We often tend to remember and pride ourselves on our great gender mainstreaming victories and forget our losses or missed opportunities, understandably. Despite great progress throughout the Latin American and Caribbean region, thousands of development projects ranging from agriculture to science and technology are prepared every year by public, private, nonprofit and multilateral entities with NO gender considerations; not to mention the intersectionality of gender and disability, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
Simply put, gender mainstreaming is a process, which culminates in gender equality results. It is successful when team leaders, gender and safeguard specialists or team members actively engage in promoting gender equality throughout the project cycle, independent of its main goals. This includes ensuring that men and women equitably benefit from the project’s positive impacts, but also importantly closing existing gender gaps in that sector.
So, this week, while taking stock of what I could have done better in my own projects and in the countless meetings I attended to help prepare loan operations, grants and research, I realized the importance of everyone reflecting on more effective ways to achieve gender equality results.
Here are five key things that we all could do to avoid missing a gender mainstreaming opportunity:
- Develop your knowledge of existing gender gaps. By informing yourself, I mean assessing where the gender gaps are and their likely causes. I once heard from a client that girls were better off than boys, because there were more girls than boys enrolled in basic education, only to find out, after carefully looking at the data, that there were disproportionally more girls repeating grades than boys in certain locations. This highlights the importance of identifying and responding to existing myths by backing up your arguments with data. However, proving that there is a problem might still not be enough to convince some skeptics. This should not discourage you. Focus on strengthening the case to demonstrate that solving the issue at stake contributes to advancing broader institutional, national or international development goals. Take advantage of existing data in platforms and specialized publications such as Numbers for Development, Data2x, CEPAL Statistics, Gender Parity Reports, UN Gender Statistics and the Gender Data Portal, just to name a few.
- Map solutions and promising interventions to resolve gender gaps. Disaggregating beneficiaries by sex IS NOT a solution for closing gender gaps. When proposing solutions, move the needle by addressing the problem’s root causes. You can do a mapping of interventions beforehand or, if on a shoestring, make use of databases of practices, compendiums and systematic reviews such as Crime-Solutions, Lancet Series on Violence Against Women and Girls, specialized toolkits on violence against women, A Roadmap for Women’s Economic Empowerment, J-PAL, World Bank, IADB Gender Resources and International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie). If you do not find an impact evaluation, propose pilots and experimental evaluations, thus contributing to the body of knowledge we all need. Do not forget to look for what nonprofits and academics at local universities are doing, as well as identifying local community leaders as they are your greatest allies and experts on the topic.
- Speak up at meetings with decision-makers about existing gaps and possible solutions. Sometimes a simple introduction of the topic can instigate interest from decision-makers, but sometimes you can face resistance. In the event you do, request for the opportunity to present the value gender equality can bring in a follow-up meeting. Be ready to respond to the myths, explain existing gaps and propose possible solutions. There is much to learn on how to make the case and present your ideas from the policy briefs produced for the 2018 W20 Summit, the official summit of the international network of women leaders of the G20.
- Find out how much it will cost to implement your idea. If you do not have complete information on the costs of the specific intervention, start by having an idea of the size of the population of potential beneficiaries in the area of influence and look at the costs of similar projects in your country of interest. The Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank both have all their approved project documents publicly available with some information on costs. It will not be accurate, but you will be able to distinguish the costs of training 1,000 women community leaders (curricula, trainers, logistics) from the costs of designing and implementing a national survey on violence against women, for example.
- Follow-up your brilliant idea by helping your team to implement it. Be a good team member and do not leave the work to others. You had the great idea, now roll up your sleeves. You will have a lot of work to do once decision-makers have agreed to address gender inequality. There will be a need for drafting detailed project proposals, undertaking research, constantly checking the project’s vertical logic, doing feasibility studies, identifying results indicators, developing the monitoring and evaluation plan, adjusting or finetuning costs and procurement plans, drafting terms of references and tenders among many others. In all these tasks, you need to mainstream gender.
At last, do not get discouraged when you hear that even if you do everything right, there is still a chance that you might not see gender incorporated in your project. Tight budgets and deadlines are real. As well as a bit of laziness and the law of minimum effort behind the old pretext that it is just too complicated. Machismo, racism, homophobia and misogyny are all real too and can be forces at play in preventing progress to this date, unfortunately. Nonetheless, get ready, be optimist, be prepared, roll up your sleeves, be bold and be brave. No one has said that changing the world was easy!