Strategies for Promoting Gender Equity in Developing Countries:
Lessons, Challenges and Opportunities
By James Achanyi-Fontem, Director of Publication, Cameroon Link,
Gender Equality Situation Analysis
Women are key to the development challenge. Throughout the developing world, women are at a disadvantage at household, community and societal levels. Within the household, women have less access to and control over resources and limited influence over household decisions. Beyond the household, women have limited access to communal resources, are under-represented in public decision-making bodies; have limited bargaining power in markets and often lack opportunities to improve their socioeconomic position. Therefore, efforts to reduce gender inequality are required on multiple fronts.
Gender mainstreaming has been associated with more failures than successes. While there have been some positive gains to gender equity in the thirteen years since the adoption of the Beijing platform of action, a number of factors - including the challenging policy environment within which gender mainstreaming processes operate, inadequate resources allocated to this work, institutional features that have blocked change, and the way in which gender mainstreaming processes have been implemented contributed to the overall failure of gender mainstreaming,
While advocates of gender mainstreaming envisioned both institutional and social transformation, in practice, bureaucracies have not proven to be effective agents of social transformation, Gender equity should be pursued in creative ways through the elimination ongoing feminization of poverty in the global economy as women workers constitute the driving labour behind export production and rural-urban migration.
The next step will be the scaling up of transformative programming to create a larger global movement, involving non-governmental, multi-lateral bodies, and donors, in order to create a forum for sharing knowledge of male-oriented programming and gender equality. Several remaining challenges include extreme poverty, lack of interest in fighting for gender equality, and bureaucratic hurdles to participating in the political process.
A larger conceptual frame work is needed, which links empowerment, rights and mainstreaming in all social spaces in order to advance the discourse on gender relations and achieve greater gender equality. Considering the realities of women’s , men’s and children’s daily lives in a developing country context, where gender relations are influenced by poverty, insecurity, impunity and patriarchy is also important.
Setting the context
The evolution of the main approaches to confront gender inequality is similar when women in development (WID) with gender and development (GAD) are compared, especially as each approach arose in a different historical context. How development strategies in general and strategies to promote gender equality in particular have evolved depend very much on the limitations and opportunities available at different points in time.
At one time, there was a desire among development practitioners to find a different model for promoting gender equity that encompass a broader, more multicultural approach and one that took men into account. At the same time from 1975 to 1985, women’s organizational capacity around the globe had increased dramatically, bringing a new set of voices from the developing world into the debate. Women’s groups developed their own projects, and were backed by various international donor agencies, including many private foundations. This explains how GAD came about as women’s activism was becoming an international force in response to a very different set of challenges and opportunities.
The projects and programs initiated under the GAD label were not all that different from earlier WID efforts. Women-specific projects usually seen as WID inspired, remained following the shift to GAD, in part because many cultures separate women’s and men’s activities. Gender mainstreaming was promoted as likely to be much more effective than the women-specific projects and WID offices associated with the WID approach.
Some advocates felt that mainstreaming could marginalize women’s programs and that disbanding gender units within donor agencies risked losing the ability to keep a focus on gender within aid bureaucracies. Moving beyond the WID-GAD enabled advocates to devise creative ways to promote gender equity, instead of simply responding to current trends.
Whether private firms can be influenced by gender equity considerations depends on local contexts and the particular role of civil society organizations and increasingly gender-sensitive legal systems. Unfortunately, civil society organizations are no longer perceived as representing grassroots energies.
In the major trend, it is believed that the new emphasis on climate change may create opportunities for environmental feminism to advance, while third trend has been the shift from the redistribution politics to identity politics, which has caused academic feminists, pays less attention to equality.
Grounded in feminist theoretical frameworks and intended to make mainstream institutions agents of social change, gender mainstreaming, refers to a wide set of strategies and processes. The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) defines gender mainstreaming as the process of accessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs in any areas and at all levels. The strategies of making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the policies and programs in all political, economical and societal spheres, so that men and women benefit equally, but that the goal of gender mainstreaming is gender equality.
Gender mainstreaming is neither a clear agenda for institutional transformation nor a clear agenda for gender transformation and social change. In practice, gender mainstreaming has often involved adopting a gender policy, creating a gender unit to work on organizational programs, mandatory gender training and increasing the number of women staff and managers. In the worst case, gender mainstreaming has been used to stop funding for women’s empowerment work, and to dismantle many of the institutional mechanisms such as women’s units and advisors created to promote women in development in the name of integration.
In some regions like Africa, women have made striking gains in elections to local and national government bodies, as well as in entering public institutions. Girls’ access to primary education has improved and women are increasingly entering the labour force. Access to contraception has also become much more widespread and violence against women has been recognized as a human rights issue and has been made a crime in many countries.
Decreased government spending on social sectors, tightened macroeconomic and fiscal policies, privatization of state owned enterprises and basic services, and liberalized trade are some aspects of the policy environment that have had harmful effects on women. Government reform efforts have focused on administrative and fiscal reforms while neglecting to consider ways in which institutions can better support poor women and address accountability failures. With regard to resources, investment in women has been the lowest priority.
In terms of implementation, gender mainstreaming efforts such as gender training, organizational development efforts and planning for gender equality often have no clear connection to change that is meant to occur on the ground. Until now, strategies to promote gender have accommodated to institutional cultures and agendas, which are uneasy with notions of social transformation.
Some instrumentalized strategies are gender equality objectives broken down into advocacy for girls’ education due to the link with fertility reduction and micro-credit schemes targeted towards women due to the high development payoff. During the execution these programs, the fundamental feminist vision of social transformation is not very clear. It is necessary that gender advocates should frame mainstreaming objectives in practical terms in consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of particular kinds of bureaucracies. Another challenge is measuring progress. Tracking relative contributions to different goals within the same project is difficult, and it requires social impact analysis during the design phase of the project and sophisticated tracking mechanisms and gender disaggregated data to examine program impact. The way forward is to get a range of diverse strategies all termed gender mainstreaming including policy reform, advocacy, capacity building, analytical frameworks, and program development and monitoring systems to be disaggregated and analyzed in terms of their particular gains and failures. This would facilitate strategic thinking about what particular institutions are well positioned to accomplish and what they can be held accountable for. Civil society including women’s organizations and networks should be motivated to work for change, if commitments have to be achieved.
New Avenues for Change
The global economy has produced not only the feminization of poverty, but the “feminization of working poverty“. Though more women participate in today’s workforce, the great majority occupies low-status jobs and is unable to lift themselves out of poverty. More women take jobs in the informal economy that lacks job security, benefits or protection. Around the globe, women are working in export processing sites, as domestic workers, as street vendors or as suppliers at the bottom of a multinational supply chain.
With this situation, grassroots strategies are needed to address problems related to the fact that women are used as a source of cheap labour as part of an economic development strategy, while labour standards around the world are declining. International migration is another economic development strategy that has implications for women. Offering cheap labour as an anti-poverty strategy is insufficient to generate economic growth.
Women often leave their families to become domestic workers abroad, leading to the breakdown of the family and other social problems. International migration can also be detrimental for the women who migrate. This can be addressed by encouraging them to become part of the labour movement, because this allows women workers to monitor the conditions of their own workplaces and make sure people are being treated fairly.
Global networks give women more power to negotiate contracts with their employers. It is important to include men when addressing concerns of women in the global labour markets. In particular, men can play an important role in addressing the sexual exploitation of women. Truck drivers in Cameroon are taught about HIV/AIDS in conjunction with groups like the Women’s Gender Empowerment Councils in Bonaberi-Douala. These truck drivers drive across the Chad and Central Africa Republic borders, have different sexual partners or engage in other risky behaviour.
An alternative solution is the engagement of men around issues of reproductive health and gender equality. Men as Partners (MAP) works as increase men’s awareness of reproductive health issues and increase men’s support for their partner’s reproductive health decision. This can also stimulate men to take active stand for gender equality and against gender=based violence.
This is because there is a clear mandate around the need to work with men and boys to achieve gender equality that has been recognized by numerous international conferences and declarations and supported by women’s organisations and the women’s movement. One of the main driving factors of this mandate is the recognition of how gender inequalities fuel the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Men are conceived of in some positive ways as financially independent, providers, husbands and fathers, but there are also negative and harmful messages about what it means to be a man. These include withholding emotions, exerting power, using violence, not asking for help, having multiple sexual partners, risking taking, substance abuse, violence, misogyny and homophobia.
Increased political, economic and religious fundamentalism has lead to the development of rigid norms of expected male and female behaviour. The concept of working with men and boys is to question some of the more detrimental constructs of masculinity and explore alternative attitudes and actions.
Men with more traditional concepts of masculinity are shown to be more likely to report physical violence towards female partners, to be involved in delinquency, to have a higher number of sexual partners, to experience sexually transmitted infections and to use and abuse alcohol and drug.
However, these traditional and harmful constructs of masculinity can be challenged and replaced with alternative models, which promote equality and lead to improvements in health for both men and women.
Another angle is the gender-neutral programming, which is common in large-scale HIV prevention programs. These programs promote HIV prevention, but unfortunately make no room for a discussion of how abstinence, monogamy and safe sex are experienced differently by men and women and the realities of men and women’s lives in a cultural context.
On the other hand, gender-sensitive programming, takes into account that men and women have different realities and that different strategies are often required reaching men and women. Gender-sensitive programming often includes design features that make services more male-friendly.
Transformative programming takes on negative societal messages about what it means to be male and female, and challenges those in an attempt to create a more equitable society, which supports healthier behaviours in the future. Challenging the direct cause of gender inequality, harmful gender socialization, makes it possible to address the spectrum of health issues, including gender-based violence, HIV, reproductive health, family planning, men’s role in maternal health, issues of fatherhood and care-giving, and issues of violence.
MAP’s programs consistently ask men to talk about equitable relationships and men’s role in promoting gender equality and challenge men to create a new masculinity that involves taking a stand against gender based violence in the community. Most programs have focused on reaching out to men individually or in small, intensive group settings, forcing them to consider what it means to be male and how notions of masculinity may have a negative impact on their societies. These strategies have been successful in changing individual attitudes, knowledge and behaviours and the next step would be to expand to the societal level, where there can be a greater, more sustainable impact on gender socialization.
Transformative programs on gender equality should move beyond the workshop approach to support men when they return to a patriarchal society where there is often not sufficient support for new concepts and constructions of masculinity. Community action teams led by men who have been through the workshops should be put in place to go out and communicate and engage in community activism around gender issues.
A clear challenge of taking this work to scale is building the capacity of organizations and social institutions in order tom attain sustainability. Individuals must confront their own issues concerning gender and identity before they can challenge the broader social situation. This requires significant time, effort and support.
Gender programming at the health level is focused on improving the quality of services and making them more accessible to men. This requires large scale media campaigns and new or reformed policies and legislation. The public sector should be engaged with increased funding to promote gender equality.
It is through the involvement of the public sector that more work will be done to address the broad socioeconomic conditions that can influence men and their behaviours. If men are unable to provide for their families, they may feel disempowered in their role as men and resort to some of the more harmful constructs of masculinity, which include dominance over women, use of violence and risk-taking behaviours.
Many men who have gone through critical reflections of gender have come out on the other side espousing more gender progressive attitudes, and engaging in more protective behaviours. Networks that bring together various organizations, such as non governmental, multi-lateral bodies, and donors create a forum for sharing knowledge of male-oriented programming and gender equality.
Action plans should be conceived which incorporate elements like women’s empowerment, strengthening productive capacity of women and supporting women’s psychological, social and reproductive health. These efforts get women feel more encouraged to speak and voice their opinions.
Previously, women were engaged in domestic activities, which were unremunerated. Women’s productive activities have generated new sources of income, which have increased women’s economic autonomy. Cameroon Link has trained women to speak out against domestic violence and assisted women who suffered from abuse.
Before this training, women were less interested in the politics of the community than in having their basic needs met. Only after women’s basic needs are addressed does the organization introduce other themes such as community participation. Productive activities of women are done with respect to the cultural identity of Cameroon, which is Africa in miniature, drawing on indigenous knowledge.
The Way Forward Gender Equality Promotion
The way forward is to work out a larger conceptual frame that includes empowerment, rights and mainstreaming in all social spaces, putting into consideration the realities of women’s, men’s and children’s daily lives. It should be noted that, in the developing country context like Cameroon, gender relations are influenced by poverty, insecurity, impunity and patriarchy. As such, achieving gender equity requires a stronger and diverse but unified voice for change; greater accountability and increased, targeted resources.
Currently, the accountability framework consists of several agreements at the global level, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the Beijing Platform for Action, the Millennium Development Goals and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Other the other hand, gender equality is not just related to human rights, but also women’s empowerment and specific measures are needed to respond to existing inequality and to champion the empowerment of women in order to increase women’s opportunities and capabilities. Women’s empowerment also requires mainstreaming the gender equality agenda in institutions and processes in a way that transforms social values that have sustained gender inequality.
This tends to separate development issues from concerns over investment, foreign policy and security. Current development approaches are increasingly top-down, focusing on policies, institutions, and processes, without an adequate focus on community empowerment and social movements and as such do not have a large impact on people’s everyday lives. The centralization of power and resources has negative implications with respect to gender equality, because in the parliament, government cabinet, chief courts or among elders of the clan, where power is defined and decisions are made, there is a dearth of women’s participation.
Limited access to resources
Gender equality requires equal access to services and infrastructure such as roads, electricity, water, and communication tools. Without access to such resources, women with tremendous knowledge and skills, expertise and passion are not given an outlet to use their knowledge and skills, keeping them at a disadvantage. Technological tools enable women to use their time, energy and expertise more efficiently.
Poverty, Violence, Disease & Patriarchy
Gender equality cannot be achieved as long as women live in insecure environments, whether due to an abusive partner, militia or a threatening neighbour. It is important that development practitioners should shift focus from poverty reduction to wealth creation. By focusing on poverty reduction, women are viewed as subjects of poverty rather than as producers and generators of wealth. Women’s arts and crafts should be adequately valued as a reflection of their knowledge and skill.
The governments should offer support to women for their role as caregivers and nurturer, rather than treating them as subsidy providers for basic social services such as health. All women, whether rich, poor, working or housewives should participate in decision making spaces, academic and research institutions, advocacy and public awareness initiatives, political debates, the private sector and within households as a collective voice for change.
The voice of leadership at international and national level is also needed to call for greater investment in gender equality and women’s empowerment. Advocates of gender equality must seek greater accountability through legislative and policy strengthening; reform and harmonization, resources and an end to impunity; political governance and greater private sector investment and responsibility.
More public resources are needed to make strategies to promote gender equality successful. Mobilizing greater resources for gender equality requires a system of taxation that does not overburden the poor and gender-responsive budgeting. From all that has been said, it is understood that the fight for greater gender equality is strong and women simply need proper mechanisms for financing their initiatives for equality and rights.