Thursday 17 December 2009

Where are the Men?

In a recent workshop on gender-sensitive monitoring, I found myself with some 18 women and one man - the latter being there, as he admitted, because the group was the only one to work in a language he understood. Most participants were well informed of and experienced in gender mainstreaming. Many felt there was a continued necessity to maintain gender mainstreaming as a separate item on the agenda, lest it would be dropped altogether. But we would have preferred to be a more "mixed" group - not quarantined in the women's ward, a sad déjà vu for those among us who have been "doing gender" for decades. Maybe we should have formed sub-groups and swarmed out to infect parallel, non-gender focused working groups with the gender bacillus?

Monday 23 November 2009

Gender and Religion - Böll documentation ready

The Heinrich Böll Foundation has completed the documentation for an exciting conference which took place in June this year, Religion Revisited. You'll find also a link to the broader multi-year project Religion, Politics and Gender Equality. My personal impressions of the conference are recorded among my June postings (3 posts, starting from Feminism and Religion), which you'll find by clicking on "June" in the BLOG ARCHIVE at the left side of this page. It includes a reflection on the workshop Feminism and Religion, facilitated by Homa Hoodfar from Canada and Iran. And here's a video trailer for the conference: click here!

Sunday 15 November 2009

A rant against shenmeyisi

Any professional discipline comes with jargon. Jargon can make communication more precise and straightforward. For example, when you drop the word "AK47", most people interested in weapons will know precisely what you're talking about and there is no need to spend any further time on explaining what you mean. Unfortunately, jargon can also make communication less effective, especially with concepts that are open to multiple, divergent interpretations. Or when people don't bother translating jargon (which can indeed be difficult when you don't know exactly what you want or need to say, to start with...). That is a serious and widespread problem in the development sector.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

What GNP per what capita?

I am working on a background paper on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC has conducted its last census in 1984, very few births and deaths are formally recorded, public services are in shambles - which makes that no-one can really say how many people live in the country and how they are spread. Most of the country's economy (many sources say 90%) is classified as "informal" - people growing what they need for their subsistance, selling this and that on the market, trading goods and services, digging for gold. A large part of the trade of the rich mineral resources goes unrecorded: for example, most of the country's gold is reportedly smuggled to Uganda, whose gold exports are far superior to the amounts Uganda can produce. No-one has a clear idea of the money that changes hands in illegal arms trading - only that it must be a lot, given the abundance of small weapons in the DRC.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Milestones - or millstones around your neck?

People in development agencies like milestones - not the real life objects, but those imaginary markers which indicate that a project is progressing as planned - or not. Craftspeople, engineers, cooks and other people who work with tangible objects know what milestones they need to pass on the way to the finished product. Sometimes traditional ceremonies accompany the passing of such milestones - for example, in Germany people have a ceremony when they complete the roof structure of a house.

Friday 31 July 2009

NGO Capacity Building - Free Resources

Networklearning offers a host of links to free on-line resources about topics and techniques that are important for development NGOs - including in French, Arabic and Somali languages. I have not studied them in detail - discover for yourself on networklearning.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Technical Solutions to Social Problems?

"If only I had teeth down there" was the title of a public discussion organised by Terre des Femmes, a Berlin-based group specialised in women's rights (Monday 20). Sonnet Ehlers, the South African inventor of Rape-aXe, presented the prototype of her "anti-rape condom" for women. Rape-aXe does not prevent rape - it only makes penetration extremely short and painful for the perpetrator: rigid barbs drill into his skin and stay there. The device cannot be removed from the perpetrator's body without medical assistance. For a graphic explanation, consult the official site. Ms. Ehlers says Rape-aXe buys time - while the perpetrator recovers from the shock of finding his parts trapped inside the "condom", his victim may get away.

Monday 20 July 2009

Forum Theatre in Berlin

At the recent Gender is Happening one-week extravaganza by the Gunda Werner Institute in Berlin (Heinrich Böll Foundation - German blog here), Aki Krishnamurty facilitated three workshops which culminated in a public performance. For those who don't know Forum Theatre: it is a method for awareness-raising and social transformation developed by Augusto Boal as the Theatre of the Oppressed: click here for a page by the International Theatre of the Oppressed Organisation; there's also a comprehensive entry on Wikipedia. In a nutshell: professional or amateur actors perform a rehearsed play or a short sketch which demonstrates aspects of oppression relevant to the audience. In our Berlin example, Aki Krishnamurty and her workshop participants had agreed that sexual harrassment in public spaces was a good example for oppression linked to gender inequality.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Men's Forum

At today's instalment of Gender is Happening (with its German language site), two men from an informal group called Men's Forum (an inadequate rendering of the German name Forum Männer) animated a workshop recalling the history of the German men's movement, which emerged in the 1970's as a reaction to femiminist groups radically opposing co-operation with men.

Monday 6 July 2009

Gender is Happening

Love Me Gender is the motto of a one-week extravaganza at the Gunda Werner Institute, the feminist branch of Heinrich Boell Foundation in Berlin: a rich succession of events around gender identity, policies and practice... A (German language) blog informs about panel discussions, film projections and workshops - including queer poetry slams and a three-day crash course in drawing comics (Title: Any Tool is a Weapon if You Hold it Right). I have joined a group of volunteer blog reporters to produce my impressions in English here and, eventually, in German on the official site. Tonight, workshop on masculinities. To be continued - this blog is going to be devoted to Love Me Gender for the rest of the week.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

European Court ruling on domestic violence

Landmark Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)! On 9 June, Court members unanimously found that the State of Turkey had failed to fulfil its responsibility to protect the human rights of a woman whose violent husband had repeatedly attacked her and killed her mother. Remember the international law concept of due diligence, touched upon in my April 2009 posting? The Turkish government had failed to protect the applicant's human rights by allowing Turkish courts and police to maintain a laisser-faire attitude towards domestic violence. For full details, including a link to the complete judgement, try the international law blog IntLawGrrls! This judgement comes at a time when 47 European Ministers of Justice, united at a Council of Europe meeting in Norway, have formally committed themselves to take more effective measures against domestic violence. For information on that meeting, click here.

Tuesday 30 June 2009

A plea for quality in M&E

Like the previous entry, this post is -remotely- inspired by Philipp Mayring's handbook on qualitative content analysis (in German, 10th edition 2008). Mayring is a professor of psychology --- now don't run away! Psychology can teach us a lot about assessing fuzzy development processes.
As shown in the post below, any scientific analysis rests on qualitative steps which determine what is important, how the "what" should be measured, and how the measurements should be interpreted. These steps are taken by researchers, i.e. by common mortals. There is no absolute truth (leaving aside religious beliefs) - there are only theories. Even theories that come with figures are just theories, to be confirmed or refuted in subsequent rounds of research.

Friday 26 June 2009

Quantitative is qualitative, too...

Yesterday I read an advertisement for a body lotion scientifically proven* to better the skin of 80% of lotion users. The *footnote explained that, in a trial bringing together twenty women, 80% stated the lotion made their skin feel smoother. Does that sound scientific enough? In any case, it illustrates how you turn qualitative judgements (respondents' reported feelings) into "hard" figures, a procedure which as such is not "manipulative" but established scientific practice.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Direct democracy in Germany

At the tender age of 47 I discover that I can submit electronic petitions to my national parliament, or support existing protests against or suggestions for new laws. For Germans: Jede/r kann eine Petition beim Bundestag einreichen, bzw. bestehende öffentliche Petitionen unterstützen. Im Moment gibt es da 75, z.B. gegen die Besteuerung von Kondomen (wichtig gegen HIV/AIDS), zu Fragen des Arbeits-, Miet-, Sozial-, Steuer- und Verkehrsrechts und vielem mehr, was BürgerInnen im täglichen Leben beschäftigt. Politische Beteiligung auch zwischen den Wahlen. Hier ist die Petitionsseite - Registrieren dauert 3 Minuten.

Friday 19 June 2009

Count your shoes

Since 2000, the German development bank KfW has organised public panel discussions on globalisation. In its 50th instalment on 16 June, three Africans and two Europeans, one woman and four men, discussed the topic "development is the future". Dirk Messner, Director of the German Institute for Devlopment Policy (DIE) emphasised the need to address climate change; Simon Maxwell from the British Overseas Development Institue (ODI) called for Europeans to unite their efforts in a common development policy and enhanced coherence between development and other policies. Francis Appiah (African Peer Review Mechanism APRM) reiterated the appeal for better co-ordinated, multilateral approaches. He said government officials in Ghana spent about 300 days a year in donor meetings of all kinds... Norah Uwaraga, ED of a consultancy bureau, pointed to the potential benefits of carbon emissions trading to the lives of "ordinary" Africans.

Sunday 14 June 2009

IDB, IDP and other acronyms

Consult the Aid glossary of Development Initatives, a consultancy bureau. It does not offer much on social science concepts, but helpful explanations of terms and acronyms around multilateral institutions, financial aid and the jargon that comes with huge programmes. The terms "gender" or "gender mainstreaming" do not appear, but maybe that means that everybody has understood what that is about by now? Or have they been mainstreamed away...?

Sunday 7 June 2009

Feminism and Religion

Yesterday, at the Religion Revisited conference (scroll down for more posts on the topic), I joined the workshop Religious Feminists - Allies in the struggle for Women's Rights. What is special about "religious feminism" as compared to "secular feminism" - and does it matter what kind of feminist you are?

Secularism, Citizenship and Gender Equality the title of the opening lecture on Saturday at Religion Revisited (see post below) delivered by Deniz Kandiyoti from the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). She explains how the meaning and practice of both secularism and citizenship derive from specific historical contexts. Turkey and India serve as illustrations for secularisms in crisis. A telling example is the near-religious cult devoted in Turkey to great secularist Ataturk. Illiberal secularism may affect women's rights just as negatively as religious dogma... In India, the key national dilemma - finding an integrative narrative in a post-colonial society divided by religious and caste cleavages - has produced a pluralism that accentuates rather than weakens the role of religion in public life, because it is a political pluralism, says Kandiyoti, not a religious one.

Friday 5 June 2009

"Religion Revisited"

This is the title of an international conference at the Gunda Werner Institute (Böll Foundation) in Berlin, with the topic Women's Rights and the Political Instrumentalisation of Religion. The two-day event is part of the 11-country UNRISD research project Religion, Politics and Gender Equality, which will publish its final report in October 2009. Tonight, the opening panel brought together José Casanova (Sociology of Religion, Georgetown University, USA), Anne Phillips (Gender Institute and Government Department, London School of Economics, UK), Farida Shaheed (Shirkat Gah Resource Centre, Pakistan) and Agnieszka Graff (Warsaw University, Poland).

Wednesday 3 June 2009

R2P and women in conflict

The feminist Gunda Werner Institut (Böll Foundation, Berlin) convened an experts' meeting on 27 May on the Right to Protect (R2P), a fairly new concept in international law, and its implications on women. The bottom line: R2P is innovative in that it places human rights above State sovereignty, traditionally held inviolable in international law. But this political concept does not come with new enforcement mechanisms: it is still the UN Security Council that determines whether a State has proven incapable of protecting its citizens' human rights, in which case R2P can justify military intervention.

Monday 25 May 2009

Organisations in systems theory

Fritz B. Simon, psychiatrist-turned-management consultant (sic!) is a prolific author of highly legible books bringing together systems theory and real life practice. His Introduction to Organisational Systems Theory (my -slightly inaccurate- translation of the German title, Einführung in die systemische Organisationstheorie) is delightful to read, but so condensed that any attempt to summarise it would fail. I just want to share a couple of highlights...

Thursday 30 April 2009

"We Can" launched in the Netherlands

It's "We Can", tout court, not "yes we can": The We Can End All Violence against Women campaign has been launched in the Netherlands. Reaching beyond feminist circles, "We Can" attempts to make large numbers of women and men realise that the personal is political, and encourage them to undertake practical steps in their daily lives to end inequalities between the sexes and violence against women. People can take a pledge to become change makers on the campaign website (in Dutch), and download materials including the signature reproduced here. Don't speak Dutch? There is another informative site on "We Can" in the Northern hemisphere:, filled with material on the campaign in British Columbia, Canada. The campaign originated in South Asia:

Sunday 19 April 2009

Communication on Gender-Based Violence

Better late than never - just discovered a 2003 resource by UNIFEM: Making a Difference - Strategic Communications to End Violence against Women, available from the UNIFEM site. Apart from lots of practical advice, it includes this amazing story from Eastern Europe:

A billboard campaign in the Czech Republic for Nokia ‘hands free’ telephone accessories showed a man molesting a woman now that his hands were ‘free’ from holding the phone receiver. To protest the ad, the Prague Centre for Gender Studies collected electronic signatures via their website and presented them to the Czech Advertising Standards
Council, the Czech State Administration Office and the Finnish headquarters of Nokia. The letter to Finland stated that this kind of sexist advertising contradicts Nokia’s brand identity. Within 14 days of receiving the letter, the Finns withdrew the billboard.
Adapted from a story told by Lenka Simerska, Bratislava Strategic Communications Workshop, October 2001.

Sunday 12 April 2009

Literature on Gender-Based Violence

These days I have been
--> going through heaps of publications on violence against women (VAW), many of which you'll find via the Siyanda portal. A few highlights:

Monday 30 March 2009

Funding for Women's Groups (II)

Here's another helpful, if slightly dated (2006) source on fundraising for women's organisations, a WORD document you can download from Siyanda - click here. For plenty of publications on mainstreaming gender equality, rummage about in the Siyanda site; it's rich!
As I am writing this I stumble across an entire website for networking between women's funds, the Women's Funding Network. The site includes a directory of its members with links to websites; if you go through these carefully you may well identify potential donors.

Saturday 28 March 2009

The Listening Project

CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, best known for Do No Harm, its peace and conflict impact assessment tool, launched LISTEN in 2007. Under this initiative, the "receipients" of international aid, rather than its "providers", voice their views on international aid. Reports on listening exercises with wide ranges of informers in 13 countries can be downloaded from the CDA site. They are useful background information for appraisal or strategic planning exercises - and they remind us of the importance of seeking and keeping in contact with people beyond the microcosm of international aid systems.

Thursday 12 March 2009

Ring a bell, bang a pot, ask whether it's OK

Breaking the silence on violence may be taken literally these days. The Indian Bell Bajao campaign urges people to ring a bell when they witness violence against women. They can use a distinctive ding-dong for their mobile phone, downloadable from the Bell Bajao site. This reminds me of the South African soap opera Soul City, which has introduced a new form of community response to violence against women: pot-banging! A soul city episode shows neighbours leaving their homes and banging kitchen implements together to stop violence in the heroine's home. Apparently the practice has made its way into real life in South African townships. In a joint venture with the makers of these campaigns and a third edutainment specialist, Puntos de Encuentro, Oxfam Novib has documented using edutainment media for social change. Find it on the Oxfam KIC portal (URL below, link list).
Another new initiative against gender-based violence is consentissexy, a web-based project with students in South Africa. (I write it in one word because I don't want any anti-adult content filters to block my site!) The campaign may appear a tad too outspoken for very conservative societies, but its message is universal: in intimate relationships, no consent is not OK! And I find the design delightful, with its appealing, positive messages. The picture above is lifted from the campaign site.

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Talking about grids...

A few days ago I presented Mary B. Anderson's grid for analysing work on conflict. Another favourite four-square box is by the late anthropologist Mary Douglas and political scientist Aaron Wildavsky. It visualises Grid and Group Cultural Theory, which I find highly relevant to social development. I first came across this model in Douglas's polemic "Traditional culture - let's hear no more about it", delivered at a World Bank Symposium on "Poverty and Culture" (2002). Douglas rejects the idea of culture as a form of collective thinking which, in its "traditional culture" incarnation, is assumed to hamper development and rational economic behaviour. She points out that thinking is an individual act.

Saturday 7 March 2009

Reflecting on Peace Practice - an application

In early March, the German Welt friedens dienst (WFD or "World Peace Service") celebrated its 50th anniversary with an international conference in Berlin. Guest Mary B. Anderson, President of the Collaborative for Development Action (CDA), shared critical reflections on peace work and, in a workshop, demonstrated the importance of defining one's notion of peace and one's theory of change before engaging in such work. The CDA Reflecting on Peace Practice research into the work of some 200 NGOs suggests that effective peace work addresses all four quadrants of the grid above (from CDA's Confronting War, 2003). The grid is not a planning tool but can be used to screen ideas for activities that better flow from a rigorous conflict analysis.

Monday 2 March 2009

Perceived Equality

German is great for big words. Even simple things grow to importance: for example, the post office used to call phone books Fernsprechteilnehmerverzeichnis, i.e. "speaking-at-distance-participants'-directory". Clumsy but accurate.

Thanks to a grammar permitting near-boundless word fudging we can get amazingly precise and poetic. Today, reading up on a 2008 conference on 21st century feminisms, I have come across a beautiful term: Gleichheitswahrnehmung - "perception of equality", or "perceived equality". For those who don't read German, I'll call it GHW. In her summary of the conference, Katrin Bremer raises the issue of GHW among young women in Germany.

Friday 6 February 2009

Still travelling... in Ramallah, to facilitate the mid-term evaluation of a project on women's rights. Just arrived today; I haven't been to the West Bank since 2005 and am amazed by the amount of construction that must have taken place in recent years. I am in a new hotel in an entirely new neighbourhood. The cab has brought me straight to Ramallah, on roads I do not know or remember, through those tall walls that were not here before. I have no idea where I am. I hope to find out tomorrow. For anyone who knows their way around - here's the view from my room...

Sunday 18 January 2009

Greetings from Phnom Penh

...where I spend most of this month, head over heels in an evaluation with a major Cambodian human rights organisation. This is why there won't be any new postings before the end of the month. Warm greetings! (The Khmer statue of Liberty is from a hotel in Phnom Penh...)