Our “biggest frustrations” in building gender sensitive programs

Yesterday was International Women’s Day—a moment for intense reflection for development workers. Thinking hard about gender forces us to think hard about good development: when we force ourselves to confront the many related needs, wants and perspectives of women and girls, we also force ourselves to confront where our standard development toolkit often comes up short in serving those same needs, wants and perspectives.

Locus is committed to building a better development toolkit, so that people and communities can take more control over their own development, and pursue the integrated approaches they need and want. So we thought IWD was a good time to ask our community, “What is the biggest frustration you’ve faced trying to design/implement gender sensitive programming?” Here are highlights of what we heard:

Photo credit: amenclinicsphotos ac

Good gender programming depends on building the right partnerships:

  • “I always find it frustrating when we try to prioritize gender equality or women’s empowerment, but without the appropriate partners in place. . . It is one thing to engage a very local, 100-person women’s organization that understands the local context, but is not going to be able to help design and implement the overall project. It is a very different thing to partner with a national or regional women’s rights organization that understands the systems at work, has connections to multiple key stakeholders, and has the capacity to advocate for change. It is these types of significant partnerships – with women’s and gender equality organizations receiving bigger pieces of the pie – that are needed in order to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment goals are met.”

Donors don’t place enough value on gender expertise—and often aren’t willing to invest in it:

  • “Gender specialists cost money that often organizations cannot afford to spend if covered by overhead. They can’t justify the cost because gender specialists often are not needed to win awards. Most RFPs and proposals don’t seem to be written with strong oversight from gender specialists (not just input) and don’t seem to require gender mainstreaming . . . Practically speaking, at the end of the day, we have to go where the money is to stay alive and the money doesn’t yet seem to be with gender equity/equality/mainstreaming.”
  • “Sometimes there is a disconnect between the strong intention of implementing gender sensitive programming and the resources (time and budget) provided. Ideally, the intention (and resources) are clear from the first day of planning, but more often than not, I’ve found myself trying to retro-fit a gender lens into existing projects. Unfortunately, this means unplanned expenses. For small NGOs, supplying the budget to hire a gender specialist, for example, is not always possible.”

But implementers don’t always prioritize or invest in gender, either:

  • “In one organization, our self-appointed (senior leadership-approved!) “Gender Team” dismantled after realizing we simply didn’t have the bandwidth to take on our intended activities without an official mandate from the leadership; who, as it turns out, only saw us as a volunteer awareness raising group.”

Attracting and retaining a gender-diverse staff—and enabling their success—is a significant challenge:

  • “Achieving gender equality in staffing is not only a matter of hiring – it’s a matter of ensuring a safe and supportive environment. In offices that is do-able with committed effort – in the field is requires a far greater commitment and often a total re-design of programming. It is not a matter of empowering women to survive in a dangerous, male-dominated world — it is matter of transforming at least enough of that world for women staff to succeed.”

What thoughts do YOU have?  Please contribute to our conversation!