Women may represent up to 70% of the world’s poor (www.unifem.org) so promoting gender equality is a focus of much development work. Global Goal 5 is ‘Gender Equality’. Activities to achieve gender equality are many, from increasing girls’ school enrolments to helping women set up their own businesses. But equality and empowerment are not simple ideas, easy to achieve and measure. This article explores some key ideas of gender and development and how it can be integrated into projects. To download a printable version of this page, click here.
Gender or sex?
Sex simply means the biological differences between males and females. Gender, however, refers to what society considers ‘normal’ for girls and boys; men and women. Gender determines what is socially expected, allowed and valued and changes depending on time and context. In most societies, there are gender differences and inequalities in responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to or control over resources, the freedom to move around in public as well as decision-making opportunities.
Gender relations, then, are characterised by unequal power. Gender norms assign specific entitlements and responsibilities to men and women, for example, ‘housewife’ and ‘breadwinner’. Challenging inequalities, then, involves challenging the norms of societies.
Moving from ‘Women in Development’ to ‘Gender in Development’
In the 1970s, there were campaigns for women to be more involved in development. Modernisation had different impacts on men and women – it was argued that women were either bypassed or even ‘losers’ of modernisation. The campaign had some success in getting women involved in development. But this movement focused on women’s access to development processes – it didn’t challenge the reasons for the lack of access.
A Gender and Development approach is concerned with the socially constructed differences between men and women (rather than biological differences). It seeks to challenge existing gender roles and relations.
A Women in Development approach tends to focus on meeting women’s needs within their gender roles. For example, providing support for women to look after the family. A Gender and Development approach focuses on empowering people (women and men) to challenge these roles. For example, securing women’s land rights or campaigning to reduce domestic violence.
Gender mainstreaming means that gender issues should be considered in all development policies and practices. For example, the economic policies during the recession have had different impacts on men and women, even though they are considered neutral.
There has been criticism that gender mainstreaming focuses too much on women which can alienate men, and neglect their multiple roles and issues. It’s also difficult to achieve change for women (or men) without some cooperation from the other gender.
In practice, mainstreaming means looking at all kinds of policies, projects, ideas, etc. and finding out how they might impact differently on men and women; then making changes based on what has been discovered. It also means monitoring is disaggregated based on gender so that it’s possible to keep an eye on different effects on men and women. For example, a project to encourage enrolment in secondary school would measure new male and female enrolments, rather than enrolments overall.
Gender and your projects
A starting point for including gender in your project is to consider your own relationship with gender. How has gender had an impact on you and the opportunities you’ve had? It also involves thinking about the different life cycle stages. For example, there are several projects sponsoring children through school, but what about ensuring there are employment opportunities after completing education? In another example, livelihood schemes aimed at women do not always consider the impact on their children. A gender impact assessment on policies and practice aims to examine these kinds of issues, and how to redirect these so they work towards equality.
A complex issue
Gender inclusion is a complex and controversial issue. Men and women are not homogenous groups to be lumped together, but have multiple roles. There are also important power considerations. Working with either group can challenge power balances with unexpected consequences. For example, one micro finance project aimed to empower women by providing start-up funding. One of the results – more domestic violence against women because husbands felt their traditional roles were being challenged. With this in mind, here are some questions to consider:
- Does your organisation challenge gender roles or help women within their traditional roles?
- Do you collect gender disaggregated statistics to monitor your policies, projects etc.?
- Do you consider the impact of challenging power relationships?