The paradoxical role of families in women and girls health in slums

09/07/2014

Pauline OosterhoffPauline profile

One of the things that strikes one most clearly in working in the slums in Kenya is that, as in many developing countries, the state is barely present in most people’s lives. For the women my colleague Emily Kahega Igonya and I encountered in Nairobi’s slums last week, the government was inactive while they were sold by their sisters or brothers-in-law, tricked into unpaid work with false promises of education, and kicked out of their parental homes as orphans.

Yet Kenya’s recent constitutional reforms are based on the idea that devolution, handing off central government responsibilities to municipalities, can solve people’s problems by bringing government closer to their lives. This seems doubtful, given that for most of the women in slums we talked to, it is family and friends, not the state, that provides them with support. It made us wonder how and to what extent state policies can interfere in dysfunctional families, when it is the family that provides for the services that dysfunctional states fail to provide.

The impact of the new Kenyan constitution on health outcomes

According to the new Kenyan constitution introduced in May 2010, all Kenyans have the right to the highest attainable standard of health. To realise access to health, the constitutional reforms prescribe “devolution”, a transfer of responsibility from the national government to the counties. Devolution should bring the government closer to the people.

Last week Emily and I examined the effects of Kenya’s constitutional reforms on access to HIV and AIDS services for women and girls in Nairobi slums. We worked with HIV-positive women, all young mothers, on digital storytelling to inform policy makers of the effects of these national policies on their health. All women described betrayal in their families –often by other women- that exposed them to HIV, violence, and destitution. Yet it is their sense of family –even if it is just their own children – that allows them to survive in the absence of a functioning state.

When Larissa, a widow with two children, completed primary school in a village, her mother was no longer able to pay for her school fees. She called her elder sister in Nairobi, who offered to pay for her education. Upon arrival in Nairobi, however, her sister told her that she would only pay for school fees if Larissa agreed to marry her husband as his second wife. When she refused, her sister’s husband presented Larissa with a widower with two children who would marry her and pay her school fees if she were to take care of him and his children. She ran away and met a man with a job in a restaurant who paid her school fees and married her. Shortly after the delivery of her second child, he fell ill with AIDS. He encouraged her to seek treatment from international donors but he denied that he was HIV positive to her until the very end. She has now been inherited by his younger brother. He takes good care of her, and she is pregnant with his child. Who is failing women like her?

The implementation of the devolution of health services began last year, with the election of governors and county principals, but it has barely affected these women. For sex workers -some of whom have been involved in sex work since their early teens – the effect on their health has been clearly negative. Municipalities interpret and enforce laws on sex work more harshly than the central authorities did, chasing women off the streets and detaining them. Police detention makes it harder for them to take their AIDS medicines. Sex workers reported having to stop their medication completely, or change to herbal medication. In their perception, devolution means that “law enforcement can now use their cars freely to extort more bribes from us later at night.”

Sex work, the family and state support

For sex workers, other sex workers and community-based organizations are the main form of support after their own family failed. Rose, a young mother, was taken in by older sex workers when she was orphaned at the age of 15 and rejected by her family. She has worked as a sex worker ever since. Sarah’s mother decided that her job was done after her daughter finished primary school. Sarah decided to go to Nairobi to live with her aunt, who could not pay for all her expenses. She had to look for money herself, and at the age of fourteen she found herself on the streets as a sex worker. When her aunt guessed how she made her money, she threw her out, leaving her at the mercy of different men who took her in until they were bored or she became pregnant. Linda finished high school and went to college, hoping to become a secretary. She came to Nairobi to look for work and live with her uncle. He had no money to pay for her. The only people who were willing to help her find a job and a home were bargirls who moonlighted as sex workers.

Women we spoke with –no matter how poor- had done their best to avoid the state health services for years. As Lucy, a young widowed mother of two, explains, “there is no confidentiality, the lines are long and the hours are short, and everyone can see you.” Instead, they obtain AIDS medicines through internationally funded and managed services like MSF and CDC. Kenyan community-based organizations, like HAKI and COTANET, help women to organise themselves and establish their own peer support systems. But for housing, food and other essentials, it is their own family they rely on first. And when that system fails- without any safety net offered by the state, charities or INGO’s – women are exposed to many risks, including HIV. Policies that aim to support the right to health of women and girls in slums need to recognize the central roles of families in responding to governmental irresponsibility.

All names in this article are fictional to protect the identity of the women.

Pauline Oosterhoff is a Research Fellow for the Participation, Power and Social Change (PPSC) team at IDS. She can be found on Twitter as: @PPJOosterhoff

Previous blog posts by Pauline Oosterhoff:


Participatory Action Learning on Gender Mainstreaming in Kenya – Reflections from the Field

02/07/2014

By Patricia Njoroge

A little while ago, Robert Chambers blogged about a conference ‘Engaging with Crisis-affected People in Humanitarian Action’ that he attended. Robert reflected on the change from top-down measurement towards accountability to the people he has witnesses over. Patricia Njoroge, who met Robert at the conference got in touch afterwards to share about a Participatory Action Learning project which illustrates the difference a participatory approach can make to people affected by crisis.

In 2013 the World Food Programme (WFP) and IDS launched a Participatory Action Learning (PAL) project ‘Innovations from the Field: Gender Mainstreaming from the Ground Up’. The project is funded by USAID and is being piloted in five countries: Kenya, Malawi, Lesotho, Senegal and Guatemala. The project’s objectives are to learn and sharewhat already works to mainstream gender equality in WFP field programmes. And to apply the lessons to strengthen gender-sensitive practice within WFP.

In Kenya WFP staff identified four themes they wanted to research through the PAL process. In December 2013 the ‘Deepening Understanding of Gender Relations’ and the ‘Communicating with the Field’ PAL Teams undertook a field study at the coastal region, using participatory tools to engage with communities involved in WFP Kenya’s Cash for Assets (CFA) programme. As well as talking about a range of benefits associated with the programme, several programmatic issues were raised by the affected communities. The best we could do was to record these on small hand held video recorders – this had a great impact! On returning from the field these issues were shared with management and steps were initiated to resolve them.participatory action learning 1

Providing feedback to the communities
In March 2014, two members of the PAL teams returned to the study communities and provided feedback on actions taken. Community members very much appreciated that action had been taken on the issues they had raised and also that the fact that the Team was able to visit them again and provide them with feedback. Often researchers collect community members’ views but not all are able to return and give feedback on actions taken with the information provided. The team showed those interviewed a video developed with their recording/contributions. The joy of having a team listening to them, and taking their concern to management, action taken and then going back to give feedback was immense. They said they appreciated that the organisation was now listening to them. They were happy to see themselves on film, with one person commenting about one of the women shown in the videos ‘she is now known across Kenya!’

As part of the analysis of findings, the PAL teams reflected on the use of different participatory tools during the study.

Time Line (12 hour clock)
This tool helped to highlight how men and women spend their time in a day. Where there was a member in the Focus Group able to write, the team guided the discussion and the members would discuss freely and write on the manila papers provided. This was an ice breaker, often causing laughter as participants reflected on how men and women spent their time differently, as well as creating space for discussion on how WFP can engage more men in project activities to reduce the burden on women.

At the end of the session, the list of what men do and women do was distinctive with men having a shorter list while the women’s list was far longer. The men all acknowledged that women do a lot more than men in a normal day and are the first to wake up and last to go to sleep.

When I used this method I found it is very engaging, there’s a relaxed atmosphere and participants don’t focus on themselves but rather discuss and agree on a common general activity to write down. Also, as a start I tell them I want to learn from them (they have the power to teach me about their lives) – all in all a very rewarding and satisfying experience.

Gender Participation in Productive Activities
With the help of this tool participants mapped five main daily activities and through proportional piling they showed how many men and how many women participate in each activity. This was a very participatory exercise as it involved drawing signs of men and women on a manila paper to represent proportions of engagement in various productive activities. It elicited some interesting, and sometimes conflicting, results. For example, in one community a group of women concluded that for four out of the listed five activities (CFA, farming on own land, paid labour, charcoal burning for sale) women represented eight out of ten people doing the activity, while for the remaining activity – drinking boko,(the local brew) – men rated ten out of ten. This resulted in a hilarious moment as one woman tried to point out that there are a few men who look for paid work. Yet in a discussion with young and older men, while they agreed that men’s participation in CFA activities was low at a mere 1 out 10 men, they said they participated more than women in casual labour and equally in charcoal burning. However, they did acknowledge that women’s contribution to income generation on top of their participation in CFA activities meant that in general women were doing more than men.Community members participating in workshop

Problem Census in Communication Tool
The tool helped to clarify how affected communities usually communicate between each other, how they receive information about the CFA project and how information is relayed through different sources and means. The tool also helps identify the preferred/ideal information-flow, including what channels to use in order to ensure communities receive information about projects effectively. This information is not always easy to capture through just verbal focus group discussions, neither is it easy to make people understand what information you are trying to obtain from them. Hence, using this tool to engage people helps both the participants to understand the information they should try to give as well as it assists the facilitator in her/his task to guide the conversation and map out the issues in an easier way.

Benefits of using participatory tools in the project
To sum up, these participatory tools helped in engaging with community members, creating an open friendly learning atmosphere with them educating the team and clearly bringing out issues for discussion. The participatory tools bring the participants closer to the subject and elicit rich discussions on the subject matter. It also holds the participants’ attention and the moderator has less fear of losing their audience.

In the course of the discussion, interrelated problems are discussed and causality factors identified. This provides a good opportunity for those involved to identify measures which can redress the weak points. By using the tools the beneficiaries felt they were in control of the process, telling their story in their own words.

Patricia Njoroge is a Gender and Protection Advocate with the World Food Programme (WFP) in Kenya

Read Robert Chambers’ blog post:


5 take home messages from Pathways of Women’s Empowerment: Beyond 2015

30/06/2014

Kate HawkinsKate Hawkins

The life of a meeting report writer is a lonely one. It is easy to get caught up in the energy and excitement of an issue when surrounded by fascinating and challenging speakers. But once everyone has flown home and you are wading through 50 pages of meeting notes, trying to decipher acronyms and cryptic quotes you sometimes feel like you are drowning in a mass of information you will never make legible to those who didn’t have the privilege of attending. So to give myself a bit of impetus and help order my thoughts I have come up with a list of what I consider the top 5 take home messages from the recent Pathways of Women’s Empowerment meeting.

To add to the complexity of synthesising simple messages, the meeting made it clear that there is no single feminist nor a single development actor. Those involved in this field inhabit very different worlds, subject positions, politics, and positionalities. When we sit outside the places that people live and look in on them, we can fail to make sense of, listen to, and resonate with women’s lives. Those caveats aside, here are the messages:

1. That there is a gulf between policy advocates engaged in post-2015 agenda setting and the fears, dreams and demands of many women organising in disparate settings. The skills required to track and influence advocacy at the global level are very technical and a particular cadre of feminists occupies this space doing vital and necessary work. But somehow, post-Beijing, the parallel structures which enable these staff to adequately network with women at the grass roots have been lost. (Re)building this dynamic and organic network of links and entry-points for dialogue is a key priority.

2. There is a translational issue. Women’s movements have been just as good as any other advocacy group in developing clear messages for policy. However, what is understood by the term ‘women’s empowerment’ differs between large development institutions and social movements struggling for justice. All too often empowerment is instrumentalised – as exemplified by catchphrases like ‘gender equality is smart economics’. The reductionism and sloganeering of the development sector sometimes strips the politics out of the work.

3. Feminist networks and monitoring, learning and evaluation experts need to work together. Participants at the meeting decried the difficulty of generating indicators and systems which would allow them to trace the impact of strategies like collective organising and consciousness raising. They also rightly pushed back against a value for money and results agenda which inadequately traces the types of change in women’s lives which women believe are important. More could be done to foster partnerships between feminist activists and progressive evaluation experts who are trialling methodologies such as process tracing and realist evaluation to strengthen this area of work.

Andrea Cornwall speaking at the conference

4. Research has failed to adequately deal with the implications of global capitalism for women’s empowerment. The global financial crisis has had a very debilitating effect on global policy spaces. At first people with a progressive slant to their politics thought that it would highlight the failure of capitalism and provide an opportunity to create a new world. But the opposite has happened and neo-patriarchialism has been enforced. Moving forward this needs to be central to research agendas.

5.Forging new alliances and intersectionality will be central to the future of feminist activism. The importance of partnering and working together with men, sexual rights activists, the creative industries, workers movements, revolutionaries and legal and religious scholars with an interest in social justice all came through strongly in the meeting. As did the idea that women have complex identities which encompass a number of interests and issues beyond women’s rights. There is a need to be strategic about these alliances and understand that there will be instances where interests do not necessarily collide. Furthermore, women’s movements need to guard against instrumentalising others in the push for women’s empowerment.

I hope that this blog gives a flavour of some of the issues that we discussed. I am relying on my co-author Jenny Edwards to add a bit of oomph to the text I have come up with. And we are planning to bring together some of the multi-media content from the meeting which will make it all the more engaging. Join the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment mailing list to get a notification of when the report and the multi-media contents go live and watch this space for details of how to learn more…

Kate Hawkins is a member of the Sexuality and Development Programme International Advisory Group and the Director of Pamoja Communications.

Read previous blog posts by Kate Hawkins


What is sexual liberation? And is it safe?

26/06/2014

Anne Philpott

We often forget that safer sex can feel good. Putting on a condom could be like squeezing into your favourite sexy boots or latex dress, ready for action. Telling your lover what you want and your desire to be safe could be foreplay. Sexual health campaigns could focus on the positives of good safe sex. Sex education could include creative masturbation techniques. After all, what’s safer than a good wank?

‘Pleasure is arguably, if not definitively, the single most powerful motivating factor for sexual behaviour.’ – World Association for Sexual Health, 2008

While it’s important to discuss distorting images of sex, consent, and abuse, society’s focus only on saying ‘no’ leaves little room to highlight how we can learn to say yes to good, safe sex. Sex that fulfils us, makes us happy, satisfies us and bonds us to others. Recognising that we can create new types of safe, pleasurable sex, in which multi-faceted desires are recognised, should give us confidence that other forms of liberation are possible.

However today models of development focus on saving victims of violence or negative consequences of sexual risk. Whilst models of sexual liberation emphasize narrow goals of individual pleasure, focusing on lithe, heterosexual, monogamous bodies galloping towards orgasm. The politics of broader sexual liberation or a broader definition of sexual health are rarely discussed.

We need a new model of safer sex promotion
Sexual pleasure remains a highly significant, if not primary, motivating factor for sexual behaviour. There is strong evidence that the pursuit of pleasure is one of the primary reasons people have sex, and that fear of disease is not a strong motivator for safer sex. In ignoring pleasure, the development community is ignoring one of its most potent tools in stopping the spread of disease. It is also stopping the broader discussion of sexuality rights, including the recognition of individual agency, especially when it comes to those most affected by HIV. Female pleasure taboo obviously plays a huge role in female genital mutilation (FGM) practices however this is rarely discussed in terms of pleasure promotion to ensure communities accept that young women have as much right to feel pleasure as young men. Instead campaigns tend to focus on ending a terrible human rights abuse, and rarely mention how women can still feel pleasure post FGM or that the key motivator for carrying out female genital cutting (FGC) is societal fear of women’s pleasure.

Safer sex campaigns have focused almost exclusively on fear-based messages to promote safer sex, to the extent that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is seen either as destructive or even as a major contributor to the spread of HIV. Pleasure can also be about power, and men and women are expected to behave in certain ways to fit in with societal expectations. In many cultures wanting sex makes you ‘too easy’ or ‘a slag’, if you are a woman. In many cultures being too lubricated is a sign of being promiscuous, resulting in a preference for dry sex, whereas for men experience is respected. Women are also burdened with needing to appear always passive or ignorant. We risk violence, death or ostracism if we ‘enjoy sex too much’ or are not virgins when we are meant to be.

So how do we transform ourselves, creating more meaningful, good, safer sex lives? Sexual liberation is not only about more sex for some people, or more orgasms, but should prioritise pleasure, consent, and respect for a wide range of sexualities, (dis)abilities and body types.

Explicit safer sex campaigns that eroticise good, safe sex have been shown to make people feel good and be safer (pdf) with their lovers. Studies comparing American and Dutch young people (pdf) showed that the Dutch sex education, which focused on mutually enjoyable, responsible sex, leads to lower rates of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

talk dirty postcard

One of the postcards from the Pleasure Project

We at The Pleasure Project work to try and ensure that there are examples of erotic materials that are safe and that sexual health and training materials include discussions of pleasure. To this end, we wrote The Global Mapping of Pleasure to collect together examples of community groups, sex bloggers, porn film makers who are doing just that.

We profiled the Sensuousness Action Research Project (pdf) in West Bengal in India: they train gay male masseurs and clients in safe, sensual, satisfying pleasure techniques, aiming to provide economic security and life stability for the sex workers. Another project, St James Infirmary, in San Francisco, is a sex worker health service where workers are asked about what they enjoy at work in order to expand discussions of good safe sex.

We also profiled erotic safer-sex tea towels for gay men in Australia, dildo-making contests for marriage counselling nuns in Mozambique, and ‘seduction’ training modules for couples in Nigeria. Many groups work to enhance the sexual repertoire of heterosexual monogamous relationships, encouraging a less traditional view of the kind of sex you have with your marriage or long term partner. One slogan read: ‘Many positions with one, not one position with many’.

Avoid negativity – focus on desire and pleasure
All our case studies avoid sex negativity, promoting safer sex with a focus on desire and pleasure, at the same time working to reduce the shame people feel in pleasure. Most of the community groups in the mapping recognise that a focus on pleasure and safety means liberation from traditional perceptions of their sexuality and lives.

Dorothy Aken’Ova, founder of the Nigerian International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights says:

‘People thought we were wasting time talking about sex and pleasure, when maternal mortality is so high … But I was convinced that if this delicate, taboo thing – sexual pleasure – could be negotiated by women, then almost anything can be negotiated (…and that idea gave me multiple orgasms!)’

Safer sex is promoted best through positive incentives and building communities of practise, learning from people who constantly negotiate safer sex, like sex workers, with people who are seen as the experts, like sex educators.

By opening up aspirations for safe pleasure in a wider range of relationships, or for people not traditionally expected to experience pleasure – women and people with disabilities, for example – we can unearth a much wider range of political freedoms.

Getting in touch with what we want from our sex lives might unearth much broader visions of liberation, the kind that moves beyond the individual to recognise collective visions of change.

Anne Philpott is the founder of The Pleasure Project, established in 2004 to challenge the public health approach to sexual health by highlighting the importance of pleasure and good safe sex through advocacy, training, research and general being the ‘guerrilla girls of HiV prevention’.The Pleasure  Project has a long standing partnership with the IDS Sexuality and Development programme that spans joint work on academic papers, some funding and providing joint long term advisory functions. Both the Global Mapping project and training resources were made possible with IDS funding 

This is an amended version of an article that first appeared on Open Democracy.

Read more recent blog articles about sexuality and development


Tackling gender-based violence through citizen action in Cape Town’s townships

25/06/2014

Joanna Wheeler and Thea Shahrokh

Joanna WheelerGender-based violence is both routine and extreme across South Africa. In Cape Town, cases such as the rape and murder of nine-year-old Elihle Hlanjwa  continue to highlight the seriousness of this issue in the lives of women, men and children living in the city’s townships.

Sustained activist pressure on legislative and judicial bodies shows the challenges involved in responding to the issue, with opportunities for mitigation, redress and healing limited by an ineffectual justice system. The current inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha township has been driven by residents’ deep-rooted mistrust in law enforcement institutions, which is in part, a response to the failures of the police in addressing the issue. The violence that permeates township communities is also connected to economic insecurity and marginality of the spaces where people live. This has been acknowledged to a certainThea Shahrokh extent in municipal policy, such as the city-led Violence Prevention and Urban Upgrading scheme. However, the significance of the how violence is used to enforce discriminatory social norms such as those surrounding gender, age, race, religion and ethnicity have received less attention.

A recent pilot evaluation by the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, the University of Western Cape and the Institute of Development Studies was undertaken to learn from citizen activists taking action against gender-based violence in Khayelitsha township. The lived experience of these activists provides an example of how community responses to violence are contributing to a sense of democratic citizenship and the transformation of inequitable relations of power, attitudes and behaviours at the local level.

Citizen-led innovations in addressing urban violence demand greater attention in policy and programming. This requires seeing those living in contexts of violence as potential active citizens, who are able to claim their rights to security and demand greater accountability, as well as act directly to mitigate violence. In this evaluation an in-depth understanding of the life choices and life chances of community activists meant that we were able to understand more about what enables people to take action against violence, within their homes, communities and cities, and importantly what sustains this activism.

Activists found value in opportunities to reflect on their own lives and relationships before trying to influence others, seeing their own life journeys and personal transformations as important catalysts of change. Activist networks were essential for engaging people across all levels of society, helping to reshape and rethink societal norms around violence. Police responsiveness and accountability on issues of gender-based violence within intimate, community and institutional spaces were seen as crucial for rebuilding trusting relationships with citizens and in catalysing wider citizen action.

‘If there was a wife calling the police saying that there is a husband beating me up then they will take their own time to come because they know the husband. Sometimes they say ‘we don’t interfere with marriage, so you just need to go to the centres, or to those organisations that deal with marriages or abusive relationships’. But now we are working with them, because we introduced them and we are wanting them to become a part of the community committee.’ (Woman, Community Activist, Khayelitsha).

Activism against violence does not exist in a vacuum. Citizen action against violence that is informed by the local context, its constraints and its possibilities will be more sustainable and will have greater impact when combined with interventions that address wider systemic issues that drive poverty and inequality. Furthermore, it is important that policies addressing violence prevention and mitigation link between local, provincial and national levels. Learning needs to take place between each level to ensure that policies are responsive to, and enabling for the grass roots activists. The National Strategic Plan to End Gender Based Violence which is currently in development provides a platform for this kind of transformative policymaking. In order to realise this vision it will be critical that the policymaking process learns from community action, and enables citizens of South Africa to have a stake in the response.

Related research on citizen action and community-led innovations against gender-based violence in South Africa

The SLF Project ‘SafeShebeens’, which seeks to reduce the risks of violence to women in public drinking venues, was recently short-listed for the OpenIDEO Amplify Challenge.

Case study research with SLF and Sonke Gender Justice has been initiated to explore how collective action contributes to addressing the discriminatory social norms that perpetuate sexual and gender-based violence, and the role of men and boys in enabling transformative change.

Thea Shahrokh is a Research Officer at the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS. Joanna Wheeler is a Senior Research Associate at the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, previously she was a Research Fellow at IDS.

Read more blogs by Thea Shahrokh and Joanna Wheeler


The emerging LGBT movement in Vietnam: lessons in negotiating legal spaces

23/06/2014

Tu-Anh Hoang

Thirty years ago, before the economic reform which is known as Doi Moi in Vietnam in 1986, it was hard for people who know the politics in Vietnam to imagine or even think about the existence of civil society in the country, let alone a civil society movement. Today the Vietnamese government not only recognises the existence of thousands of registered and unregistered NGOs and groups but also acknowledges the contribution these organisations make to the development of the country. This emergent civil society includes LGTB groups which until the 1990s were invisible.

Homosexuality though not illegal, used to be seen as social-evil together with other illegal phenomena such as drug use, gamble and prostitution. A HIV epidemic helped make the LGBT community visible and known to the media and public. However, the government’s health risk management approach did not help empower the community to affirm their rights on sexual orientation and identity nor reduce related stigma and discriminations. Much of the public and policy makers still think about homosexuality and transgender as phenomena that affect some (unlucky) individuals and if society keeps a close eye on this, they can control and somehow eliminate these ‘deviants’.

However, in 2012 the VietPride bicycle rally with rainbow flags on the streets in Ha Noi and the Ministry of Justice’s proposal to revise the Marriage and Family Law to take into account same-sex relationship awakened the country. LGBT people are no longer isolated and marginalised groups but have organised and engage successfully with media and policy makers.

As a result of this engagement Vietnam became the first country in Asia to discuss same-sex marriage at the national level. The revised Marriage and Family law that passed on 19 June 2014 does not recognise these rights. This is a setback not just for the movement in Vietnam but also for other groups in the region who had hoped to use the legalisation in Vietnam to open the door in other countries. While this is disappointing it should be seen in perspective of a turbulent political context and process with setbacks and successes. The movement with the LGBT organisations and their supporters is still strong. Their engagement and negotiation abilities are not diminished.

The recent report Negotiating public and legal spaces: the emergence of an LGBT movement in Vietnam – co-authored by researchers from the Institute for Social Development and the Center for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population, a local NGO in Hanoi – documents the process of the emergence of the movement.

Three strategies made the engagement and negotiation possible:

Depoliticising the LGBT movement to create space for civil association and engagement
Creating emotion is considered a key term in the mobilisation for both public presentation in VietPride and the legalization of same-sex cohabitation and marriage. Rights for love, for having a family and for pursuing happiness are centred in the arguments of LGBT activists and groups. Instead of criticising sexual politics, slogans and messages are adapted to somehow match with the country development goals regarding equity and well-being. This strategy is criticised by some activists as ‘too safe’ and may hamper the linkage of LGBT movement with other human rights and democracy movement in Vietnam, it is recognised by majority that this is relevant and effective in current Vietnam political context.

Broad rights-based framework on LGBT rather than employing a limited special interest LGBT group framework
The number of organisations and groups working exclusively or focally on same-sex relationship in Vietnam is still modest and most unregistered, which imply the limit in term of legal power. However, this disadvantage is made up of a coalition with other well-established and registered organisations working on gender, domestic violence and sexuality in Vietnam. This linkage is possible through a shared broad framework on gender equity and human rights. This coalition does not only bring more legal power to LGBT movement but also makes it more acceptable to the public and policy makers.

Building positive wholesome images of LGBT
This is a key strategy of the LGBT rights movement in Vietnam. LGBT activists see this as characteristic that distinguishes their movement from the work of HIV. While this strategy seems successful, the positive images and stories of mainly young, healthy, middle-class, university-degree not reflect the wholeness and diversity of LGBT communities.

The strategy of depolitisation might be reconsidered by LGBT groups and their network of partners. What’s important to keep in mind is that this broad rights based network is still there in spite of this setback. The friends of the LGBT activists are still their friends even though their enemies might still be there. The image of LGBT today is also much more positive and diverse than it was a few years ago. LGBT are no longer portrayed as sick social deviants; instead images of young wholesome LGBT are found in the official and on social media. It is likely to be a long process. Vietnamese are probably the world’s experts at thinking strategically, playing a long game and winning unlikely wars. Losing battles along the way is part of this path and will not change the determination of the LGBT movements and their friends for equal rights. In fact it may fuel it.

This blog was written by Tu-Anh Hoang as part of the Sexuality, Poverty and Law Programme.

Read other recent blogs by the IDS Sexuality and Development Programme:


Understanding food security through a gendered lens

16/06/2014

Georgina Aboud

At the heart of the IDS Knowledge Services’ gender team – BRIDGE – is a passion for understanding and promoting gender justice through participatory approaches. BRIDGE’s latest publication – the Cutting Edge Pack on Gender and Food Security – due to be published in autumn 2014, is an excellent example of this. The team recently convened a highly engaging 48 hour online discussion, from 13-14th May, with the main objective of allowing experts to share and exchange ideas on the most current thinking and practice on the issue in order to inform and strengthen the publication.

women selling fish

Key themes to emerge from discussions:

Food Security needs to be understood as much more than just food production: Emerging strongly from discussions was the extent to which, in policy, ‘food security’ is being conflated with and reduced to food production, driven by an economic growth agenda – described as the ‘productivist’ trend. Success is measured in crop yields, disconnected from people, power and inequalities, but very much connected to market solutions and agricultural profit. Food insecurity is more complex than simply not enough food, so increased food production does not necessarily mean enhanced food security, and enhanced food security for women.

Women’s lived realities need to be fully understood and integrated: Thus, calls for more holistic approaches to food security and gender equality emerged from our discussions, where the popular policy response of ‘invest in poor women farmers’ is seen as only part of the solution to a complex problem. A close connection to women’s lived realities is needed – where women are not just mothers, or farmers, or farmworkers, they have multiple roles and needs.

Identifying the interconnections between policies is key for effectiveness: Key recommendations to emerge in terms of ensuring policy change move beyond words into action, is that policy makers need to see and develop the interconnections between policy areas so that policies strengthen each other. For example, interconnections should be made between food security and climate change, and between food security, gender and HIV/AIDS. It was also identified that a rights-based lens, a clear understanding of the problem, political will and robust monitoring are also essential elements to success.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment must be central in action and practice: Overwhelmingly the discussions saw calls for holistic approaches, with the need for food and nutrition security approaches to not only tackle women’s nutritional status but also their ‘position’ in families and society. Discussions linked women’s earning power and control over land resources, to strengthened decision-making power in the household and greater control of women’s social and physical security.

Learning from good practice: Examples from India, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were given of successful initiatives using a more holistic approach, which essentially created safe spaces for women to talk and reflect. These were an important step in women gaining confidence and made way for more decision-making opportunities within the household. Other fascinating examples included several initiatives on value-chains.

Training and skills promotion, for women in particular, is key: A key theme running through much of the discussion was the importance of training, skills promotion – the idea that ‘new skills will add to a woman’s status, and decision-making’.

More research on food security using a gendered lens is vital (and access to it): many participants pointed to the persistent and yawning research gaps: from the need for more contextualised household-level data, to sex-disaggregated time allocation surveys; from research into the impact of female extension workers, to research that unpacks the disconnects between rights to food and women’s rights, amongst others.

Understanding the value of gendered research: We also need evidence that demonstrates the value of investing in gathering these types of data, and the costs of failing to do so, from a food security and a gender equality perspective.

The Gender and Food Security Cutting Edge Pack will incorporate, and build on, these points to ensure that relevant policymakers and practitioners have a clearer understanding of the key issues and a set of recommendations sign posting the best way forward. For more information about the Cutting Edge programme, please visit the BRIDGE Gender and Food Security Cutting Edge page .

Cutting Edge Pack Series

Written and produced in collaboration with partners, Cutting Edge Packs provide accessible overviews of the latest thinking on a cutting edge gender theme in development research, policy and practice. Each pack includes:

  • Overview Report, outlining the main issues, examples of innovative practice and recommendations;
  • Supporting Resources Collection including summaries of case studies, tools, online resources, and contact details for relevant organisations;
  • Gender and Development In Brief comprising a short overview of the theme and two inspiring case-study articles by Southern-focused practitioners

We usually translate packs into at least French and Spanish to reach a broader global audience.

The Cutting Edge Pack Series is available online on the BRIDGE website.

Georgina Aboud is a Gender and Food Security Convenor at BRIDGE, a research and knowledge mobilisation programme located within IDS Knowledge Services. BRIDGE supports gender advocacy and mainstreaming efforts by bridging the gaps between theory, policy and practice.

Photo credit: C. Schubert (CCAFS) under the creative commons license

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