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.

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