unlike fashion models, the individuals shown probably had no clue of the existence of these photographs and were not paid for posing. You hardly ever see an African man on such a poster - most likely that would perturb the viewer's "masculine", i.e. active, dominant regard on "feminine" Africans waiting for help or pursuing innocuous activities in a lush décor.

Friday 14 November 2008

Learn without Fear

Plan International, in co-operation with the University of Sussex Centre for International Education, hosted the conference Learn without Fear – Looking at Violence from the Gender perspective in Hamburg, 12-14 November. I came across the conference announcement a couple of days earlier via a google search on „sexual violence at schools“ and „Africa“, and spontaneously decided to jump into a train to Hamburg to meet some of the people known in the field – Fiona Leach, for example, who has published on gender and education, or Peter Newell, Co-ordinator of the Global Initiative to End all Corporal Punishment of Children. Unfortunately, I could only attend the 13 November sessions. But that was extremely enriching.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Strong women

On 11 November, the development bank KfW in Berlin hosted its 46th roundtable on globalisation, with the title Development Needs Strong Women". An illustruous selection of German women's development experts discussed issues around gender and development. Unfortunately, much time was lost to a sterile debate about the translation of the term "gender" into German. But it is reassuring to learn that KfW, a major actor in German development policy, has developed a stringent gender mainstreaming strategy, defended by an impressive policy expert, and that the Ministry of Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ) has equipped itself with a Gender Unit.
On the other hand, I was disappointed by some examples the speakers presented that focused on women's practical needs within female roles considered acceptable in mainstream culture, e.g. tailoring courses. Gender sensititive work must consider strategic needs as well, supporting women (and men!) who wish to challenge gender stereotypes within their societies. This happens, to a certain extent, when women play an active role as builders of their own water schemes - an example that was mentioned, to pay due respect to the panel. Personally, I am proud of a project we funded when I worked for Oxfam Germany: Afghan women engineers who could not exercise their jobs under the Taliban regime took refresher courses in engineering so as to put their skills to the service of national reconstruction. Here's a beautiful combination of the practical and the strategic.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Fundraising for Women's Organisations

Browsing in search of resources for smallish women's groups, I have come across this excellent new handbook by the Global Fund for Women: Fundraising for Change: A Practical Guide for
Women’s Rights Organizations. It is extremely legible and easily downloadable as a 12-page PDF (link in my list below). It even includes links to organisations funding women's groups.

Measuring progress in gender equality

Within the framework of its Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies ("of" societies, not "in" societies!!), the OECD has initated, since March 2008, - a platform for exchange on gathering empirical evidence and measuring change in gender equality. The site is managed by a team within OECD in Paris, with the support of an intriguing mix of partners, including UNFPA, the Norwegian and Swedish Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the Indian Centre for Economic and Social Studies, as well as the World Bank group, among others.

Thursday 16 October 2008

7th International Dialogue on Population and Sustainable Development - Cultural Diversity and Gender Equality

Today I attended a highly stimulating conference in Berlin: "Exploring Cultural Diversity and Gender Equality: towards universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights".It started with a panel discussion featuring illustruous speakers including Gita Sen, a pioneer in gender & development research and activism. She shared key findings from her (et al.) report on Gender Inequity in Health. The full report Unequal, Unfair, Ineffective and Inefficient - Gender Inequity in Health: Why it exists and how we can change it is available on the net (see link list at the bottom of my blog).

Tuesday 14 October 2008

The human element

Human development is driven by people’s capacity to see and understand reality in different ways, acquire skills and knowledge, find novel solutions and ask new questions to keep the cycle of development going. The UN Development Report defines development as expanding people’s choices: choices only exist when people are aware of choices, and of the potential to find new choices. This capacity to develop is essentially cognitive, i.e. linked to the process of being aware, knowing, thinking, learning and judging. Obviously this applies not only to narrow definitions of “development” as something that happens to the economy but also to conflict transformation and other forms of social change.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

WE CAN End All Violence Against Women

My main project in 2008 has been my involvement in WE CAN, an innovative campaign to end violence against women. The campaign has its roots in South Asia, but alliances are shaping up far beyond the South Asian continent. In a nutshell, WE CAN creates movements of individuals - so-called "change makers" - determined to change their own lives and influence others so as to end violence against women. For more detail, please visit the We Can sites on the link list at the bottom of this blog.