Listening to local voices on gender (Spring 2019)

[Individual articles from the Spring 2019 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Over the last few decades, the importance of considering gender dynamics in specific contexts when planning development and humanitarian responses has become a topic of increased attention among both governmental and non-governmental actors. Heightened emphasis on women’s participation in humanitarian and development initiatives has resulted in the inclusion of gender-specific development goals set by the United Nations for both short-term and long-term development and in a push for “gender mainstreaming,” or the use of gender analysis at all levels of policy and program development. The gender mainstreaming approach calls on humanitarian and development agencies to take gender into consideration in the design, implementation and ongoing monitoring and evaluation of their work. Some fear, however, that, as they push to mainstream gender across their programs, development and humanitarian actors are imposing an external, neocolonial agenda that fails to appreciate the cultural dynamics within the communities in which they work.

Such critiques have some validity. That said, significant work is being done by local actors at the community-based level on gender issues, work that takes cultural dynamics into account and is too often inadequately recognized. These local voices also call for consideration of gender issues, but gender issues as they understand them. Development and humanitarian actors, we argue, must pay attention to these local voices and perspectives on gender. Organizations such as MCC must ask ourselves: How do we affirm our partners’ agency and leadership in identifying contextually-meaningful ways to work for gender equality, thus avoiding a top-down, patronizing approach of ‘empowering women’? How do we support local voices and initiatives for gender equality as they work to create lasting change in their communities?

Too often, efforts to mainstream gender across development and humanitarian programs have focused on what we would like to achieve, rather than the more challenging and important process of how we achieve these goals in a way that can be sustainable and transformative. As the following articles from MCC, partner and peer organization staff from Kenya, Lebanon, El Salvador, New York, Senegal and Cambodia highlight, locally-oriented listening processes are key to transformative change. Though these articles vary in focus, all reflect the importance of working for gender equality in culturally-sensitive ways. Authors also recognize the necessity of moving beyond the imperative but basic step of incorporating women in relief, development and peacebuilding efforts towards an emphasis on the equitable treatment of women, men, boys and girls. While the broader push toward gender mainstreaming may have wide support from powerful actors, these articles demonstrate that more deeply transformative change requires listening well to how local voices define and demand change around gender dynamics and relations at the community-based level.

Annie Loewen is an MCC humanitarian response and disaster recovery coordinator, based in Winnipeg. Martha Kimmel is an MCC learning and evaluation coordinator, working in Akron, Pennsylvania.

Learn More

Bradshaw, Sarah. Gender, Development and Disasters. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc. 2013.

Cornwall, Andrea, and Jenny Edwards. “Introduction: Beijing +20—Where Now for Gender Equality?” IDS Bulletin, 46/4 (2015): 1-8.

Eyben, Rosalind. “Gender Mainstreaming, Organizational Change, and the Politics of
Influencing.” Feminists in Development Organizations:Change from the Margins. Ed. R. Eyben and L. Turquet, 15-36. Rugby, UK: Practical Action Publishing. 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s