Friday 4 January 2013

5 reasons why gender mainstreaming remains important

Gender mainstreaming and work to end violence against women (VAW) have been on development agencies' agendas for decades. Why are they still important? Some of us feel that "everyone" in development and human rights organisations are well aware of the issues. But the truth is that in organisations without any explicit focus on gender equality or gender justice, the levels of awareness for gender-based discrimination (and the need to end it) tend to be uneven. Efforts to promote gender equality remain limited and often isolated. Some would prefer to drop "gender" altogether, busy as they feel with all those other issues that must be "mainstreamed" - good governance, environmental protection, HIV/AIDS prevention, "you name it!"
But there are at least five reasons why "gender mainstreaming" must continue:
  1. Organisations that are committed to universal human rights have a responsibility to ensure their work respects and promotes human rights. Women’s rights are human rights, enshrined in widely accepted international treaties as the the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979). Any rights-based approach that neglects women's and girls' rights is inadequate.
  2. International movements and campaigns rally large numbers of people. Women and girls make up the majority of the world population (although in India and China, sex-selective abortion and infanticide are skewing sex ratios towards boys). Opportunities are likely to be missed and mistakes will be made if planners, implementers and evaluators ignore women's interests and needs, and refrain from engaging women as interlocutors, collaborators and allies.
  3. Many development and human rights agencies are into education and campaigning - i.e., they attempt to spread ideas around, and to mobilise others to join them in their cause. The messages they convey, implicitly or explicitly, influence people's minds: research has shown that campaigning can reinforce or weaken people's value systems - broadly speaking, what they consider to be "good" or "bad", "right" or "wrong". (See for example the report Common Cause - The Case for Working with our Cultural Values. I'll summarise it in a future post!) Hence, it is important to avoid reinforcing values that condone discrimination and other violations against women which would be in stark contradiction with the development and human rights goals most of us defend.
  4. Gender-based violence is not only one of the most pervasive human rights violations, it also jeopardises development. For example, large numbers of women and girls (as well as a smaller proportion of men and boys) have experienced sexual extortion in schools, health services and police stations, with dire consequences for their physical well-being, their mental health and their social status. Getting girls to school is right, but if they risk their lives because teachers and classmates are likely to abuse them, something is deeply wrong. Gender-blindness (sometimes euphemistically called "gender neutrality") helps to turn a blind eye on the bleak situation that an estimated one-third of the world's women face.
  5. In terms of efficiency, any organisation has an interest in ensuring that staff members and volunteers enjoy equal opportunities to unfold their full potential at work, regardless of their sex (and of the size and form of their households)
These are the main reasons that have come to my mind. Feel free to add more by using the comments function below!
PS: 2012 was my "gender year": I carried out several consultancies linked to mainstreaming gender into evaluations, into development programmes, and into the life of organisations without any particular focus on women's rights. In addition, I wrote a guide for Oxfam International on mainstreaming one aspect of its efforts for gender justice: its commitment to end violence against women (VAW). (Download its English version here; translations are in progress.)